Review to reduce size of Arlesey council following lack of nominations
Euan Duncan, local democracy reporter
- Credit: Archant
Uncontested elections to town and parish councils in Central Bedfordshire leaves them at risk of becoming “a club”, a meeting heard.
A lack of nominations to stand as a councillor among parishioners prompted a request from Arlesey Town Council for a community governance review to reduce its size.
Approval from Central Bedfordshire Council would lower the number of town councillors to seven, according to a report to its general purposes committee.
Three CBC ward councillors were appointed to also represent the parish, following the local elections in May 2019, said the report.
“It was a temporary measure until the town council could co-opt more members to avoid inquorate meetings.”
CBC’s democratic services manager Brian Dunleavy told the committee: “The response to the initial consultation was somewhat inadequate as we only had ten replies. You might argue opinion is a little divided as well.
“I’m looking to move the terms of reference to progress to the second stage,” he explained. “It’s proposed this stage is only eight weeks, rather than 12.
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“The reason is if it’s decided to reduce the number of town councillors for Arlesey a statutory instrument would need to be created.
“This would have to be dealt with by full council and produced under seal. The original timetable might make it quite tight to get this through in time for the next elections in May.
“Hopefully we may receive more of a substantial response to the second stage.”
Council leader and Conservative Arlesey councillor Richard Wenham said: “There were only three candidates to fill 12 places on the council in 2019, which had been reduced from 15 as part of the parish boundary reviews.
“But 12 couldn’t be found from the 5,800 electors. Since then the CBC ward councillors were delighted to be appointed to it.
“We’ve advertised extensively through social media and newsletters. That’s produced a net increase of two from the parishioners of Arlesey.
“So there are now five people resident in the parish, as well as (CBC) councillor David Shelvey and myself, while the other CBC councillor Ian Dalgarno was also elected in 2019.” Councillor Wenham then left the meeting.
Independent Aspley and Woburn councillor John Baker said: “The public aren’t interested in the town council. I would draw a parallel to one of my local authorities Aspley Guise.
“I think it’s important to reduce the seats on parish councils for the public to have a contested election.
“My parish council has 12 seats and can’t find 12 people, so never sees a contested election, and there are only 1,800 electors. The parish council goes through life co-opting people and essentially becomes a club.
“No answers are given to difficult questions put to parish councillors by the public and likewise none to freedom of information requests.
“The only way you can change this is through an election. You never get one because there aren’t enough people to reach the magic number of 13.
“The bottom line is parish councils have direct tax-raising powers.”
The committee approved an amended recommendation to proceed with stage two of the review.