How people power forced Boundary Commission to change its Birmingham plans
The Local Government Boundary Commission for England – it’s hardly the sexiest title.
And generally the LGBCE goes about its work hardly noticed in an efficient, albeit rather stuffy, Town Hall way. Recommendations for boundary changes are published, consulted upon, and usually apart from minor amendments are approved by the Government.
But when the LGBCE published its draft scheme to re-write the ward boundaries of Birmingham city council a year ago some of the proposals were just so weird and wacky that something had to give.
In an attempt to deliver on the Kerslake Review recommendations to reduce the size of the authority from 120 councillors to about 100 the LGBCE hit upon a novel plan for 101 councillors in a variety of two and one member wards – doing away with the uniform three councillors per ward.
If that was a shock to the system, closer analysis of the proposals found that the Commission had plunged a knife through the heart of Birmingham, splitting neigbourhoods and communities apart in an effort to do something really radical.
Moseley village would no longer be in Moseley ward, the historic centre of Acocks Green would not be in Acocks Green ward, parts of Hall Green were to be shunted elsewhere, parts of Oscott were to be placed in Kingstanding ward and parts of Kingstanding were destined to be re-sited in Oscott, and bits of Yardley were to be annexed into other wards, and so on.
The outcry from the council, all of Birmingham’s main political parties, and community organisations against the proposals was unanimous. Council leader John Clancy sought a meeting with the Commission after taking office in December 2015 and urged a complete re-think.
The level of opposition was so great that the LGBCE had little choice but to rip up its controversial proposals and head back to the drawing board, proving at least that it does take notice of local opinion. The listening Commission, you might say.
Professor Colin Mellors, chair of the Commission, said:
We are extremely grateful to people across Birmingham who took the time and effort to send us their views. The Commission considered every piece of evidence it received, over three rounds of consultation, before finalising these recommendations.
Across the city, we have sought to balance the views expressed to us by local people with the criteria we must apply when we are deciding on new electoral arrangements. As such, we believe these recommendations deliver electoral equality for voters as well as reflecting the identities of communities in Birmingham.
The scale of alterations from the existing draft proposals is huge:
- In Balsall Heath, there were complaints that the recommendations divided the centre of the community between wards. The final recommendations extend the boundary of the Balsall Heath West eastwards so that the heart of the community is contained within a single ward. The Commission has also renamed Sparkbrook ward as Sparkbrook & Balsall Heath East ward to reflect the identities of the communities within it.
- The Commission received representations that its proposals for a single-member Perry Beeches and Perry Hall wards artificially divided a cohesive community. The Commission has merged the two wards to form a two-member Perry Barr ward.
- In Erdington and its surrounding area, the Commission has changed its proposals in response to evidence around community identities. The Short Heath community will be part of the Perry Common ward rather than Erdington and an area to the north of the A452 Chester Road is included in Erdington ward instead of Pype Hayes ward.
- The Commission received representations that parts of the Oscott community had been included in the Kingstanding ward and that an area that identified with the Kingstanding community had been included with Oscott ward. The Commission has amended the boundaries of the wards to reflect those concerns. The area to the north of the B4149 King’s Road – up to Sutton Coldfield – is now included in Oscott ward. The area around the southern part of the B4138 Kingstanding Road is included as part of Kingstanding ward.
- The boundaries of the Stockland Green ward have been amended in the west to include the area between Witton Lakes and Witton Cemetery and its eastern boundary has moved westwards so that it runs along the Birmingham to Sutton Coldfield railway line. The Commission was persuaded that the new configuration provided a better reflection of community identities and draws boundaries that are strong and locally recognised.
- The Commission’s recommendation to include the whole of Moseley village in Moseley ward is part of the final recommendations.
- The historic centre of Acocks Green is wholly contained in the ward of that name following representations made to the Commission in previous rounds of consultation.
- Hall Green North and Hall Green South wards are included in the final recommendations. The Commission had originally proposed that parts of the Hall Green community should be included in other wards.
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