Swindon Council’s cabinet has decided, despite widespread opposition, to press on and parish the parts of the town not already in a parish council area. Subject to the decision being ratified by Scutiny Committee on Monday 22 August, a formal consultation period will take place until 30 September.
John Stooke gives his views on the parishing project and puts forward a number of radical suggestions:
As an unashamed advocate of Parishing Swindon (one of the very few), I have witnessed vitriolic ‘consultation’ sessions organised by Swindon Borough Council over the last few months where attendees mistakenly assumed they were there to debate the principle.
They were wrong; whether people in the non-parished areas of the town wanted to live under parish councils or not was never really the question.
The result, the Cabinet has decided that there will be four additional civil parishes covering areas of the town not already in a parished area. One non-parished area will be taken over by an existing Parish Council, one existing parish area is to be split apart and adjustments to another. In total 20 existing and new parish councils will cover the whole of Swindon, with 10 Councils covering most of the urban population.
These 10 will be Covingham/Nythe/Dorcan, Stratton, Blunsdon, Haydon Wick, West Swindon, Central north, Central south, Wroughton, South Swindon, Wanborough
Remarkably, a well run Parish like Haydon Wick , is not down for one single house extra?
Parishes need adequate critical mass to deliver effective services, employ people, and invest in vehicles and capital equipment. The Borough Council’s figure of 10 per cent of income to be spent on administration is laughable. Look at any Parish Council accounts if you don’t believe me.
Sensible control over cost of bureaucracy indicates a maximum of five certainly not ten Parish Councils for Urban Swindon.
In the north one council could incorporate Blunsdon, Haydon Wick, and Moredon.
In the east, redefine Stratton to include Nythe, Dorcan, North Wanborough and Covingham.
South, for reasons of equitable social balance, should include Parks, Wroughton, South Wanborough, Chisledon Old Town and of course Wichelstowe.
West should include Rodbourne and also be the vanguard for the expansion of Swindon into those parts of the town non-sensically run by Wiltshire Council from Trowbridge.
Central would be smaller allowing a focus on cleaning up the difficult mid-town demographic (lots of absentee landlords and a transient population) in order for us all to feel proud when we take visitors into the centre of this great town. And of course business BID levies already in place must be diverted to the Central Parish Council for this purpose…not more taxation please. unless we really seek to kill off our few retailers brave enough to press on in the face of the internet takeover. We should all strive to make the Centre look ‘loved’ if this is not too sentimental an objective.
Five Councils will also help in identifying experienced and competent Clerks, the key to making the parishing project work.
Old attachments to historic names which will have no relevance to the new geography will be sacrificed on the altar of ‘making a fresh and fair new start.
There must be limits set on derogation creep. Parish councils traditionally have a limited role, looking after services like litter picking, some grounds maintenance and street cleansing, parks, play areas and other leisure facilities, provision of allotments and graffiti removal.
We must somehow prevent Swindon Council from suddenly begin passing on wider responsibilities for important provision like major country parks like Coate Water, street lighting, maintenance of large trees, highways and footpaths.
This new layer and cost of localised democracy deems the size of the existing Borough Council unnecessary. We need another Community Governance Review where the number of Borough Councillors should reduce from 57 to 39, (two per ward), and existing Locality arrangements be swept away but I’m not holding my breath on this one!
The proposed shadow Parish Councils run by existing Swindon Borough Ward Councillors and selected colleagues must have a short life, only interim to early elections. Identification and training of local people of talent, energy and a passion for their communities, should be the priority. No contracts must be entered into which extend beyond the date of planned elections.
Finally, it is scandalous that the Borough have announced closure of libraries in advance of settling the Parishing issue, as these can play a key role, ideally headquartering both within a central community hub.
Adopt present Cabinet thinking and there will be a new expensive administrative tier, in my judgement consuming a £1million per annum more than is necessary, unable to deliver meaningful services other than bureaucracy, spending almost all its income on administration with the 51 more expensive Ward Councillors ending up as ‘message passers.’
Perhaps it’s still not too late to take a brilliant idea and make it work on the ground, at a price local people will feel is value for money. Perhaps even at this late stage, sanity may prevail?