A suggestion to cut the number of unpaid town councillors in Leighton-Linslade as part of a local government review has come under fire.
A consultation launched this week by Central Bedfordshire Council proposes that the number of town councillors is reduced from 21 to 19.
CBC is asking residents for feedback on ideas for town and parish councils in the district. As well as a reduction in councillors, these include changes to council boundaries, and the abolition, creation and merging of parishes.
The proposals would see Brooklands Ward being extended to incorporate Leston Ward (Leston - which has one councillor - would be abolished); and Southcott Ward in Linslade would have one fewer councillor (from 3 to 2).
That would see the 19 councillors made up of Barnabas 3, Brooklands 2, Grovebury 4, Planets 2, Plantation 3, Southcott 3 and St George’s 2.
The consultation suggests there should be a further review of wards once a substantial number of the proposed developments on the eastern fringe of Leighton Buzzard, that technically cross into the parish of Eggington, have taken place.
Clive Palmer, from Southcott Ward, said he was opposed to knocking down the number of councillors in Leighton-Linslade.
He explained: “We are a large town and all volunteers, and sharing work out is a good thing so we don’t have too much. 21 is not excess numbers.”
He added: “It might be hard to get people to stand in certain areas. But in Southcott last time there were 15 candidates for four seats. Fewer councillors for Linslade would reduce the impact of Linslade as far as the town council is concerned and I am against that.”
But Cllr Amanda Dodwell, who represents Brooklands on the town council and Leighton Buzzard South of CBC, said the idea behind the proposal was to ensure parity across the town in terms of the ratio of councillors to voters.
She said: “At the moment, some parts of the town have a higher number of councillors per head of population compared to other wards. And whilst some town and parish councils have problems finding candidates to take on the role of town councillors, this is not a problem in Leighton-Linslade, with all wards being contested.”
But Cllr Dodwell said there were a number of bigger issues not addressed by the review. She said: “This review is of town council boundaries only - the bigger imbalances exist within the Central Bedfordshire Council wards, particularly as new housing is built.
“So far this has primarily affected Leighton Buzzard South, but as more housing is built to the north and east of the town, LB North will also see the number of residents increasing.
“The most contentious issue is with regards to the boundaries between the Parish of Leighton-Linslade and the Parish of Eggington.
“Although the developments to the east of the town will adjoin the existing town boundary, the development falls within the Parish of Eggington. This could have a significant and detrimental effect on the residents of Eggington.
“The new development will dwarf the existing settlement, and if it remains within the Parish of Eggington, the current residents of the village could see a massive increase in their council tax to pay for the maintenance of play areas, parks and a cemetery for the benefit of the new housing. Whereas Leighton-Linslade Town Council has the capacity to absorb the demands that this new development will bring, Eggington Parish Council does not.”
The proposals follow on from a CBC consultation last year where residents were invited to put forward ideas for change. Wards in Central Beds Council, whose councillors receive a basic allowance of £10.995 with more for special responsibilities, are not up for review at this stage.
Other proposals include:
Eaton Bray: Parish councillors reduced from 9 to 7.
Eggington: Reviewed later once substantial number of proposed developments have taken place.
Great Billington: That the parish name of Great Billington be changed to Billington.
Heath and Reach: Parish councillors reduced from 9 to 7.
Totternhoe: Parish councillors reduced from 9 to 7.
Woburn: Parish councillors reduced from 9 to 7.
Parish or town councils are typically responsible for looking after certain local facilities such as allotments, bus shelters, parks, playgrounds, public seats, public toilets, public clocks, village or town halls, maintenance of footpaths, cemeteries, village greens and various leisure and recreation facilities but this can vary between councils.
Cllr Richard Wenham, Deputy Leader of the Council and Executive Member for Corporate Resources said: “It’s not very often we have a chance to change the way we are represented at a local level. This only tends to happen once every 10 years or so.
“This consultation is a valuable opportunity for people living in Central Bedfordshire to have their say, as part of the democratic process, on local representation.
“Although it may sound like quite an obscure thing to ask people to consider, it is really important. For example, where there are boundary changes this could directly impact on those residents as it potentially means they move to a different town or parish council and that could mean a change in local services and council tax.”
The consultation is open until July 6, 2018 and will mean that any agreed changes will be implemented in time for the next elections for town and parish councils in May 2019. It is available at www.centralbedfordshire.gov.uk/consultations