Everyone’s talking about Boundary Changes
Ok I’m lying. Perhaps not. But should they be? I realise I’ve chosen a very dry subject for my first blog post in ages but here goes.
Last week, the Boundary Commission for England released their latest proposals for boundary changes which will redraw council constituencies and ward boundaries for first time in over 12 years. Essentially, the Boundary Commission seeks to ensure a consistent population (somewhere between 70,000-80,000) in each constituency. Housebuilding, in migration, out migration mean that boundaries need to be changed to reflect up to date population. The process isn’t quick, and has been through several rounds of consultation already but this is last step before they are set in stone next summer. There is a good website with maps of the changes. The big implication being that these will be the boundaries that will be in place at the next general election (whenever that might be!).
Many constituencies see no change or very little change at all, however in some areas even a small change could have big implications.
One such change would be Dominic Raab’s Esher and Walton constituency in Elmbridge. The Conservative Party lodged significant objection to the previous round of consultation last year and are obviously worried that increasing his constituency in the direction of Walton will make it more easy to overturn his narrow 2,700 majority he scraped through on at the last election. That would be a lot less of a swing than other recent by-election scalps taken by the Lib Dems. Worth also remembering that Elmbridge Council is expected to submit a highly controversial local plan for examination next year which releases no green belt land at all and the wobbles around the boundary changes could lead to a ‘doubling down’ from Raab et al on anti green belt development rhetoric.
“Sir” Gavin Williamson also faces a similar situation (maybe he will threaten to ‘slit throats’ at the boundary commission to make sure it doesn’t happen?).
At a council level the wards are also changing. In Mole Valley for instance the Boundary Commission proposals will reduce the number of wards and accordingly the number of councillors from 41 to 39. This also means that rather than having an election in ‘thirds’ as normal (one third of the councillors up for election every year) the council will hold an ‘all out’ local election in May 2023.
'So what?' I hear you ask. Well, the thing is, in Mole Valley the changes and required 'all out' election this will come at a time when the findings of the inspector from local plan examination (which ended in October) will likely be out and on the basis it is found sound then the council hope to be nearing the point of adoption. Given the objection to the plan from many local residents groups this makes an ‘all out’ election next May particularly fractious with the local plan no doubt becoming a door step issue.
At present in Mole Valley the Lib Dems hold power with a majority of 24 out of 41 seats but as with other councils (Guildford and Tandridge to name but a few), worries about housing development can often lead to a rise in independent councillors and quite possible the independents grouping together to hold a majority over lib dems or conservatives. Nothing wrong with that, but it does mean that the tanks are parked out on the lawn early on during the election process when it comes to development being advocated in the local plan. It can often be the case that the party who bring forward the local plan are hoist with their own petard at the very next election. This is exactly what happened in Guildford to the conservatives at the local election after the local plan was adopted.
As the picture above tries to analogise, our planning system now resembles somewhat of a Jenga Tower stacked up with many different pieces (policy, guidance, housing numbers) which are removed by the players (the government and local councillors). Particularly when it comes to local plan making it doesn’t take much of a change for the politically fragile process to come to a crashing end or at the very least a long pause.
So don’t ignore the boundary changes coming down the tracks. It is another matter that is likely to have sway in important areas for plan making and decision taking in the course of next year.
AB – my own thoughts.