Proposed changes to council electoral wards for the forthcoming unitary authority in North Yorkshire are unfair and would see residents across one parliamentary constituency significantly under-represented, a meeting has heard.
There is also concern over plans to divide Catterick Garrison into two different wards, with Colburn and Hipswell in one and Scotton linked with Lower Wensleydale in another.
North Yorkshire County Council’s executive also heard its recommendations to government for ward boundaries would see a councillor elected for 3,680 electors in Cayton, Scarborough, while one councillor would serve nearly double the number of electors, some 6,690, in Knaresborough Castle and Aspin.
The meeting was told following a cross-party working group chaired by Councillor John Weighell, who led the authority for nearly 14 years, there remained a spectrum of views on how the county should be divided into wards to ensure equal numbers of voters and that communities remained united.
Coun Weighell said the government had also imposed rules, which had created a conflict with the county council’s aims of creating 90 divisions each represented by one member.
He said two-member wards needed to be created in places such as Easingwold, Bedale, Whitby and Selby West to avoid splitting communities.
The meeting heard the proposed wards would be decided by government officials and were an interim solution ahead of next May’s elections.
Coun Weighell said creating the wards was a “complex issue that required a lot of give and take”.
The meeting was told the proposals included a ward the Boundary Commission “would never put together” as it included villages on either side of the River Ouse that historically were linked by a ferry.
The council’s opposition leader Councillor Stuart Parsons said the proposals were “one of the worst attacks on local democracy” some areas of the county had ever seen.
Richmondshire councillor Helen Grant said the proposals would see the parish of Scotton with the largest garrison footprint, which included the home of the Infantry Training Centre and Gurkha regiment, separated from Colburn and Hipswell.
She said: “This footprint has been recognised since the days of Baden Powell and the creation of Catterick Garrison.
“There’s evidence of some 60 years of working together with some organisations within the garrison footprint as we know it.”
The proposed new wards:
Numerous members said tinkering with the original scheme suggested by officers had left unbalanced wards.
Harrogate Starbeck division councillor Philip Broadbank said the proposals were “particularly unfair”.
He said originally it had been proposed Harrogate constituency had 15 out of 90 members on the new authority, but changes had seen this cut by two, meaning an average of 6,194 electors per councillor there compared to 5,329 elsewhere.
He said: “I think electoral equality is important. Electoral balance is absolutely vital if you this new council to work and you want people to accept that its going to be a fair and balanced representation.
“For the first four years of the new authority you are going to have the largest urban area in the county being under-represented quite substantially.”
Coun Weighell agreed the Harrogate area would be under-represented, but added the proposed wards avoided breaking up the town area.
He said: “It was absolutely the only way to maintain community identity.”
Lower Nidderdale and Bishop Monkton division member Councillor Michael Harrison said the priority in Harrogate to increase representation needed to be the establishment of a town council.
The council’s deputy leader Councillor Gareth Dadd said as the proposals would see the more representatives per elector than served on the current county council, if councillors were effective residents would not see any decrease in representation on the new authority.
He said: “There was bound to be winners and losers in this quick and dirty exercise that could not be avoided, especially in Harrogate.”