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Changes coming at Norfolk County Council - and here's how they could affect you

PUBLISHED: 08:30 21 March 2019 | UPDATED: 14:00 21 March 2019

Norfolk county boundary sign. Picture: Bill Darnell

Norfolk county boundary sign. Picture: Bill Darnell

Norfolk County Council is in line for some big changes before you next go to the polls to choose your representative at County Hall.

Parents raised concerns over the region's speech and language therapy service at a meeting in County Hall. Picture: Neil PerryParents raised concerns over the region's speech and language therapy service at a meeting in County Hall. Picture: Neil Perry

Not only is the way the council makes its big decisions due for a change in May, but it has been revealed that a review of the council’s make-up is also soon to get under way.

The review will see the Local Government Boundaries Commission place the council’s structure under scrutiny over the coming years through an electoral review.

This could see the number of councillors changed, along with the areas they represent and how many stand in each division.

What is an electoral review?

Andrew Proctor, Conservative leader of Norfolk County Council. Pic: Neil PerryAndrew Proctor, Conservative leader of Norfolk County Council. Pic: Neil Perry

An electoral review looks at the way the voters of a council’s areas are split and how many people each ward represents.

A review is carried out to determine whether towns, cities and parishes are given fair and equal representation at county level.

Who carries out the review?

The review is carried out by the Local Government Boundaries Commission (LGBC) - a national body independent from the regional area and party allegiance, whose job it is to monitor the structure of councils across the country.

Norfolk County Council Norwich division elections count in St Andrews Hall, Norwich. Emma Corlett being congratulated after taking Town Close.Photo: Steve AdamsNorfolk County Council Norwich division elections count in St Andrews Hall, Norwich. Emma Corlett being congratulated after taking Town Close.Photo: Steve Adams

How did the review come about?

The LGBC regularly monitors areas across the country, particularly focussing on such things as residential growth and movement of people.

It assesses the balance between the populations of areas and the number of councillors they have representing them - along with the number of people each councillor represents.

When it finds cases in which certain divisions have a disproportionate amount of voters - be it above or below the average - an electoral review is launched.

Dan Roper, leader of the Liberal Democrat group at Norfolk County Council. Pic: Liberal Democrats.Dan Roper, leader of the Liberal Democrat group at Norfolk County Council. Pic: Liberal Democrats.

What is the process?

The initial stage - where we are at now - has seen the LGBC call on Norfolk County Council to consider its own circumstances and make recommendations to the commission.

First, County Hall is being asked to think about the number of councillors it current has and whether it feels this number is appropriate. This could see the county council indicate it requires more members, fewer members or if they feel the number is right.

The council is then required to look at whether its divisions are appropriate in both size and number, as well as the number of councillors serving in each of these.

This work will be carried out by a task group of seven councillors - five Conservative and one each from Labour and Liberal Democrats.

Once the council has agreed to its recommendations, the LGBC will receive these, collate them with its own considerations and put these out to the public for further views.

Following the first consultation, the LGBC will publish a list of changes it feels appropriate - which the public will get another opportunity to comment on.

After this, the final recommendations will be published and come into force in time for the next local election.

Why is it needed?

The LGBC has reached the conclusion that certain divisions in Norfolk are better represented than others, with two close to Norwich particularly so.

In the University division, represented by Labour councillor David Rowntree, the number of registered voters is 35pc fewer than the county’s average. Conversely, Liberal Democrat councillor Tim East’s Costessey division has 41pc more voters than the average.

What is the timescale?

At a meeting of its policy and resources committee next week, the council will formally begin preparing its case to the LGBC. This will be submitted in August.

In September, the LGBC will decide whether to amend the council’s submission, before opening them up for the public to give their views on.

In February 2020, the LGBC will review the feedback from both the council and the public before preparing a draft version of its proposals.

Between March and May 2020, the public will have the opportunity to comment on the LGBC’s draft proposals.

The final proposals will be published in July 2020, which will determine what changes will be made to the council’s make-up.

These changes will then come into force at the next county council election, scheduled for May 2021.

How will this affect me?

Any changes could have a handful of effects, depending on what the changes are.

The most obvious possible change is that you may find yourself in a new division, with a new councillor. You may also find yourself in a different division - as opposed to a new one.

If this is the case, you may also find that when election day rolls around, you will need to visit a different polling station.

What have the group leaders said?

Andrew Proctor, Norfolk County Council and Conservative group leader said: “The independent LGBC for England is going to review the number of county councillors in Norfolk and the boundaries of the divisions they represent. The last review was in 2004 and the commission wanted to look at it again now, to ensure areas have a broadly similar number of electors.

“We are setting up a group of councillors to work on the county council’s submission to the commission, which will be discussed by the full council in July. It would not be appropriate to pre-empt those discussions.

“The public will be consulted on any changes proposed by the commission and, once approved, any changes would take place at the 2021 county council elections.”

Emma Corlett, Labour group deputy leader said: “We have already been through a review at a district level, so it is important we look and realigning the county and district boundaries, as this can be confusing for people.

“We do have some inequalities in parts of the county so it is important they are addressed.

“There have been times in the past where these reviews have been taken advantage of for political reasons, but the boundaries commission has said it will be taking into account all submissions, so the Labour group will be making its own submission alongside the one prepared by the council.

“I would encourage members of the public also to give plenty of feedback too and register to vote so you can make sure we get the best outcome possible.”

Dan Roper, Liberal Democrat group leader said: “I definitely feel this needs to be done - our current boundaries are 15 years old.

“You only have to look at Costessey to see this. The whole Queen’s Hill development had not been built when the boundaries were last set and have just been bolted onto the Costessey division.

“My main hope is that the working group has a well spread out representation from across the county.

“I have been unhappy with the way a working group into the new cabinet system has been working, which I feel has been too party political, so I hope this stays out of the equation this time.”

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