Ward reduction plan ‘a muddle’

Plans to cut the number of council wards from 11 to 10 – and the number of elected members from 34 to 32 – have been described as a “mechanistic muddle”.

The reduction in councillors was agreed last year by the Local Government Boundary Commission, despite opposition at Newtown.

After consultation, the advisory quango deemed that the ratio of councillors to their electorate should be one in 2,800 instead of the existing one in 2,639.

To accommodate that formula in time for the 2017 local elections, the commission has this week recommended the current ward set-up be replaced with eight three-member divisions and two with four members.

Under the proposals, which the council will discuss on April 2, six wards will remain unchanged – Tweeddale East, Tweeddale West, Galashiels & District, Leaderdale & Melrose, Mid Berwickshire and East Berwickshire.

But a new single Hawick ward returning (like Galashiels) four councillors will be created at the expense of Hawick & Hermitage and Hawick & Denholm.

The largely rural areas of Denholm and Hermitage (including Newcastleton) will become part of a new Jedburgh, Denholm & Hermitage ward.

The current Jedburgh & District division will cease to exist with its eastern (Roxburgh and Heiton) and western (Charlesfield) boundaries redrawn to boost the size of neighbouring Kelso & District and Selkirkshire respectively.

“I am deeply disappointed at this recommendation which pays scant regard to the democratic needs of a rural area like the Borders,” said Councillor Stuart Bell (SNP, Tweeddale East), executive member for economic development.

“Last year, I opposed the cut in councillors which is now, sadly, a done deal because it involved a formula from which only urban authorities would benefit. Now we see the result of that intransigence which is nothing more than a mechanistic muddle.

“Some would say the general public are still confused about who their councillor is and this will merely add to their disorientation.”

A spokesperson for the boundary commission said: “After consideration of responses from councils [by May 19], we intend to conduct a 12-week public consultation between July and October.

“Depending on the outcome, we may further develop and consult on proposals later in 2015. We expect to submit final recommendations to Scottish ministers by May, 2016.”