Boundary debate ball bounces back to SBC

Hawick's David Paterson marks 25 years as a councillor.
Hawick's David Paterson marks 25 years as a councillor.

If elected members feel radical changes to the ward structure of Scottish Borders Council are unacceptable and undemocratic, they must come up with alternative proposals.

That was the message from last week’s council meeting when a report on the recommendations of the Local Boundary Commission for Scotland was briefly discussed.

“If it is the wish of elected members to fight this, then they must come up with alternatives which are acceptable to the commission,” stated Jenny Wilkinson, clerk to the council.

The advisory quango wants to cut the number of SBC wards from 11 to 10 and the number of elected members from 34 to 32 in time for the 2017 local elections. This means a new set-up of eight three-member divisions and two with four members to replace arrangements introduced in 2007.

While six of the current wards will remain intact, the suggested changes will impact most significantly in Roxburghshire with the creation of a single Hawick ward returning four councillors and replacing the two three-member wards of Hawick & Denholm and Hawick & Hermitage.

The rural areas of Denholm and Hermitage will become part of a vast new three-member Jedburgh, Denholm & Hermitage ward, stretching over 40 miles from Newcastleton to Bemersyde near Earlston.

No fewer than 14 community councils currently operate within that area.

Last week, councillors were asked by Mrs Wilkinson to simply note the commission’s recommendations and draw up their formal response at the next full council meeting on May 21.

Before that, all elected members will attend a “sounding board” seminar on Thursday, April 23, when the proposals for each ward will be discussed in detail, taking account of postcodes, current and projected population figures, community council boundaries and other geographic and historic considerations. That gathering will also be expected to come up with “alternative proposals”.

A clearly frustrated Councillor David Paterson (Ind, Hawick & Hermitage) was unhappy at not being able to discuss the issue last week, but his motion calling for an immediate debate failed to win a seconder.

“I am disappointed and wish to record my dissent,” he stated.

Meanwhile, the wider Borders public will get the chance to have its say on the commission’s proposals during a 12-week period of consultation from July to October. The commission expects to submit its final recommendations to Scottish ministers by May, 2016.