Dozen councillors face axe as plans progress to shrink Forest council

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New Forest District Council
New Forest District Council at Appletree Court, Lyndhurst, after the 2019 local elections (Photo: Chris Balcombe)

NEW FOREST District Council is pressing ahead with plans to axe a dozen councillors in time for the next local elections.

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At a meeting on Wednesday, the ruling cabinet supported decreasing the size of the authority by 2023 to rebalance the number of voters per member and save about £78,000 a year.

The new arrangements, which will result in a total of 48 councillors, have been drawn up by a task group after the full council agreed to start the process in early 2018.

The change would mean fewer councillors representing bigger wards containing more residents. It would ultimately ensure that each councillor was elected from approximately the same number of voters.

The plan went through without fuss, but NFDC’s Conservative leader Cllr Barry Rickman said: “I am sure that when we talk about boundaries of wards there will be a lot to talk about.”

NFDC leader Cllr Barry Rickman

He also gave assurances to backbencher Cllr David Hawkins that town and parish councils would not be affected by the move.

Currently nearly a quarter of wards differ from the district’s average ratio by 10%, with one showing a 20% difference – effectively giving some voters more bang for their ballot. The change would also bring the council into line with similar-scale authorities.

NFDC has set aside £30,000 for the process in case any “unknown costs” arise, explained a cabinet report.

The proposals will now go to the full council for approval at its next meeting on 14th October in time for the 18th October deadline.

The Local Government Boundary Commission for England will then take over the process and return with draft proposals by 19th November.

The next phase will see fresh ward boundaries drawn up to reflect the new size, with the aim of each one containing roughly the same amount of voters per councillor. Final recommendations are expected in late 2020 or early 2021.

The report said: “A successful electoral review of the district council will bring about more representative democracy in the New Forest, as electoral inequality would have been addressed as far as possible as part of the review.”

The last electoral review was in 1999. Since then, the cabinet report said, the council had switched its structure from committees to a more centralised cabinet which had “streamlined decision-making” and required fewer councillors.

A previously suggested reduction to around 46 councillors was rejected by NFDC in 2014 before being resurrected in 2016.

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