Near criminal proposal is out of bounds – McAteer

There has been a predictably hostile reaction to a proposal to redraw Scottish Borders Council’s ward map ahead of the 2017 elections, with one councillor describing it this week as an act of near criminal folly.

Watson McAteer (Ind, Hawick & Denholm) was reacting to the recommendations of the Local Government Boundary Commission that the number of wards should be cut from 11 to 10 and the number of elected members from 34 to 32.

In a bid to achieve parity of representation, the Scottish advisory quango has provisionally deemed the ratio of councillors to electorate in the region should be one in 2,800 instead of the current one in 2,639.

And that means a new set-up of eight three-member divisions and two with four members to replace arrangements only introduced in 2007.

While six of the current wards will remain intact, the changes will impact most in Roxburghshire.

A new single Hawick ward returning – like Galashiels & District – four councillors will be created at the expense of the two three-member divisions of Hawick & Hermitage and Hawick & Denholm.

The rural areas of Denholm and Hermitage 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.

“This is just about as absurd as it gets,” said Councillor McAteer. “It’s easy to think of Hawick in isolation, but this will significantly impact on our close friends and neighbours in Newcastleton, Denholm, Chesters and Bonchester, and all areas in between.

“These are communities which have educational, health and many more natural synergies with Hawick, and taking them out of our family is an act of near criminal folly and must be rejected.

“This is not the time to see any diminution in our ability to shout loudly for Hawick not to be marginalised further and I know my fellow Hawick councillors feel the same.

“I now expect every SBC councillor to fight this and for it to be top of the agenda for our new MP after the general election.”

One of the perceived iniquities of what is proposed relates to the workload of future councillors.

In the Jedburgh, Denholm and Hermitage ward – stetching over 40 miles from Newcastleton to Bemersyde – there are no fewer than 14 active community councils.

In unchanged Tweeddale East there are just four.

All 34 elected members have been invited to a sounding board meeting on April 23 and the council will agree its official consultation response to the commission on May 21.