The Boundary Commission has published its final recommendations for new electoral arrangements for Suffolk County Council.
In short – we made it! We saved Woodbridge from the cashew-nut attack!
When the Boundary Commission proposals for Suffolk’s new county council division boundaries came out last year, something looked very wrong.
This is what they proposed for Woodbridge:
The proposal – which I believe originated with the county or district Conservative group – would leave Woodbridge Primary school in the adjoining division, while designing a ‘cashew nut’ division by adding the villages from Little Bealings round to Ufford(!) while excluding all the houses on the far side of Pytches road. The divisional boundary thus would remain where it is now, along the dashed line down the middle of Pytches road. This was frankly ludicrous.
This unusual scheme would mean people could and would be living 500 yards from Woodbridge Town centre, but be in a county division that was linked with Sudbourne and Bawdsey rather than with Woodbridge!
This was not the new division proposed by myself or many others in Woodbridge. It did not make local sense. Other divisional boundaries in East Suffolk were equally lacking in local sense. We were told by a local politician that these weird configurations were “just a matter of simple maths.”
As this seemed to be very inappropriate in terms of simple democracy, I spent a full 24 hours , while ill with Covid, assisted by Woodbridge Town LibDem Leader Patrick Gillard (also Covid-stricken) working against the deadline, indulging in a spot of simple maths: simply adding up the sums of residents in each parish, dividing them both equally and practically, and creating and lining new boundaries on a map for the entire East Suffolk district, to create a more effective and democratically appropriate set of proposals.
The boundary we proposed for Woodbridge looked like this:
A further consultation, responded to by many groups and persons, not least Woodbridge Town Council, confirmed the revised boundaries, which the Boundary Commission have now agreed.
So the new county council division of Woodbridge should look like this:
Caterpillar Centre closure & other changes to go ahead, despite opposition challenge On 25 August, County Cabinet agreed to reduce the number of Children’s Centres in Suffolk from 38 to 17 full-time & 11 part-time Family Hubs. 8 centres will be repurposed for nurseries or SEND provision, whilst 2 will close permanently (Chatterbox in Ipswich and Caterpillar in Woodbridge).
Trading Standards I want everyone to make local residents aware of the ‘you must renew your washing machine (or some such appliance ) insurance’ scam that is doing the rounds by telephone. Recently an elderly Woodbridge resident was very nearly coerced into believing she should pay a significant sum of money by direct debit, because these heartless scoundrels insisted she had made a verbal agreement over the phone. The line is “they are renewing your insurance.” This is not the case.
Current Suffolk school transport arrangements, and other issues Suffolk County Council has confirmed that it will initially not be offering spare seats on school transport. This is due to social distancing requirements, which have reduced the capacity on school buses. However, parents may be able to apply for a spare seat from October half term.
The council has also confirmed the arrangements for masks and social distancing on school transport. The rules vary depending on the type of transport used:
• Dedicated closed routes (vehicle only carries school children) – social distancing will not apply, face coverings are recommended for children aged 11+
• Shared routes (most passengers are pupils, but may be some members of the public) – pupils should observe social distancing guidelines with members of the public but they can sit next to members of their family or school, face coverings are mandatory unless a child is exempt from wearing one
• Public transport – social distancing will apply, face coverings are mandatory unless a child is exempt from wearing one
There continue to be concerns and anxieties about schooling. At the end of Sept I asked the Director for Children and Young People’s services the following questions:
• How many Suffolk schools have reported Covid infection or potential Covid contact incidents since the beginning of Autumn term 2020?
• What % children returned to school? Have they stayed there? Is full-class teaching the norm?
• What planned educational support is offered to children in care if their school locks down?
• Was there a Suffolk increase in reported child abuse stats after lockdown lifted?
• Given the numbers of schools outside local authority control, how can we best (or can we?) get a picture of children’s health and educational engagement across the county?
• Can you confirm the government’s statement that in the event of a second lockdown, schools will stay open?
• It became clear the care home infections were largely caused by peripatetic staff. As I asked before, is Suffolk tracking the movements of peripatetic school staff (music, language teachers, supply teachers etc?) If not why not?
New Boundaries proposed for Suffolk County Council seats
Despite having said it had abandoned the project, the boundary commission has now come up with its new slimline county council boundaries – and they bear no resemblance to those proposed by me or by Woodbridge Town Council. These will not be implemented till 2025 but will be decided on relatively soon.
They are bizarre in the extreme.
The new Woodbridge boundary (32) would continue to have the boundary division down the middle of Pyches Road, dividing the community in half. It then skatesneatly around the whole of Melton but loops back to include Ufford!
The multiple Woodbridge community connexions with Melton (including having the Woodbridge CP IN Melton Parish , has been ignored.The Boundary Commission tells us that this extraordinary and unreasonable proposal is the local Conservative group proposal. It has neither rhyme nor reason. Of course Melton has an identity of its own – but surely it is closer to Woodbridge than Hollesley, Bawdsey, Rendlesham and the other Wilford parishes to which they are proposing it should be joined instead.
It excludes many people who consider themselves residents of Woodbridge excluded by the completely bonkers line down the middle of Pyches road, which makes them now Wilford residents – linked with the division across the Deben – to Hollesley, Bawdsey and all the land up to just below Aldeburgh.
It includes people who would not define themselves as residents of Woodbridge – the residents of Ufford for example, who are geographically on the same Old Yarmouth Rd as excluded Melton – but further away. It’s crazy.
It is almost as if the Conservatives designed this, hoping that this topsy turvy division might finally deliver Woodbridge back into their hands. (But of course no party would be so inappropriate.)
Sadly they appeared to have misread the conditions. “You cannot split a parish,” declared a longstanding ex-District Councillor. He had clearly forgotten that the Woodbridge county division already contains a section of Martlesham parish (one side of California, Dukes Park and the whole of the Fynn estate…)
Among the many additional issues of this whole unnecessary exercise I must point to the utter fatuity of division 19 created out of much of Carlford and Wickham (to be called Grundisburgh and Wickham Market.) In reality this stretches from Tuddenham St Martin and Westerfield next to Ipswich to Stratford St Andrew and Farnham at the other end. Again, an exercise in creating a division that cannot be reasonably represented and is not representative.
This at a time when county councils are already being asked by government to do more for less, and people are losing touch with who represents them.
Infrastructure Board established to oversee costs of large projects It has emerged that Suffolk County Council established an Infrastructure Board in November 2019 to oversee large infrastructure projects and ensure they remain within budget. This is in response to a number of recent projects where costs have increased dramatically, including the Upper Orwell Crossings which was eventually abandoned after costs increased by £43m.
The board is currently only made up of officers.
Co-incidentally, though Cabinet has recently given final approval for the Lowestoft Lake Lothing Third Crossing, the cost of the bridge is now much higher than originally estimated. The report prepared for Cabinet estimated that the total cost of delivering the bridge is £126.75m, with an additional £19m allocated as a contingency for any unforeseen risks. The original estimate was £91.73m.
UPDATE: This was my response to the boundary commission on behalf of Woodbridge. I also responded more generally about East Suffolk . I am happy to share this on request:
Woodbridge is 12th largest town in Suffolk (2011 census). 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). 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 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 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 is extended into Melton Parish 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.
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 whether residents identify with Woodbridge or Wickham Market. 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 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
Woodbridge county council division 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Kesgrave and Rushmere St Andrew
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
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