There’s a growing agreement at Croydon Town Hall that Paul Scott could prove to be the architect of Labour’s demise at the next local elections.
The Woodside councillor, an architect by profession with a busy London practice, is one-quarter of the Gang of Four which controls the Labour council group.
He has created repeated controversies in his capacity as chair of the council’s planning committee. But it is in his backroom role overseeing the council submission to the Local Government Boundary Commission which has caused the Labour group most anxiety lately, especially after the Commissioners published their preliminary report, which included a re-drawing of boundaries almost identical to what the local Tories had suggested.
Some of the new ward boundaries put forward by the Commission have been described as “a Frankenstein’s monster” of a proposal.
The Commissioners were invited to review the make-up of the borough’s 24 wards, which provide the framework for electing councillors once every four years. The next polling day is just over a year away, in May 2018. With changing population and redevelopment going on across much of the borough, there needed to be a re-balancing of the number of people represented by councillors across Croydon.
While the local Conservatives and several pliant residents’ associations submitted detailed suggestions and recommendations to the Commission, Labour opted to make its main submission formally through the council. Tony Newman, Labour’s council leader, handed the task to Scott, backed up by Simon Hall. And sources in Katharine Street suggest that Scott dominated the process, taking little advice from any of his colleagues inside or outside the council.
That domineering approach saw senior Labour members in one more than one area break ranks and submit their own detailed report on the boundaries for their wards, including accusing remarks that identified the flaws in Scott’s council submission, which it said that they, “… demonstrate the serious problems that can occur when people start carving up areas of which they know nothing and care even less about”.
The Commissioners, in their preliminary report, opted effectively to cut and paste the Tory plan for future boundaries, ignoring the work – conducted at public expense – that had been submitted by Scott and the Labour group.
“That’s the risk you run if you submit a set of ill-researched papers which are transparently drawn up purely for political advantage,” one senior Katharine Street source has told Inside Croydon. “The Commissioners have simply opted for the lesser of two badly redrawn maps. Putting Scott in charge was a grave error, and the whole thing could back-fire badly.”
The Commission’s recommendations are open for consultation to the public until May 8, and when they weren’t leafleting or litter-picking over the Easter weekend, several Labour councillors were busy drafting their own submissions to try to rescue something from what could prove to be an electoral disaster.
One leading figure in a political party that is neither red nor blue told Inside Croydon, “What this whole process has exposed is the bi-partisan manner in which even council election boundaries are drawn up to suit the two big parties, and the views of other groups and residents just get shouted down by groups which, through their Council Tax-funded councillor allowances, have the money to pay for the sort of detailed work required.
“It’s really very disappointing that the Commission does not appear to have done much work of its own in drafting its proposals, but has relied on the submissions it received from the Tories and Labour.
“That can’t be right, in terms of geography, demographics or democracy.”
One area of particular controversy is the manner in which the Commission has carved up Addiscombe, held by Labour in a Tory-held parliamentary constituency, and always a battleground ward at local elections.
“It’s a Frankenstein monster of a proposal that has dissected two wards – Addiscombe and Ashburton – and haphazardly put them together again across four separate wards,” was the view of one Town Hall figure.
“The Commissioners’ proposed boundaries ignore their own guidance on respecting local communities. The Addiscombe ‘community voice’ will be drowned if they go ahead as they propose, and as the Tories suggested, by dividing Addiscombe across four wards instead two.”
In the Commission’s recommendations, which closely follow the submission from the local Tories, the strongly Conservative Whitgift Estate and Park Hill areas have been grafted on to the two separate Addiscombe wards. “Both of these areas have spent years claiming that they weren’t part of Addiscombe,” a Labour source said.
“The idea that Long Lane is in Shirley when all its local connections are with Addiscombe, including tram lines, bus routes and shopping areas, shows how mistaken the review is.
“They seem to have no regard for certain communities. For example the roads off Morland Road, which is currently under one ward, will now split between three wards. The people of Morland Road area will lose their community voice as a result.”
And Addiscombe councillor Sean Fitzsimons said, “As a local resident and councillor I will be fighting to keep a strong voice for Addiscombe community which has been cruelly served by this review, and I will argue that Addiscombe Road is the natural boundary between Addiscombe and Park Hill and this has been recognised by various boundary reviews since 1945.”
Under their proposals,the council will still have 70 councillors, but in future they will represent 28 wards, rather than the current 24, with 14 of them having three councillors, and the others having two councillors.
Professor Colin Mellors, the chair of the Commission, said: “We are asking local people to log on to our website to have a look at our proposals for new boundaries across Croydon. We are keen to hear what local people think of the recommendations and to tell us if they agree with the proposals.
“If you don’t agree with the boundaries we have drawn, we would like to hear your alternatives
“Our review aims to deliver electoral equality for voters in elections to Croydon Council. This means that each councillor represents a similar number of electors so that everyone’s vote in council elections is worth roughly the same regardless of where you live. We also aim to ensure that the council’s wards reflect, as far as possible, the interests and identities of local communities across Croydon.
“We will consider all the submissions we receive whoever they are from and whether your evidence applies to the whole of Croydon or just a part of the borough.”
Local people can visit the Commission’s interactive consultation portal at consultation.lgbce.org.uk to look at detailed maps of the Commission’s proposals and get all the advice they need to make a submission during the consultation, which closes in just over three weeks’ time.
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