Sun, 20 Nov 2016
HE number of West Berkshire councillors could be reduced by 20 per cent as part of a major shake-up ahead of the next local elections.
West Berkshire Council is currently made up of 52 councillors representing 30 wards, 48 of whom are Conservatives and four of whom are Liberal Democrat.
However, following an electoral review of the district, undertaken by the Local Government Boundary Commission for England, it has been recommended that the number of councillors is cut to 40.
The commission is independent of central and local government and political parties and is directly accountable to Parliament through a committee of MPs chaired by the Speaker of the House of Commons.
Before the 2015 local elections, the Conservative Party made a pledge to request the review in order to address the district’s growing population over the next 10 years.
The purpose of the exercise is to look at whether the number of electors represented by each councillor is approximately the same.
The review found that the current registered electorate in West Berkshire is likely to rise by 3.2 per cent by 2022, from 118,823 to 125,877.
Based on 52 councillors, this would mean an increase of 136 electors per councillor.
Currently, each councillor has an average of 2,208 electors, which places the council 11th lowest (out of 55 authorities) in terms of number of electorate per councillor.
West Berkshire Council has called an extraordinary meeting next week to discuss the findings and it will go out to a public consultation at a later date.
However, that is not the end of the changes as phase two of the review will involve looking at warding patterns.
On its website, the commission says: “We may recommend a change in the number of councillors to be elected in an area and a change in the number of wards or divisions, their boundaries and their names.”
Once the review is complete, the council will conduct local elections on the basis of the new arrangements.
Explaining its reasons for requesting the electoral review, the council said: “The new development at the racecourse will result in 1,500 properties being built over time.
“Furthermore, the Sandleford development will also result in 2,000 additional properties being built, although the development period is to 2026.
“These two developments will increase the number of electors in these two areas.
“This will mean that Greenham ward will have an imbalance in terms of electoral ratio once the developments have been completed.
“Other potential development sites across the district and population forecasts covering the next 10 years will also need to be factored into this review.”
Giving its response to the findings of the review, the council added: “Going forward and having regard to the financial landscape, the council consider that its future governance structures should reflect members undertaking three substantive roles, namely executive, regulatory or scrutiny roles.
“To this end, the council’s view is that the council size in 2019/2020 should reduce from 52 members to 40 (+ or – 1) members.”