Community Governance Review : Working group minutes : Wednesday 11 November 2020
Present: Councillors Shelim (Chairman), Cannon (Vice Chairman), Davies, Knowles and Story
Officers: Suzanne Martin (Electoral & Information Governance Services Manager), Karen Shepherd (Head of Governance)
Councillor Shelim welcomed all to the meeting.
Apologies for Absence
Summary of Consultation Feedback
Suzanne Martin provided Members with a summary of the 69 responses received within the consultation period.
Four representations were received from parish councils. All broadly supported the concept of a new town council. The responses from Cox Green and Datchet were fairly brief. Old Windsor made the point that they did not believe the boundary to Old Windsor Parish Council should change; this was connected to the Boltons issue. The Boltons was part of the Old Windsor ward but not the parish council. The Bray clerk commented any new town council should be warded. A few residents had contacted the parish council and they had offered to mentor any new parish councillors that come out of the process. The response did not mention any support for a change to the Bray Parish Council borders. Members recalled that at the recent Windsor Town Forum, there had been much debate on this issue.
Six responses had been received from local organisations. Legoland provided a fairly long response but in summary if was of the view that it was up to local residents to decide. The response commented that there was a sense of community and therefore a need for a parish council. The Windsor Neighbourhood Plan Group supported the formation of a town council, which it believed should cover the whole of the unparished area as one parish council rather than multiple bodies. The Boltons needed to have some form of direct democracy at parish level because it sat in the Old Windsor ward. The response also made the point that the Dedworth part of Bray parish should come into Windsor.
The owner of the Daniels store submitted a response supporting the formation of a new town council. The Windsor Town Forum had submitted the minutes of its meeting held on 12 October 2020. A response was received from an individual using an Eton college email address stating they did not support the formation of a town council as matters were already effectively managed through the Windsor Town Manager. The Windsor Town Council Steering Committee sent a detailed response supporting the formation of a new town council, covering the whole of the unparished area in wards. The response was strongly against multiple parishes.
Three responses were received from political parties. Windsor Labour supported formation of one single council. This should be warded but the wards should not necessarily reflect borough boundaries as they did not reflect community identity. West Windsor Residents Association supported the formation of a single town council and believed it should be warded. The responses proposed ward names for 13 areas. The response also raised the issue of the Dedworth part of Windsor being in Bray parish. The Windsor Lib Dems sent a thorough response, supporting a single council covering the whole of the unparished area. They suggested between 20-25 parish councillors. They also suggested a few warding options including wards reflecting current polling districts
Three responses from individual councillors were received. Councillor Davey supported the formation of new town and council and felt it should be warded. Councillor Price also supported the formation of a new town council and that it should be warded and commented the wards should not reflect borough boundaries. Councillor W. Da Costa responded the town council should be warded into three distinct areas, covering the whole of the unparished area. He included his response to the electoral review a few years ago as background to his thinking about how communities were identified.
Responses from 53 individual residents had been received, the majority in the final week of the review. Many said they supported the formation of a town council and almost all said they wished for elections earlier than 2023. A few representations were received from residents of the Boltons requesting direct representation from a parish council. A couple of responses stated they did not support the formation of a town council as this was an added cost and another level of unnecessary bureaucracy. No detail was given behind this thinking.
In summary, most responses wanted a single council across the review area and for it to be warded. There was an emphasis on West Windsor not being separated from central Windsor. Most believed the wards within the parish area should not match the borough wards. Residents overwhelmingly wanted elections before 2023.
It was confirmed that no formal response had been received from Eton Town Council.
Suzanne Martin confirmed that the Head of Law was aware of the consultation strategy and the number of organisations consulted with; she had concluded this represented a sound consultation database. She had recommended for second phase that those residents who had responded to the first consultation, be included on the database. The Head of Law was also aware of the volume of responses received (69) and had expressed no concerns.
Members noted that the responses to the consultation, once redacted, would be published to the website by the end of November 2020. The responses would be presented in the groupings described above. One late submission had been received; Suzanne Martin would circulate this to Members.
Councillor Story commented that the responses showed overwhelming support for some form of town council. He requested that a short summary (one paragraph) be provided to Members on the benefits of a town council to residents and businesses as expressed by consultation respondents.
Councillor Davies highlighted the need to explore warding options which reflected communities. If simultaneous borough and town council elections were held it would be important to avoid confusion about voting in two different polling stations. (It was confirmed that voting arrangements prevented this from happening.) Therefore polling districts may be sensible divisions. The individual responses had come from addresses across the unparished area.
Councillor Knowles commented that it was gratifying that there was such engagement; the depth of some of the responses welcomed. This supported the argument the consultation had been robust. Suzanne Martin commented that the council had only run one other CGR for Bray parish. This was for a very small area (200 properties in the Fisheries) so had limited engagement. The responses from West Windsor Residents Association and the Windsor Town Council Steering Group had included a number of signatures in support.
Members noted that they would be able to inform other councillors that 69 responses had been received, divided down to the groups detailed above. For Data Protection purposes, it would be important not to name individual resident respondents.
Key decisions for members:
Members noted that as the consultation had closed, the next step was to produce draft recommendations on electoral arrangements for the second consultation. The issues to cover would be:
- Review area
- Boundaries and internal warding, including names
- Number of councillors elected overall and to individual wards
- Elections timing – The next scheduled elections were in May 2023. Although it was not recommended, it was possible to hold early elections in May 2022. In responses many asked for May 2021 but this was not possible because it would be before the end of the 12 month review process. If held May 2022, those elected would only sit for 1 year then elections would take place again in May 2023 to align with the current electoral cycle.
- Consequential effects – assets transferred both, physical assets and legal powers, calculation of parish precept
- Consultation approach – The second phase would expect a higher level of responses because specifics would be included. In the original timetable for review, the draft recommendations were to be published in January 2021. Publishing in line with the 23 February full Council meeting would mean a leaflet about the consultation could be included with the annual council tax billing process. The Head of Revenues and Benefits had confirmed this would be possible. A similar process could be undertaken to consult with businesses via the non-domestic business rates billing process. A three month consultation would still take place between late February and late May 2021, with the final recommendations being published by late July 2021. There would be no impact on laying of the reorganisation order by the end of December 2021.
Members noted the option of a shadow /caretaker council between May 2022-May 2023. However it was noted that the council would have no statutory powers until formal elections took place. Suzanne Martin would look into this issue further.
It was confirmed that multiple parish councils was an option within the scope of the review but the majority of responses were for one (warded) council across the whole review area. Councillor Cannon commented that holding elections in 2022 and then again in 2023 would have additional costs. He was also concerned about the idea of a shadow council in terms of how it would operate without elected representatives. The only identifiable benefit is earlier representation for electors.
It was confirmed that there was no standard practice relating to warding. The parishes in the borough had been formed decades ago, based on community identities identified at that time. The only recent changes to parish wards were as a result of the electoral review, to Bray and Sunninghill & Ascot. It was explained that as polling districts were the basic building blocks, these could not be split; and parish ward boundaries would need to align with the current polling district boundaries.
Councillor Knowles echoed the comments that all options needed to be on the table. He felt that separating West Windsor from central Windsor could be viable because the character of the two areas could be quite different. He was also concerned one council could become too big and unwieldy. A timetable for 2023 elections may not suit all but it was realistic on the basis of cost alone. It would be important to ensure there were enough interested parties to fill positions.
Councillor Story commented that the most controversial issue was the Bray issue. Suzanne Martin highlighted that 2 or 3 responses stated that Dedworth should come out of Bray parish and go into Windsor with the reasoning that this was readjusting an anomaly. Members noted that Dedworth had always sat in Bray parish; the eastern boundary had been unaffected by the electoral review. The only change had been that two parish wards were amalgamated – Dedworth and Alexander. As the Local Government Boundary Commission for England (LGBCE) had changed the parish in 2019, if the council wanted to amend the Bray boundary, it would need to go to the LGBCE for permission. There was no guarantee the LGBCE would support such a change. Bray Parish Council had not expressed a desire to lose Dedworth. Members agreed it was not practical to look at this issue in the timescale of the review and noted that it could be addressed at a point in the future via another CGR. The council could run CGRs as often as they wished and on whatever scale.
Councillor Story highlighted the importance of having a clear view about what services residents and business would want a town council to provide. One respondent had listed 46 possible duties of a town council. It was noted that as part of a second consultation the council could look to put to residents different options on duties, as long as they provided specifics. The final recommendations would include only one structure.
Councillor Story identified six issues to be considered for any option put forward:
- Detailing to residents and business what the cost would be
- Being clear on how each option would be managed – staffing ,accommodation
- Funding – new opportunities available?
- The impact on borough including staffing, finances, land and property transfers
- Implementation date
- Ward structure, number of councillors (responses had ranged from suggestions of between 9-25 parish councillors)
A couple of responses had said any town council should not be party political. It was confirmed that this was entirely dependent on who stood for election.
Councillor Knowles commented that anything above normal basic duties of a parish council had to be agreed by the parish itself. If a recommendation went above this, it could be seen as predetermining their decision.
Topics for a future meeting
Members agreed the following issues should be addressed at future meetings:
- An officer from the finance team be invited to attend to explain the parish precept and financing issues.
- Consideration of existing figures on the number of electors per parish councillor in other wards (Members noted that the review area had 22,000 electors in total. The largest parish currently was Sunninghill and Ascot with 16 parish councillors for an electorate of 9,000).
- Consultation leaflet – Suzanne Martin to speak to Communications about how this would work including an online response form.
- A list of minimum statutory duties of a parish council would be useful in the management of expectations about what a town council could do, however large it was.
- Consideration of specific responses on the issue of warding.
Members requested that, where possible, documents be sent in advance of meetings.
Date of next meeting
Members agreed that the next meeting should take place in the week commencing Monday 30 November 2020.
The meeting, which began at 2.05pm, finished at 3.33pm.