New County Council Boundary for Woodbridge?

This was my response to the boundary commission regarding Woodbridge. (I also responded more generally about East Suffolk . I am happy to share this on request). We now wait for Boundary Commission recommendations

Woodbridge is 12th largest town in Suffolk (2011 census). However, its projected 2025 electorate is 6,610, which makes it the 3rd smallest division in terms of electoral size in East Suffolk (and the smallest one-member division).

This is because a significant portion of what residents think of as the county council division of “Woodbridge” is actually in the county council division of Wickham Market. Strange but true.

However, Woodbridge is the hub for all surrounding communities for health, education, shopping, travel, entertainment and socialising. It is a thriving market town with a living high street (8) railway station (9), good bus services, cinema, swimming pool and sports centre, two theatres, two secondary schools and three primary schools within the current 1 sq mile division boundary (plus Woodbridge Primary School, which is paradoxically outside the current division – see 7). Small and compact, Woodbridge is bounded by the A12 to the west, Martlesham Creek to the south, and the River Deben to the east. The county division has the ability to expand to the north (See 4). This makes best practical sense.

I suggest therefore expanding the Woodbridge division to the north into what is currently the Wickham Market county division (see 4), so that the new boundary takes in:

  • Woodbridge County Primary school (7),
  • all the housing developments coming off the north side of Woodbridge Pytches road where the division line goes down the centre of the road (meaning each side of the white line is the responsibility of a different county councillor)
  • the rest of Bredfield Road (the Woodbridge division currently stops at Warwick Avenue)
  • and the developments that come off Bredfield Road to the west (Bury Hill, Saxon Way).

It could/could not also include the new Longwood development at the top of Woods Lane which faces the end of Bredfield Road.(See 2)

I also suggest that the northern boundary of Wooddbridge County division is extended into the Wickam Market County Council division at the bottom of Pyches Road (See 3 ).

  • to include the rest of Melton Hill and the (new, existing and proposed) housing on both sides of Melton Hill and Melton Road to the north of Woodbridge as far as Melton Playing Fields.

Rationale:

  • Practical sense: Wickham – the adjacent county division to the north of Woodbridge is predicted to be 15% over an optimum average. Woodbridge is predicted to be 16% under. Altering this boundary could solve the problem simply and effectively.
    Please note: Some misguided, and poorly informed individuals have failed to recognise the issue is simply whether residents identify with  Woodbridge or Wickham Market for county council purposes.  Parish boundaries do not come into it. Whatever the county boundary outcome, Melton residents will remain in Melton just as the Martlesham Parish residents who are already in Woodbridge County Council division will still remain in Martlesham Parish. 
  • This area designated is substantially new development immediately adjacent to the rest of Woodbridge town. It is not close to Wickham Market. The residents shop in the thriving Woodbridge Thoroughfare(8), they use the Woodbridge doctors’ surgeries (rather than Wickham Market (5) ), the Woodbridge rather than Wickham Market library (5), the Woodbridge (5) (rather than Melton (6) ) station, the Woodbridge bus services, the Woodbridge schools, the Woodbridge leisure facilities, they belong to Woodbridge community groups etc. etc. They can walk or cycle into Woodbridge within minutes. It is 5 miles from Pyches Road to the Wickham Market shops and services (5).
  • Local residents are affected at a county level by what happens in Woodbridge far more immediately than by what happens in the Wickham division. It would make more practical sense for them to be able to vote for a Woodbridge-specific representative in terms of roads, education, transport, public health etc
  • Because the county division boundary to the north of Woodbridge is literally down the middle of Pyches Road, and county is the highways authority, there is an anomalous break in continuity regarding highways. For example, Woodbridge has a Joint Highways working arrangement with county, but the area to the north of Pyches Road (C) has to be excluded as it is not Woodbridge division. No Woodbridge-designed road programme, or scheme can include this area. Residents are often bemused by this.
  • Woodbridge County Primary School is situated to the north of Pytches Road and is therefore not currently in Woodbridge division (although its catchment population is). This causes issues about road safety etc. For any road related schemes at county level – traffic calming for example – it makes proposals more logical and viable if they can be presented and supported by a single county division. The new proposed division would cover a contiguous area of linked residential roads to the benefit of the electorate.

Secondly, it would be logical to:

  • extend the southern boundary of the Woodbridge division (where it abuts the Martlesham division) so that the rest of Sandy Lane and all of Top street are added to the Woodbridge division. The division would therefore finish at the the point the River Finn crosses under The Street, Martlesham, just before the Red Lion pub crossroads.

Rationale: There are very few residents affected, but those who are, have an affinity to Woodbridge. For traffic planning purposes and for any housing development-related proposals, it would make it easier to represent the needs of the community which travels into Woodbridge as its local hub

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The situation

Woodbridge county council division is to get new boundary: and YOU  can help choose

Seemingly the Boundary Commission  “is minded to recommend that Suffolk County Council should have 70 councillors”, instead of the current 75 (this with me working 100 hour weeks already. Sigh).

More reasonably, they also want to redraw the councillor boundaries to have more equal numbers of residents per division, and potentially get rid of 2-member divisions.

The Commission is asking both local councils and the public to help decide where the new boundaries should be.

Our Woodbridge division has  to change to increase the number of persons included . If nobody contacts, the commission  will redraw the boundary to its own thoughts – which they admit can have no local knowledge of or understanding of local linkings.

Woodbridge division needs, ideally to acquire an extra 1600 -1800 people within its county council boundary. (This has no effect on existing parish boundaries. Eg  the current Woodbridge division already contains  some of Martlesham Parish) While the east, west and south boundaries of the Woodbridge division have a clear rationale, currently its northern border with Melton is confusing.

My personal view is that it would seem sensible for both sides of Pyches Road, the Woodbridge Primary school, developments like Bury Hill and Saxon Way, and all (rather than some ) of Bredfield Rd to be included in the county boundary.  It is an area which is in the Parish of Melton – but which thinks of itself as Woodbridge and uses Woodbridge shops and services and whose roads are wholly interlinked. It makes sense for it to be in the Woodbridge county boundary rather than the neighbouring division of Wickham. This would enable  eg roads and schools to be administered together. Currently the  county boundary is the broken line down the middle of Pyches Road – separating Woodbridge  even from its own primary school.

You can  helpdo something to change this.
The boundary commission’s consultation is here
and you can add your views. If you support this idea, which would turn this necessity into  a benefit to residents, or indeed have other ideas, do add your voice to the consultation.
If nobody contacts the commission,  it will redraw the boundary to its own thoughts – which the Commission freely admits are based on having no local knowledge or understanding of local linking. Your input is therefore crucial.
Suffolk County Council  current divisions

The consultation will run until 13 January 2020, and proposals can be submitted here: https://consultation.lgbce.org.uk/node/18495

Note: There is nothing explicit to say that submissions have to be based on a council size of 70, but anyone making a submission on any other council size would have to put forward strong supporting arguments to justify this. This would likely need to be linked to the practical impact of division patterns. The Commission also has the right to “adjust by one or two” the council size it has proposed, if this adjustment fits its preferred pattern of divisions. This would be reflected in the next stage of the process, when draft recommendations are published and consulted on.

Submissions should address the following three factors, and must be backed up with evidence and examples. These are statutory criteria that the Boundary Commission must consider, and all three will be given equal weight.

  1. Electoral equality
  • The new boundaries should leave each councillor representing roughly the same number of voters across the county.
  • The data to use for this is the 2025 forecast electorate (592,066), which gives an average electorate per councillor of 8458 (assuming 70 councillors). If the submission is based on a different council size, then obviously the average electorate per councillor will need to be adjusted to reflect this.
  • In general, the Commission will accept variances from the average number of electors per councillor of up to +/- 5%. Anything over that may be questioned and may require justification.
  1. Community identity
  • The boundaries should, as far as possible, reflect community interests/identities. This must be evidence-based and cannot just be asserted.
  • Issues to consider include: transport and communication links within the proposed division; community groups or local organisations that represent the area; facilities, such as where people go for shopping, medical services and leisure facilities; identifiable boundaries, such as rivers, woodland, roads or railway lines; parish boundaries; shared interests or concerns within the community, which aren’t relevant to neighbouring areas.
  1. Effective and convenient local government
  • Issues to consider include the number of councillors per division, the geographic size of divisions, and the relationship with district boundaries.
  • The Commission has confirmed that it will attempt to draw-up a pattern of single-member divisions for Suffolk.  There are seven two-member divisions in East Suffolk:
    1. Beccles
    2. Felixstowe Coastal
    3. Gunton
    4. Kesgrave and Rushmere St Andrew
    5. Lowestoft South
    6. Oulton
    7. Pakefield
  • Legally the electoral divisions must be wholly contained within a district: a division can never straddle two district councils. (It can of course straddle parish councils: the Woodbridge county division has long contained a section of the Martlesham parish council.) While the new division boundaries should try to match district ward boundaries as far as possible, there is no requirement for them to be coterminous.

To help with submissions, you can download the “Electorate Proforma” for Suffolk from https://www.lgbce.org.uk/all-reviews/eastern/suffolk/suffolk-county-council-0.  (Via the link on that page under Further Information, which says ( 2) Division Arrangements Consultation). You will need to amend the “Number of Councillors” figure at the top right to reflect the council size you are working with (e.g. 70 councillors). This will then show which divisions are forecasting a variance from the average electorate per councillor in 2025

Caroline Page, LibDem County Councillor for Woodbridge