Boundary row: councillors told to find ‘alternatives’

Councillor Davie Paterson
Councillor Davie Paterson

The wringing of hands and the gnashing of teeth will not be enough to force a rethink of controversial plans to cut the number of Hawick councillors.

That was the message from last week’s Scottish Borders Council meeting when a report on the proposals of the Local Government Boundary Commission for Scotland – due to be implemented for the 2017 elections – was presented.

“If it is the wish of elected members to oppose these proposals, then they mustcome up with alternatives which are acceptable to the commission,” stated Jenny Wilkinson, clerk to the council.

The commission wants to cut the number of SBC wards from 11 to 10 and the number of elected members from 34 to 32.

In a bid to achieve “parity of representation”, the commission has deemed that the ratio of councillors to electorate across the region should be one in 2,800 instead of the current 2,639.

That means a new set-up of eight three-member divisions and two with four members to replace arrangements only introduced in 2007.

While six of the current wards will remain intact, the changes will impact most in Roxburghshire with the creation of a single Hawick ward returning four councillors and replacing the two three-member wards of Hawick and Denholm and Hawick and Hermitage.

The rural areas of Denholm and Hermitage will become part of a vast new three-member Jedburgh, Denholm and Hermitage ward, stretching more than 40 miles from Newcastleton to Bemersyde, near Earlston. No fewer than 14 community councils currently operate within that area.

All six sitting Hawick councillors have already, in these columns, expressed opposition to the proposals, with one, Councillor Watson McAteer (Hawick and Denholm), describing the splitting up of Hawick’s traditional rural family as “an act of near criminal folly”.

But last week, councillors were asked to simply note the commission’s recommendations and draw up their formal response at the next full council meeting on May 21.

Before that, all elected members will attend a “sounding board” seminar on Thursday, April 23, when the proposals for each ward will be discussed in detail, taking account of postcodes, current and projected population figures, community council boundaries and other geographic and historic considerations. That gathering will also be expected to come up with “alternative proposals”.

Among aspects of the proposed changes sure to concentrate the minds of Hawick councillors is the commission’s assumption that the electorate of the new town ward – 11,734 at September, 2013 – is projected to fall by 300 to 11,434 by 2019.

At last week’s meeting, veteran Hawick and Hermitage councillor Davie Paterson wanted the proposals debated there and then but his motion found no seconder.

“I am disappointed – I want my dissent noted,” said Mr Paterson.

Meanwhile, the Hawick public will get the chance to have its say on the proposals during a 12-week period of consultation from July to October. The commission expects to submit its final recommendations to Scottish ministers by May, 2016.

letters, page 14