cutting Preston’s councillors

The City of Preston has 57 councillors, representing different wards across the borough in either pairs or threes (there are two-member wards and three-member wards elected every year,with each councillor re-elected on a four-year cycle).

Preston’s Liberal Democrat group have proposed that fifty-seven councillors is far to much a number for a city our size, not least because of the existence of the extra layer of politicians we have as a two-tier borough underneath Lancashire County Council. Note “underneath”, not “alongside”. The need to be an independent unitary authority divorced fully from County Hall is a long, long overdue priority.

Anyway, we have too many councillors and something needs to be done. The Coalition has asked the various Boundary Commissions to reduce the number of MPs (as is right and proper); it is now time for the size and composition of Town Halls. Democracy is not best served with numbers of  elected officials increasing exponentially, as the previous law was leading to. Britain does not need so many politicians at any level –  especially not at regional/local level where a combination of unrepresentative geography, central government heavy-handedness, low level (and not so low level) corruption and apathy has neutered local administrations almost to the point where there’s no point having the bits dangling around anymore.

Smaller, more cost effective, more responsible local government is vital – a model which devolves to the streets more than it divides amongst its members. To this end, I have designed a model which reduces the 57 member Preston Council to 36 –  featuring eleven wards with three members each.

In my ideal world, there’ll be proportional representation electing these in addition to the reduction, but the journey of a thousand steps and all that…

My Proposals will reduce Town Hall by over half – from 57 councillors to 36, a move which will reduce the party-political antagonism and log-jamming so often seen at councils all over the country. More consensus from fewer members is the best way to move forward through these economically challenging times.

1) Ashton-on-Ribble

This would take the existing Larches and Ashton wards almost entirely into a merger, with the addition of the Docks (from Riversway) and the properties off Tulketh Road. There is an obvious and clear relationship between the component parts – Larches and Ashton especially – and the Riversway docklands forms a natural partner through shopping and leisure use. The geography makes sense to anyone who knows the area well – it would be a fairly ‘square’ division which respects the communities within whilst excluding only those electors who live near the Lane Ends
shopping area who I deal with later.

2) City Centre

This combines the existing Town Centre ward, in its entirety, with the remaining parts of Riversway – namely Fishergate Hill, Christ Church, and Broadgate. There is a clear continuation of population and interests here, with the existing boundary of the West Coast Main Line easily extended to the Ribble. The relationship between the component parts might not be the strongest, but in terms of geography and resources, including shops, transport and the use of Avenham Park, there is clearly no other solution which wouldn’t be disruptive.

3) Deepdale and Moorbrook

In the north-east of the borough, Deepdale is a 2-member ward neighbouring the two-member St George’s. I would merge these together with the addition of some terraces from Moor Park to enable a more sensible looking border with the A6 Garstang Road. This new ward would enable the whole of the ‘greater Deepdale’ area to be represented together, with so many similar issues and problems shared between them.

4) Fishwick

A simple merger this one – the existing St Matthews and Fishwick wards joined together in one. There is an obvious shared relationship between the two, which lie on both sides of New Hall Lane. From the demographic make up of the majority of residents through housing provision and  future of transport services, Fishwick and St Matthews are natural partners. The corresponding County Council division is exactly the same and I think it’s natural to pair them for a smaller City Council too

5) Fulwood North and Woodplumpton

This new division takes the existing Greyfriars ward, which lies to the west of the A6 and the south of the M55, and pairs it with two civil parishs – Woodplumpton and Broughton. The natural line of communication along the A6-corridor makes this pairing very sensible, with a shared sense of community and with a sensible geographic cohesion between each element. This does have the problem of being unlike all other wards with its rural/urban split, but options are limited in Fulwood and this one is an inventive way to join together parts of Preston in the context of a wider review.

6) Ingol and Cadley

The whole of Cadley joins parts of the existing Ingol, Tulketh and Ashton wards in this new seat, which would see the “Ingol” parts at the south of the Ingol/Tanterton ward attached to Cadley, with the Lytham Road area from Tulketh added too. This new ward is unlike the corresponding County divisions and as such is very different from any predecessor borough ward, too. However there is a clear community link between the three parts, transport links are excellent and with local schools and services shared amongst the new combined electorate it makes sense to bring them together.

7) Lea and Cottam with Tanterton
The civil parish of Lea and Cottam would be combined with the Tanterton part of Ingol in this new ward, which mirrors to some degree the County Council ward Preston West. The Lea/Lea Town bit and Cottam parts are very different in nature, not least because Cottam is largely new build and still growing. There is a geographic connection with Tanterton and the general nature of them all together has a sense which should make the transition to a larger ward largely hassle free.

8) Moor Park and Fulwood South
This is the new division formed by merging Moor Park with College, the ward which takes in what used to be the Sharoe Green hospital and the Preston College campus, and surrounding suburbia. The wards are good neighbours, with Moor Park always the more likely to ‘go Fulwood’ given the chance. It does mean that, once again, Plungington is divided between wards but that’s unavoidable given the nature of surrounding geography.

9)  Ribbleton and Brookfield
Combining Ribbleton with Brookfield follows the County Council division which covers the area, reflecting the shared nature and characteristics of these two wards. There are other options which could be considered – such as bringing in parts of Fishwick from the extreme eastern borders – though this would upset the mathematics and result in unnecessarily complicated splits along roads and through estates. There is an identity amongst those who live in these two wards which should easily work together in a City council context.

10) Rural Parishes
The remaining rural parishes, minus Broughton and Woodplumpton, would be combined into a single, large division, covering all the farming and rural/semi-rural communities of Preston. There is a real independent streak amongst the rural communities which needs to be maintained and cherished: having three councillors dedicated to them in such a way would be a boost to their arguments for economic growth and housing.

11) Sharoe Green and Fulwood Row
This division combines the whole of Sharoe Green with Garrison, which extends in an uneasy looking manner (on paper) through the eastern/north-eastern fringes. This new division is a mix of the new(ish) and potential expansion to come, and has within it the vitally important Royal Preston Hospital (for one reason) and growing industrial estates and employment centres (for other reasons). Bringing them together reflects the nature of the area and echoes the County Council division.

12) St Walburge’s
The rest of Tulketh, incorporating the whole of Lane Ends (including the one segment taken from Ashton) is combined with the whole of University ward. This causes Plungington to be divided between wards (again), though the whole of Plungington Road’s western side would at least be together as one. There is a clear line of communication between the two wards, especially where they currently meet along Fylde Road, Plungington Road and Eldon Street. The Lane Ends/Roebuck relationship is also very strong and would be strengthened further. The name comes from St Walburge’s Church, a good neutral name to balance the competing elements of the new ward.

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shaking up the House

In the light of whatever Chris Huhne does/has done to him next, the whiff of ‘reshuffle’ is in the air. Politicos like their reshuffles – it’s a day of intrigue and cunning, and often on a wing and prayer desperation. 3D Chess it ain’t.

Read any diary or memoir from those at the heart of Government – or those who wish they were – and the dreaded reshuffle period would lay behind their words as a ghost, a constant narrative waiting beneath the surface. Alan Clark would spend days plotting his move across the board – who is up, who was down, who did “The Lady” prefer to keep close? He would write about the sharks scenting the first drops of blood in the water – exactly, I presume, what is happening now around the Department for Energy and Climate Change.

Reshuffles are bewildering for most observers outside Britain. The soap opera which is the Westminster bubble goes as cuckoo-bananas as a shed load of Crossroads scriptwriters, with all the traditional trappings of news gathering thrown into one overflowing pot of nonsense. Doorstepping ministers, zoomed in close-ups of a ministerial car driving along Downing Street, the BBC reporter within the Houses of Parliament talking about “sources close”, which can often mean “what I’ve just been told directly” as much as it can mean “what Twitter is currently assured is happening.”

The ups and downs of Ministers and Secretaries of State is a world away from other businesses. It’s when politics becomes more ‘sport’ than ‘statesman’, with each self-taught expert in a specific field suddenly whisked off to another patch where they know nothing. Stephen Dorrell was sent to the newly created Department for National Heritage with no knowledge of modern British cinema – Gyles Brandreth writes in his diary how the new SoS was given a video of ‘Four Weddings and Funeral’ in his ministerial red box. Yes, the “Zeitgeist Tape” really does exist.

Chris Mullins writes in his diaries of the Blair years how his time in the lowly foothills of Government was markedly annoying by the very nature of the merry-go-round process of reshuffling. Just as one Minister for Africa builds up a list of contacts, off he goes somewhere else, sometimes sideways, rarely up, often straight out.

The only comparable business is football management, less so in modern times though it’s still there. Familiar names, similar gossip behind the scenes, who is up and who is unfavoured, who shall spend more time playing golf? There is an understandable amount of exhaustion at the same-old same-old around football managers and the merry-go-round of sackings and hirings. It’s a game within a game, with backs recently stabbed quickly patted, and often by the same person. Politics would be richer for giving Ministers a full 5 years to understand their jobs – but it would be far less interesting for the rest of us. It’s a game we’re addicted to; we’re all a little bit like the sharks in the water.