Boundary plans spark fury among Doncaster councillors

Doncaster's  Civic Offices.
Doncaster's Civic Offices.

Plans for the biggest changes to Doncaster’s political map for 40 years have sparked fury, with claims of political bias.

Proposals will be submitted on Monday to the Local Government Boundary Commission for changes which would see the number of Doncaster councillors cut to 54 and alterations to the wards they represent.

But furious Conservatives on Doncaster Council have accused a working group on the council - which was set up to look at the changes - of fixing the boundaries to gain their own political advantages, a practice known as ‘gerrymandering’.

The full council met to debate the alterations, and 83 per cent backed a ‘main proposal’ for the new ward boundaries, which will be submitted to the Local Government Boundary Commission for England.

The main proposal was devised through the council’s Cross Party Working Group, which consisted of councillors representing both the Labour party and the Conservatives, with Monty Cuthbert participating as a Liberal Democrat and later as an independent.

A second proposal was submitted by the Conservatives earlier this week, due to it being incomplete during previous working group meetings, and was voted for by 13 per cent of councillors at the meeting.

Conservative councillors Jonathan Wood and Cynthia Ransome are not happy.

Coun Wood attended two meetings with the working group, and told the full council meeting the group was like a ‘bear pit’.

He added: “When we talk about altering boundaries it’s always an emotive issue, particularly among councillors who could lose their seats, and in this case has led to gerrymandering.

“The cross party working group did not represent fairness or equity.”

Coun Wood also suggested the ward boundaries under the main proposal would result in ‘hardship’ and ‘isolation’ for people living in rural areas.

Chairman of the working group, Coun Glyn Jones, denied any gerrymandering had taken place.

Coun Jones told the council: “If any interested parties wanted to, they could have put their submissions forward during the consultation process.” He added: “This is a fair and balanced submission.”

Both proposals, which have been designed to accommodate a reduction in the number of Doncaster councillors from 63 to 54, will be submitted, along with a record of which proposal was passed with a majority.

Mayor of Doncaster Ros Jones said of the proposals: “We will be going forward with the best interests of this borough. We are a 21st century party, with 21st century suggestions of how to serve Doncaster.”

The boundary commission announced in November it was ‘minded’ to recommend Doncaster Council should lose nine councillors, leaving 54 instead of the current 63.

Since November last year residents and interested parties have been invited to share their views on where the boundaries should lie, and a draft recommendation is expected in May.

The boundary commission says it aims to deliver equality so each councillor represents roughly the same number of voters, and will also attempt to ensure the new wards reflect the identities of communities.