Uttlesford councillors could face the chop under new boundary review proposals

UTTLESFORD District Council could see a reduction in the number of members if a new proposal is given the green light by parliament later this year.

Councillors agreed to put forward an argument for between 38 and 40 members – a decrease from the 44 there are currently.

It is the first stage of an electoral boundary review which required the council to put together a case for how many representatives it feels would be needed to cover their workload.

Liberal Democrat members had argued that 35 councillors would be a more appropriate figure, while the Independents were championing for between 36 and 38.

Speaking at Monday’s special council meeting, leader of the local Lib Dem party, David Morson, said: “We think it is really important that any figure is based on robust evidence.

“Members should have been involved in establishing a number that everyone agreed on but instead the electoral working group has not met once since it was set up.

“Most of the work has been done by officers, putting together a report for a decision to be based on, and councillors have not been involved in this. I find it very sad.”

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Leader of the ruling Conservative party, Jim Ketteridge, had originally put forward the proposal for the council to be reduced to between 38-40 members and he hit back at Cllr Morson’s claims.

“Cllr Morson said the figure his party arrived at was evidence based. There is no such thing. They arrived at 35 and drew up ward proposals to fit this number.”

And Conservative councillor Susan Barker added: “You could draw up a scheme for 33, 34, 38 or 39 members and work the wards around it.”

But Cllr Alan Dean, Lib Dem member for Stansted South, said that at least there had been some “due process” carried out in putting together the figure of 35. He criticised the fact that the working group had not met two months ago to “thrash out” the officers’ report and come to an agreement on an appropriate range.

Councillors ultimately voted to put forward a case for 38-40 members to the Local Government Boundary Commission for England (LGBCE), although Lib Dem councillors David Morson, Alan Dean and Peter Wilcock voted against it.

Although the aim of the independent body’s review is to ensure each member represents a similar number of electors, rather than attempting to alter the size of the council dramatically, in most cases authorities have reduced their numbers.

A decision to reassess Uttlesford’s members was made after LGBCE established that more than 30 per cent of wards were too far above or below the average number of electors per member.

The next stage is for further information to be gathered over the coming months to determine how and where new boundaries should be drawn up.