Ward boundaries discussed

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Despite fears it will have no impact, Scottish Borders Council has agreed to launch a last ditch bid to save its ward boundaries.

A plea will now be sent to Scotland’s local government minister Marco Biagi MSP urging him to reject radical plans to cut the number of councillors at Newtown from 34 to 32 and reduce the number of multi-member wards, introduced in 2007, from 11 to 10 in time for the 2017 council elections.

Last week there was overwhelming cross party support for the move from Councillor Watson McAteer whose Hawick & Denholm ward will be scrapped if the recommendations of the Local Government Boundary Commission (LGBC) receive ministerial ratification this summer.

This will be twice in two years the council has formally opposed the carve-up, predicated on the commission’s assertion that the region is over-represented. The quango is demanding the ratio of councillors – currently one to 2,639 – should be one to 2,800.

In April 2014 the LGBC was told the proposal was unacceptable as it did not recognise the special circumstances of the region, including diverse issues across wards, the spread of population, the lack of public transport and the 67 community councils SBC councillors were expected to support.

But when the commission summarily refused to budge, the council last year reluctantly came up with a formula to accommodate the unwanted edict.

The compromise was for Tweeddale East, Tweeddale West, Galashiels & District, Leaderdale & Melrose, Mid Berwickshire and East Berwickshire to be unchanged.

But a single new Hawick ward returning, like Galashiels & District, four councillors would be created at the expense of Hawick & Hermitage and Hawick & Denholm.

The largely rural areas of Denholm and Hermitage, including Newcastleton, would become part of a new Jedburgh, Denholm and Hermitage ward.

And current Jedburgh & District division would cease to exist with its eastern and western boundaries redrawn to boost the size of neighbouring Kelso & District and Selkirkshire respectively.

On Thursday, Mr McAteer urged colleagues to revert to their original position of outright opposition.

“In my view nothing has changed in the last two years, nor has the legal requirement for the commission to respect local ties and the interests of effective local government when setting boundaries,” he said.

“In destroying the existing Hawick wards and cutting its councillors from six to four, none of these issues have been considered in a logical way.”

In moving that the council should write to Mr Biagi, Mr McAteer revealed that he and his fellow ward councillors had met the minister in December and it was he who had suggested the council should revisit its earlier decision to accommodate the LGBC recommendations.

But council leader David Parker reminded him that Mr Biagi was not seeking re-election to the Scottish Parliament in May and that it would be for his successor to consider the commission’s findings over this summer.

“I hope Hawick gets to keep its six councillors and although we will have to wait and see, I wouldn’t bet on it,” cautioned Councillor Parker.