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Stafford boundary plans spark accusations of tinkering for political gain

By Kerry.Ashdown  |  Posted: June 23, 2014

Ralph Cooke

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The comments came from Labour members as the council prepared to submit its response to planned changes of the borough’s electoral arrangements.

The number of councillors representing Stafford Borough is set to be cut from 59 to 40 and the Local Government Boundaries Commission for England (LGBCE) has published its recommendations for changes to the borough’s ward boundaries.

The majority of the LGBCE’s recommendations, published after it received suggested ward boundaries from groups including the borough council and Stafford Labour Group, were accepted by the borough at last week’s meeting.

But the borough council raised concerns about recommended changes to two Stafford areas; Highfields and Western Downs to the west and Holmcroft, Common, Coton and Littleworth in the north of the town.

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Labour councillor Ralph Cooke said at last week’s meeting: “These proposals are now being challenged and it looks to some extent as though they are trying to tat around the edges of things to gain advantage. Some might call it gerrymandering.

“We tried to think about the borough, not political advantage, and they agreed, this body of impartial, disinterested, rational people in the LGBCE. We see no reason to change the submission.”

Labour group leader Jack Kemp said: “I think there is an arrogance on that side – ‘we didn’t get all we wanted so we are going to waste time and challenge it.”

Conservative councillor Patrick Farrington responded: “I consider what I have heard to be the ultimate irony. As far as I’m concerned the original proposals put forward by the opposing group were to gain political advantage, as they said of this side.”

Council leader Mike Heenan said the reason for the proposed changes to the north Stafford wards was concern that the recommendations did not achieve the best electoral equality.

He added: “As far as Western Downs and Highfields is concerned, people in Highfields will say they are in Highfields and people in Western Downs will say they are in Western Downs.

“These are the only two changes we are putting forward, we have generally accepted the proposals. We are trying to get electoral equality at the same time as community identity.”

The LGBCE has recommended going ahead with the Labour Group’s suggestions for the two areas, which include creating a two-member ward covering Highfields and Western Downs. But the borough council said its proposal, to create a single member ward for Highfields and another for Western Downs, better reflected the identities of the two communities.

Stafford Labour Group’s proposals for the north Stafford town wards, which include part of Stone Road forming the boundary between Holmcroft and Common which would class Tillington as part of Holmcroft, were also backed by the LGBCE. But the council has recommended shifting the proposed Stone Road boundary to make Tillington part of Common rather than Holmcroft. 

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