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Agenda item

Agenda item

Review of Polling Districts and Polling Places/Stations

To approve the recommendations set out in Appendix 1 to the report in relation to polling districts and polling places/stations within the borough; pending any further formal review, to delegate authority to the Returning Officer to make any further polling place and/or polling station changes as is necessary to enable the efficient and effective conduct of elections; and to delegate authority to the Registration Officer to make any changes as are necessary to the Register of Electors. 

Minutes:

86.1          Attention was drawn to the report of the Democratic and Elections Adviser, circulated at Pages No. 113-184, the additional recommendations, circulated separately, and the alternative polling district proposal for Tewkesbury South TSH3(C), circulated around the table.  Collectively these documents provided the outcome of the review undertaken in respect of polling districts and polling places/stations within the Borough.  Members were asked to approve the recommendations set out at Appendix 1 to the report subject to the amended proposal for Tewkesbury South polling district TSH3(C); pending any further formal review, to delegate authority to the Returning Officer to make any further polling place and/or polling station changes as necessary to enable the efficient and effective conduct of elections; to delegate authority to the Electoral Registration Officer to make any changes necessary to the Register of Electors; to remove numbers from polling district references and replace them with letters (with any reference to 1 becoming A, 2 becoming B, 3 becoming C and so on); and to delegate authority to the Electoral Registration Officer to make any further changes as may be necessary to polling district references.

86.2          The Democratic and Elections Adviser explained it was a statutory requirement for local authorities to undertake a regular review of all polling districts, polling places and polling stations within their area.  The last review had been carried out in 2019 but, due to the Parliamentary election that year, it had been light touch in nature.  As such, this was a very fundamental review which took account of 10 years of residential development across the borough, including changes to the Brockworth area where there had been significant development.  There was a 16 month window within which to conduct the review but the decision had been taken to carry out the review early in that period so that any new arrangements could be put in place ahead of the forthcoming Police and Crime Commissioner and Parliamentary elections.  There had been a comprehensive consultation with Members of Parliament with Constituencies within Tewkesbury Borough, County and Borough Councillors, Town and Parish Councils/Meetings within the Borough, and other interested parties including community groups and local organisations.  There had been a relatively good response and he was grateful to Members who had commented and those with whom he had had more detailed discussions, particularly where changes were being recommended, as their local knowledge had been invaluable.

86.3          In summary, the majority of the existing arrangements remained fit for purpose against the statutory guidance; however, there were a number of changes proposed largely resulting from residential development that had been carried out but also others where improvements could be made for the benefit of electors.  While the next statutory review period would begin in October 2028, the arrangements would be reviewed more informally after each election as a matter of course and, if it was felt further improvements could be made, these could be brought to Members on a full or part borough basis.  In addition, where other electoral reviews were conducted - for instance, a review of the Gloucestershire County Council electoral divisions was currently being undertaken by the Local Government Boundary Commission for England - the arrangements would be reviewed to ensure they reflected any alterations arising and remained fit for purpose.

86.4          The Democratic Services and Elections Adviser drew attention to the two additional recommendations, circulated separately, and explained these were largely administrative to address concerns regarding the use of numbers in polling district references when combined with elector numbers, and the particular need in cross-boundary Parliamentary constituencies to ensure that there was no duplication of polling district references.  In terms of the further paper circulated around the table, this had resulted from a recent request to look again at the proposals for the Tewkesbury South polling district, which he would address in more detail when the debate reached the Tewkesbury South section of the report.  He confirmed that he had heard back from the Acting Returning Officers for the Forest of Dean and North Cotswolds Parliamentary Constituencies who were happy with the proposals in the report in terms of the polling stations which would be within those new Parliamentary constituencies.  He advised that there had been a request to use Bishop’s Cleeve Nursing Home as a polling place but, unfortunately, that was not possible so further investigation would continue for a dedicated polling place for the residents of Cleeve West within the polling district.

86.5          Taking each of the Borough Wards in turn, it was noted that no changes were proposed in relation to Cleeve Grange Ward, Cleeve Hill Ward, Cleeve West Ward, Highnam and Haw Bridge Ward, Northway Ward, Severn Vale North Ward, Severn Vale South Ward, Shurdington Ward and Winchcombe Ward. 

86.6          With regard to Badgeworth Ward, one change was recommended which would effectively split the Ward into two polling districts, one of which would cover a small discreet residential development on the boundary with Cheltenham Borough further away from the Badgeworth village area.  As such, a new polling place was proposed at FC Lakeside for electors in that area, as set out on the plan at Page No. 125 of the report. 

86.7          In terms of Brockworth East Ward, there had been significant development in the area already with further development proposed, largely around Perrybrook.  Previously there had been three polling districts but BRE2 and BRE3 could be legitimately combined, so it was proposed that there be two polling districts using the stream as the dividing line - with the traditional development in BRE2(B) and a polling place at Brockworth Community Centre and the majority of the Perrybrook development and the newer development to follow in BRE1(A) with a new polling place at Brockworth Rugby Football Club.  A Member raised concern that the Horsbere Brook was splitting the development in half - there would be new development on both sides of the Brook and she asked if that would be considered going forward.  In response, the Democratic and Elections Adviser explained that Horsbere Brook provided a natural boundary for Brockworth East; the new development referenced by the Member related to Brockworth West.  He provided assurance that the situation would be monitored as development came forward to ensure the arrangements remained fit for purpose. 

86.8          The proposals for Brockworth West Ward were set out at Page No. 136 of the report and would mean that residents of BRW2(B) would have their own dedicated polling place at the Victoria Inn which was more convenient for electors in the area and was readily accessible by foot.  The other change was in relation to BRW1(A) and BRW3(C) and, as Members had heard from the public question which was part of an earlier Agenda item, there was an area of the Brockworth West Ward which comprised part of the Cooper’s Edge development so it was suggested that a discreet polling district be provided to cater for those electors (with a similar arrangement being proposed for that part of Cooper’s Edge that fell within Hucclecote parish).  The proposed polling place was outside of the borough at The Edge Community Centre, a facility which was already used as a polling place by residents who were part of Cooper’s Edge within Stroud District.  In effect, the proposals would create an informal arrangement to bring the community of Cooper’s Edge together for voting purposes, although some improvements to parking arrangements would be desirable.  In addition, the new Parliamentary constituency arrangement would see Brockworth West move to the North Cotswolds Constituency with Upton St Leonards so, from a community cohesion point of view, it was future-proofing polling places at a Parliamentary level.  A Member supported this proposal wholeheartedly as it would make life easier for residents of Cooper’s Edge.  He noted that, if use of The Edge Community Centre was not feasible, the recommended fall-back option was for electors to use St Patrick’s Church Hall and he asked if it was possible to use the Victoria Inn instead on the basis it was easier to find and a better landmark.  This option was supported by another Member, as it provided a more direct route for vehicles and had better parking provision.  In response, the Democratic Services and Elections Adviser explained that the fall-back option had only been included in case the highway and parking issues in Cooper’s Edge around the community centre, which was adjacent to a school and had no dedicated parking spaces, could not be resolved.  He was in discussion with Gloucestershire County Council to seek a solution to the problems, at least for the upcoming May election(s), and he knew that both the community centre and the school were in contact with County Highways regarding a more permanent solution.  Although he believed that The Edge Community Centre was the right polling place for Cooper’s Edge residents, it would not be appropriate for the Council to approve it as a polling place without a fall-back in case the issues around highway safety could not be resolved.  The Democratic and Elections Adviser suggested that the proposal be amended so that the fall-back could be either St Patrick’s Church Hall or the Victoria Inn (so that there was no requirement to refer the matter back to Council); and, if the need arose and it was possible to accommodate a second polling station at the Victoria Inn then that would be the initial fall-back option.  He undertook to speak to the Ward Members concerned if it was necessary to consider St Patrick’s Church Hall.  The proposer of the motion expressed the view this was a sensible compromise and he felt reasonably confident that, unless the area had changed significantly, the pinch point was at school drop-off and pick-up times so there were parking spaces available most of the day.  Another Member queried whether having two fall-back options diluted the chances of securing a highway scheme for the The Edge Community Centre.  In response, the Democratic and Elections Adviser provided assurance that the report was very clear that The Edge Community Centre was the right place for that area of Brockworth West, and part of Hucclecote, so the first aim would be to secure that.

86.9          With regard to Churchdown Brookfield with Hucclecote Ward, Members were advised that there were two parts to the proposal.  In terms of Churchdown Brookfield, attention was drawn to Page No. 141 of the report and Members were informed that, when reviewing the new Parliamentary Constituency boundaries, two anomalies had been identified between the Ward boundaries approved by the Council under its Community Governance Review in 2022 and the revised Constituency boundaries of Tewkesbury and North Cotswolds - one of which was in Churchdown Brookfield Ward.  Whilst there were currently no electors in this area, the proposal would provide future-proofing in the event that residential properties were constructed on this land.  In terms of Hucclecote, as set out at Page No. 143 of the report, the same arrangements were proposed as for Brockworth West in that HCC1(A) was recommended as a discreet polling district with The Edge Community Centre as a preferred polling place, with a caveat that Pineholt Village Hall be identified as a fall-back option.  A Member suggested that the vast majority of people from Cooper’s Edge would walk to their polling station and it was only a maximum 10 minute walk from most locations to Pineholt Village Hall; and in the absence of significant local support for the change he felt that no change should be made.  In response, the Democratic and Elections Adviser explained that this proposal sought to separate the discreet elements of the Cooper’s Edge development, as had been proposed for a similar area falling within the Brockworth West Ward.  In addition, there was no direct road link for residents of this part of Cooper’s Edge to Pineholt Village Hall.  Furthermore, whichever polling place was selected, it was hoped that many electors would walk to their polling stations.  It was also explained that proposals from a review of this nature were not restricted to the consultation responses received and it was incumbent on Officers to conduct the review in light of statutory guidance and seek to ensure that, where possible, the most appropriate arrangements were put in place for the benefit of electors.  Given the history of Cooper’s Edge, and the various representations made not only to this review but also more generally about future governance arrangements for the area, a judgement had been taken by Officers as to what appropriate arrangements might be.  However, it was for Members to decide whether to concur with that judgement or to agree an alternative.

86.10        In terms of Churchdown St John’s Ward, very little change was proposed as outlined at Page No. 144 of the report.  Historically, by virtue of a Community Governance Review, two separate polling districts, CHJ3 and CHJ4, had had to be created within the Ward, but that arrangement was no longer required and they could now be combined.  The proposed new polling district CHJ4(D) was the other area where there was an anomaly with the new Parliamentary Constituency boundaries. Again, whilst there were currently no electors in this area of land, a separate polling district would future-proof polling arrangements.

86.11        With regard to Cleeve St Michael’s Ward, no changes were being recommended to the boundary of the two polling districts but a new community facility - Homelands Community Building - was due to be available in March/April and would be a more convenient polling place for electors in BCM2(B). 

86.12        In terms of Cleeve West Ward, whilst no changes were being made to the current arrangements, attention had been drawn to a potential community facility within the Bishops Cleeve Nursing Home which might have been a possibility for hosting a polling station for Cleeve West electors; however, the Nursing Home could not accommodate a polling station and therefore the new community facility on the Cleevelands site was likely to provide a viable alternative location for the future, albeit that was some way off being delivered.  In respect of Longford Ward, a historic Community Governance Review had split Longford into two polling districts.  However, this was no longer necessary, and it was recommended that the two existing polling districts be combined. 

86.13        Members were advised that no substantive changes were proposed to Isbourne Ward aside from combining the two existing polling districts within Toddington into one.  A Member noted that Wormington now had its own Parish Meeting and she asked whether there was any appetite for a polling station within Wormington; particularly as the Church was often used for Parish Meetings and would be a more convenient location for residents to walk to rather than driving to Dumbleton.  The Democratic and Elections Adviser explained that all Parish Councils and Parish Meetings within the Borough had been consulted and no formal response had been received in respect of the current arrangements for Dumbleton or Wormington, so the assumption had been made that the current arrangements were acceptable.  In addition, unless there was a strong community desire, a standalone polling place would not usually be allocated for what would be less than 100 electors, taking account of postal voters; notwithstanding this, he was happy to monitor the situation going forward.

86.14        In terms of Severn Vale North Ward, whilst no changes were proposed, consideration had been given to changing the portacabin arrangement at The Leigh with a potential alternative location at the Farm Shop on the A38; however, given the speed limit of the road, the fact that the access was not particularly good and the site itself was not that large, for the time being the portacabin remained the most sensible option. 

86.15        With regard to Shurdington Ward, a request had been made by the North Cotswolds Constituency Labour Party to look at whether there was a suitable new polling place for electors from a number of newer dwellings further from the more traditional village core; however, there had been no public request of that nature and the current arrangement was considered to remain fit for purpose for the time being, although the situation would be monitored and if there was further development it might necessitate a change. 

86.16        Members were advised that no substantive changes were proposed for Tewkesbury East Ward but the Wheatpieces area had been sub-divided by a previous Community Governance Review which was no longer necessary so the two polling districts would be combined.  Similarly, in Tewkesbury North and Twyning Ward, it was recommended that TNT2 and TNT3 be combined into one polling district with Twyning remaining as a separate polling district.

86.17        Turning to Tewkesbury South Ward, the initial set of amendments was set out at Page No. 173 of the report with a further amendment having been circulated around the table at the meeting.  It was noted that concerns had been raised about the location of the Tewkesbury Youth Centre polling station for TSH2 and TSH3 voters.  Prior’s Park Community Church building had been identified as a suitable alternative or additional polling place and Officers had worked through various iterations to try to provide a sensible split which enabled those in the northern part of the Ward to go to Tewkesbury Youth Centre and those in the southern part to go to the Community Church. It was explained that, in working up the arrangements, every effort was made to ensure that whole streets and roads were not split across polling districts to avoid confusion and that access to polling places was achievable, where possible, on foot.  Despite considering numerous alternatives, no perfect solution had been found.  However, one option was considered to be workable and met most of the criteria - this was the further proposal tabled at the meeting - and did not involve multiple splits of roads or streets across the two polling districts and there would be benefits in terms of reducing distances for the majority of residents in the two areas to their respective polling places.  The other change being proposed was a realignment of TSH3(C) and TSH2(B) along the line of Gloucester Road so rather than making everyone in more rural areas, such as Odessa Park, go to Tewkesbury Youth Centre, it was suggested that the Members’ Lounge in the Public Services Centre be used as a polling place.  This had benefits for Gloucester Road residents and, as the development south of Prior’s Park had no direct road link to Prior’s Park, it was also logical for those residents, and those on the Lincoln Green Lane development, to come to the Public Services Centre.  A Member raised concern regarding the use of the Public Services Centre as a polling place for a Parliamentary election given there were likely to be political parties telling outside of the building; while other places such as places of worship and villages halls did not tend to be in use on polling day.  As alternatives, he asked whether the adjoining Leisure Centre could be used or whether a separate portacabin on the Council site might be more appropriate.  The Democratic and Elections Adviser acknowledged that the Public Services Centre was a sensitive location but the suggestion was to use the Members’ Lounge so it was separate from the main entrance to the building with standalone entry.  Whilst he understood the concern regarding tellers, electoral law protected the operation of polling stations and the activities and behaviour of tellers.  A portacabin might be a viable alternative but he felt that a polling station facility could be operated within the Public Services Centre without undue cause for concern.  He would be happy to see if there was a better location but the Centre was a recognised and well-used public facility.  In response to a query as to where postal vote opening would take place and whether there would be any conflict with using the Members’ Lounge as a polling station, the Democratic and Elections Adviser explained the intention was for postal vote opening to take place in another location within the building and he provided assurance that no electoral business would be conducted at the same time or in the same or adjoining area during polling day.   A Member sought clarification as to the recommendations in relation to Tewkesbury South Ward and was advised that no changes were proposed to polling district TSH1(A) where St Joseph’s Church would remain the polling place; the revised polling district TSHB would have a polling place at the Public Services Centre; the new polling district TSHC would comprise the area above the red line on the plan circulated around the table, with the polling place being Tewkesbury Youth Centre; and the new polling district TSHD would comprise the area below the red line on the plan circulated around the table, with the polling place being Prior’s Park Community Church.

86.18        It was proposed and seconded that the recommendations as set out at Appendix 1 to the report be approved, subject to (i) an amendment to the proposals for Brockworth West Ward so that either St Patrick’s Church Hall or the Victoria Inn could be be used as a fall-back option should the highway and parking issues not be resolved at The Edge Community Centre and (ii) the sub-division of the originally-proposed Tewkesbury South TSH3(C) polling district to reflect the separate plan circulated around the table with electors from properties above the red line to continue to vote at Tewkesbury Youth Centre in a revised polling district TSHC, and electors from properties below the red line to vote at Prior’s Park Community Church in a new polling district TSHD; that authority be delegated to the Returning Officer to make any further polling place and/or polling station changes as necessary to enable the efficient and effective conduct of elections; that authority be delegated to the Electoral Registration Officer to make any changes necessary to the Register of Electors; that the removal of numbers from polling district references and their replacement with letters (with any reference to 1 becoming A, 2 becoming B, 3 becoming C and so on) be approved; and that authority be delegated to the Electoral Registration Officer to make any further changes as may be necessary to polling district references.

86.19        During the debate which ensured, a Member expressed the view that the report did not make clear that local Ward Members had been consulted in depth regarding the proposals and the Democratic and Elections Adviser apologised if that had not come across strongly enough; he had made reference today to the fact that Members’ local knowledge had been invaluable and it was not his intention to underplay that involvement for which Officers were extremely grateful.  With regard to the proposals for Tewkesbury South, a Member indicated that he was not keen to have the added expense of hiring a portacabin when there was an appropriate space within the Public Service Centre and he would be proud to use the Members’ Lounge as a place for the community to vote.  He felt tellers were more likely to behave with Officers, and the Police, within the building and was sure that any material referencing elected Members would be removed during that time.  This view was supported by another Member.  The Democratic and Elections Adviser provided assurance that electors would be notified of any changes agreed by Members well in advance of the Police and Crime Commissioner elections; it would not be left to poll cards to inform them in due course of their new polling places.

86.20        Upon being put to the vote, it was

RESOLVED          1. That the recommendations set out at Appendix 1 to the report be APPROVED subject to:

i.           an amendment to the proposals for the Brockworth West Ward so that either St Patrick’s Church Hall or the Victoria Inn can be used as a fall-back option should the highway and parking issues not be resolved at The Edge Community Centre and

ii.         the sub-division of the originally-proposed Tewkesbury South TSH3(C) polling district to reflect the separate plan circulated around the table with electors from properties above the red line to continue to vote at Tewkesbury Youth Centre in a revised polling district TSHC and residents from properties below the red line to vote at Prior’s Park Community Church in a new polling district TSHD.

2. That, pending any further formal review, authority be delegated to the Returning Officer to make any further polling place and/or polling station changes as necessary to enable the efficient and effective conduct of elections.

3. That authority be delegated to the Electoral Registration Officer to make any changes as necessary to the Register of Electors.

4. That the removal of numbers from Polling District References and their replacement with letters (with any reference to 1 becoming A, 2 becoming B, 3 becoming C, and so on) be APPROVED.

5. That authority be delegated to the Electoral Registration Officer to make any further changes as may be necessary to Polling District References.

Supporting documents: