Havering electoral wards face axe as borough is split into 20 areas
- Credit: Archant / LGBCE
Havering will be split into 20 wards at next year’s council elections and will gain an extra councillor.
The changes, announced this week, followed an 18-month consultation which became mired in controversy amid allegations of attempted gerrymandering.
Opposition councillors said they did not believe the final plans favoured any party.
“It’s swings and roundabouts,” said Gillian Ford, of the Cranham Residents Group. “The Conservatives wanted a two-member ward in Beam Park and that’s what they got. However, they’ve also ended up with two-member wards in what they would consider their Romford areas.”
Conservative leader Damian White did not comment.
The new layout must now be agreed by Parliament.
What will change?
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Several current wards will no longer exist.
Pettits, Havering Park, Romford Town and Brooklands will be absorbed into new wards.
Romford Town, which has three Conservative councillors, will be split into two wards – St Alban’s and St Edward’s – with five combined seats.
South Hornchurch, which has one Conservative councillor and two independents, will be split into two wards – South Hornchurch and Beam Park – with two seats each.
Hacton, whose three seats are all held by opposition members, will go down to two.
Emerson Park, which at the last election returned three Conservative councillors, will also be cut to two.
Why the change?
In 2019, the Local Government Boundaries Commission for England (LGBCE) reviewed Havering’s wards for the first time since 1999, to ensure each councillor represented roughly the same number of residents.
To achieve this, electoral boundaries will be redrawn, splitting the population between 20 wards served by 55 councillors – compared to the current 18 wards and 54 councillors.
How those boundaries are drawn has the power to skew future elections. For example, they could break up an area which traditionally votes for the opposition and attach each part to Conservative-voting communities.
As such, the LGBCE consults political parties, residents and the council.
Last summer, Conservatives faced allegations that they had used council processes to try to manipulate the process for political gain.
Last July, the Romford Recorder revealed a secret audio recording of a private Conservative group meeting.
Made by Conservative Bob Perry – now an independent – it captured council leader Damian White claiming he had been allowed to “influence” the council's submission to the LGBCE.
He said Romford MP Andrew Rosindell had been invited in to view the plans and told councillors: “We’ve come up with a set of proposals that I think are really politically advantageous for us.”
Ideas voiced on the recording included dividing Conservative-voting areas into more wards with lower populations, whilst slicing non-Conservative areas into fewer wards with larger populations.
Havering Council insisted chief executive Andrew Blake-Herbert had always remained impartial.
Cllr White said it was “entirely normal” for political parties to try to influence boundary changes.
Mr Rosindell called the story “fake news”, insisting: “There is nothing untoward that has taken place whatsoever.”
But many residents disagreed.
Last autumn, we revealed Havering’s boundary consultation had provoked more public responses than any other in England for at least two years.
Roughly a quarter raised concerns that boundaries were being altered for political gain.
In response, the LGBCE scrapped some plans and announced a second consultation.
Ditched proposals included a suggestion by the Hornchurch and Upminster Conservative Association to split independent-voting Corbets Tey village in two, attaching part of it to Upminster and part of it to Rainham.
A plan to remove a seat in Elm Park – which has one Conservative councillor and two independents – was also axed.
Commenting on the final plans, Graham Williamson from the Independent Residents Group said: “It’s a mixed bag. Quite a bit of what the Conservatives wanted was rejected, so it’s not as bad as it could have been if the leader had got his way.
“People power had a huge part to play and I genuinely believe the Recorder’s exposure of what was going on behind the scenes had an impact on that.”
The full plans can be viewed at: https://www.lgbce.org.uk/all-reviews/greater-london/greater-london/havering
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