Parish resists bid to trim councillor numbers

JPCT 130312 Park North, Hosham District Council office. Photo by Derek Martin
JPCT 130312 Park North, Hosham District Council office. Photo by Derek Martin

BILLINGSHURST parish councillors are standing their ground as Horsham District Council proposes to trim councillor numbers.

After undertaking a community governance review of the parished area of Horsham, HDC has suggested that the size of parish councils should be proportionate to the parish population from May 7 2015.

This proposal means that Billingshurst Parish Council would have to reduce its number of councillors from 15 to 13 in order to keep in line with the broad pattern of existing council sizes in the UK.

But councillors were disputing whether this is a fair judgement at a meeting last Wednesday, since they want to ensure they have sufficient numbers to represent residents’ views.

Councillor Garry Commins, said it was ‘unfair’ that they are being put in the same bracket as other councils with the same population because, unlike others, Billingshurst has never had any problems running at its current size.|

Councillors agreed to write to HDC to point out that the 5,001 to 7,500 population size bracket Billingshurst has been placed in, is too low, especially as it hasn’t taken into account any future housing development proposals.

Under HDC’s review, if Billingshurst is moved into the population bracket of 7,500 to 10,000 residents, it will be allowed to keep its 15 councillors. The review, which has been guided by the Local Government Boundary Commission for England (LGBCE), aims to make parish councils more accountable.

A statement on HDC’s website says: “At the last parish council elections in May 2011, of the 40 parishes/parish wards up for election, only seven were contested.

“Twenty-one had insufficient candidates and therefore had to co-opt members. It is therefore suggested that, as part of the review, consultees should be asked for their views on a possible reduction in the number of parish councillors across all parishes.”

In considering the issue of council size, the LGBCE ‘Guidance on community governance reviews’ says that each area should be considered on its own merits, population, and geography, plus it should consider the broad pattern of existing council sizes.

The LGBCE guidance has stated that often the conduct of parish council business does not require a large body of councillors.

“Historically many parish councils, particularly smaller ones, have found difficulty in attracting sufficient candidates to stand for election,” the LGBCE guidance says. “This has led to uncontested elections and/or a need to co-opt members in order to fill vacancies.”

Councils currently must have at least five councillors but there is no maximum number and there are no rules relating to the allocation of those councillors between parish wards.

Research by the Aston Business School Parish and Town Councils in England found that the typical parish council representing between 2,501 and 10,000 had nine to 16 councillors, and most parish councils with a population between 10,001 and 20,000 had 13 to 27 councillors,

For more information on community governance review, go to HDC’s website at http://www.horsham.gov.uk/council/14505.aspx