I have submitted the following to the official consultation on the creation of new parishes in Swindon. For information on the proposals and an opportunity to submit your own views, please see the website here.
As a ward councillor for Old Town and East Wichel, I am still to find a single person who is in favour of parishing the non-parished areas of Swindon.
At the public meetings which Cllr Jane Milner-Barry and I held, no one was in favour of parishing. Please take into consideration the results of the secret ballots – East Wichel – 11 voted against the imposition of parishing and at Croft Sports Centre – 48 people voted against the imposition of parishing. If it were to go ahead, most people viewed one single large town council as the least worst option. The 2007 Act is about localism, where as Swindon Borough Council seem to be using the Act to impose parishing, as they are unwilling to have a referendum to raise Council tax. Parishing is not coming from the people, it would seem that the Council are using the Act against them in order to raise more money.
As a ward councillor I am against the imposition of parishing. If it were to go ahead, then I would be very much against the creation of four parishes. If the Council were to proceed despite the overwhelming opposition from the residents to parishing, then it would be better to have one large parish council.
The maps are not clear. Many people didn't realise that Bath Road is being cut in two to form a boundary. This is going against the guidance which states on page 26, point 83 –
“As far as boundaries between parishes are concerned, these should reflect the “no-man’s land”
between communities represented by areas of low population or barriers such as rivers, roads or railways. They need to be, and be likely to remain, easily identifiable”
Many residents have voiced opinions that Old Town including Eastcott ward is a natural community. This has much more affinity than including Old Town with Lawns and Badbury Park.
In the Community Review Guidance, page 19 –
“create cohesive, attractive and economically vibrant local communities, building on the Government’s Sustainable Communities’ strategy.”
Not including all of Bath Road, nor any of Victoria Road would be cutting a local community up.
The proposed boundaries would create rich and poor parishes. The proposals are devisive and not cohesive. I think if these proposals go through, a lot of residents will receive their new Council tax bill and say that they knew nothing about the parish precept!
In summary, I do not believe the current boundaries “reflects the identities and interests of the community in that area and is effective and convenient.” from page 28, point 94 of the guidance notes.
From the beginning, there has only been one option that has been considered. Many residents have said that Swindon Borough Council do not have a good track record when it comes to consultation; many already believe that it is a “done deal”.
I am also worried that a large number of people have not received the “Important information” from SBC about parishing which was meant to have been delivered to every household in the borough. At the meeting at Croft on Sunday 14 out 48 people had not received this information. This has come up across Swindon. This seems to be a failure to consult in a meaningful way.
There are still so many unknowns, such as how £400,000 for the town centre will be raised and how many Council staff will be affected and what services will be transferred, especially the inclusion of libraries. The proposed new parish for most of the Old Town ward would also have the Town Gardens, Coate Water, Croft Woods and Lawns Park in it. It could be argued that these are borough wide assets used by residents across Swindon.
The Community Governance Review feels rushed to many residents and councillors. If carried out in a 12 month period, it doesn't mean that it also has to be implemented within the same timescales. In the Community Governance Review Guidance Notes – it states as much.
“30. Reorganisation of community governance orders (explained further in this chapter under implementation) creating new parishes, abolishing parishes or altering their area can be made at any time following a review. However for administrative and financial purposes (such as setting up the parish council and arranging its first precept), the order should take effect on the 1 April following the date on which it is made. Electoral arrangements for a new or existing parish council will come into force at the first elections to the parish council following the reorganisation order. However, orders should be made sufficiently far in advance to allow preparations for the conduct of those elections to be made. In relation to a new parish council, the principal council may wish to consider whether, during the period between 1 April and the first elections to the parish council, it should make interim arrangements for the parish to be represented by councillors who sit on the principal council.”
On reading the above paragraph it suggests that the Council is not obliged to do anything at all and certainly not to do it within any particular time-frame. The paragraph consistently uses phraseology such as 'can' and 'may wish to consider'. The only thing that must happen is that the electoral arrangements will come into force at the first election to the parish council once the arrangements have been made.
It was originally thought that the new parishing plans would save £5M. I understand that this has been revised now to £3.2M. Much of the costs would go on administration costs of appointing a parish clerk and their salary, office rental, bills such as gas, electricity, water, phone, broadband and insurance. This with the economies of scale argument, makes no sense to have four parishes. If it were to go ahead, then one large parish could be set up and then at a later date, if it was the will of the people, smaller parishes could be set up.
It doesn't help when two of the lead Council officers on these proposals are leaving the Council this month.
As a ward councillor, I ask for the views of Old Town residents to be taken into account and for no parishes to be imposed.