A campaign to prevent people in High Brooms having their votes subsumed into a proposed new Borough council ward area dominated by voters in Tunbridge Wells has been successful.
The initial proposals from the Local Government Boundary Commission had ignored the fact that the district of “Southborough and High Brooms” has historically been a separate town from Tunbridge Wells.
But after representations from many local groups, there will now be a one member Tunbridge Wells Borough Council ward for High Brooms only (area E below). The area was originally going to be part of a Tunbridge Wells North ward, but now St John’s residents will have their own two member ward.
The boundaries for voting in the parish council elections every four years will also change. The new names for the areas shown in the map above are:
D = Southborough East, E = Southborough High Brooms, F = Southborough North, G = Southborough West
The area of the town of Southborough and High Brooms not defined as “High Brooms” will be merged into the new Borough Council ward of “Southborough and Bidborough”. This ward is large enough to have 3 councillors, with voting for them taking place three years out of every 4 years.
The mayor of Southborough, Dianne Hill (below), welcomed the establishment of the High Brooms ward and the Local Government Electoral Commission’s change of heart.
Dianne Hill said: “Brilliant news for High Brooms. It keeps its identity and St Matt’s school and church are moved back into the same ward.”
The single exception to the overall 3 member plan for each ward was made for High Brooms because the commission said: “While we start our reviews with a presumption in favour of a uniform pattern of three-councillor wards when determining our warding pattern in authorities that elect by thirds, we were persuaded that there was overwhelming community identity evidence from a broad range of residents, community groups, councillors and stakeholders that justified separating the High Brooms area from the town of Tunbridge Wells. Accordingly, we are content to depart from a uniform pattern of three-councillor wards and create a single-councillor High Brooms ward.”
But other areas weren’t as successful in their representations to the Local Government Electoral Commission. The area of Capel, which currently has its own councillor, is still to be merged into a large ward that includes Pembury.
The current councillor for Capel, Hugh Patterson, told Southborough News: “I was disappointed but not surprised. I think there’s a risk Capel residents will be much less effectively represented than they have been.”
There’s also concern that the rural areas to the east of the Borough now cover large geographical areas (see below), covering several different parish councils, which will take a lot of work for councillors to represent effectively.
There will be 3 wards to the rural east of the Borough described as:
– Goudhurst, Lamberhurst and Horsmonden
– Cranbrook, Sissinghurst and Frittenden
– Hawkhurst, Sandhurst and Benenden
Many smaller wards would have been possible had the council decided in a recent vote to abandon “voting by thirds” and elect all the members of the council in a single vote (once every four years) as happens elsewhere in Kent. But the Liberal Democrat leadership of the council and some Labour members rejected any such change.
Under the final proposals the Borough of Tunbridge Wells will be divided into 14 wards instead of the 20 that exist at the moment. There will be 39 councillors, that’s 9 fewer than currently.
Projections are that the Borough’s total population will be 91,034 by the year 2028 (up from 85,271 now). This would mean each councillor representing an average of 2,334 people.
The reason for the shake up in the ward boundaries is to make each ward more equal in population to be fair to all voters and also to reduce the overall size and cost of the council.