People living in North Swindon are being asked to attend a public meeting next week to discuss the proposed split of Blunsdon St Andrew Parish Council into two separate parished areas.
Under Swindon Council’s proposals to parish the entire borough, a new St Andrew’s Ridge Parish Council could be formed that would see the existing Blunsdon St Andrew Parish Council no longer covering the newly built North Swindon area within its boundaries, with the A419 serving as the dividing line.
The proposed new parish council covers a significant urban area: Abbey Meads, St Andrew’s Ridge, Ash Brake, Groundwell West and Redhouse.
The meeting on Wednesday 14 September, 6pm to 8pm, at Redhouse Community Centre, Frankel Avenue, will be chaired by Paula Harrison of the borough’s community governance review team. It will be a chance for householders to ask questions about the parishing proposal and about the implications of splitting an existing parish council.
The feedback from the meeting will be used as part of Swindon Council’s consultation process on creating four new parish councils in the current non-parished central and western parts of the town, as well as changes to boundaries of some existing parishes. The consultation period lasts until 30 September with Swindon making a decision on the way forward on 10 November.
The split of the existing Blunsdon parish was first raised by borough councillor Vera Tomlinson who believes that the areas within the new-build urban Swindon would be better served by its own parish council. She carried out a petition in 2015 achieving 899 signatures in favour of the changes.
Blunsdon St Andrew Parish Council chairman Ian Jankinson, pictured above at Redhouse Community Centre, said: “The parish council is obviously against dividing its existing area. The proposed split is based on a petition by one borough councillor which stated a lot of factual inaccuracies that the people of North Swindon living in our parish council area were not being served properly. This had no grounding in reality and this misrepresentation has been referred to the Swindon Council’s cabinet and to the scrutiny committee.
“It is very disappointing that the borough has not even organised a meeting in the Blunsdon area regarding these changes as part of their consultation events, even though it’s shown on the maps they’ve published, so we’ve had to hastily arrange a meeting for householders. And we have launched an online petition
“As a parish we have 18 councillors, 14 of whom represent the urban area – residents of Abbey Meads, St Andrew’s Ridge, Ash Brake, Groundwell West and Redhouse. Three councillors serve Blunsdon and one serves the Kingsdown area. Our focus has always been to represent the needs of our constituents and do our best for them.
“Now we have been put into a ridiculous situation with Swindon Council holding a very, very quick consultation process in a matter of weeks since they revealed the boundary changes so that they can push ahead with the proposals. This has not given anybody the time for a proper consultation to be carried out to find out what’s best for the people.
“Being a parish council ourselves, of course we are very supportive of the idea of parishing and see the benefits that it can bring to a lot of people in the unparished areas giving them more community support at a local level. But there is no need to split an existing parish council where things have been working very well so far.”
Swindon Council has stated that the over-riding reason for parishing the whole town is that it can no longer afford to provide services such as grass cutting and street cleaning. They say the only way these can be provided will be if a parish council raises its own precept to pay for them.
But this does not apply in Blunsdon St Andrew says Mr Jankinson “We have already taken over the care and maintenance of the play areas in the borough and have been in discussion with Haydon Wick Parish Council about joint provision of wider services. These talks have had to be put on hold whilst these proposals are being decided upon.
“At the moment our parish precept is the lowest in the borough at £18.73 for an average Band D property. Taking over responsibility for other services would require the precept to rise, but using the borough’s transitional funding we would hope to do this in a well-thought out way over three years so that the impact on residents is minimised.
“Since March we have raised more than 500 signatures in favour of keeping the parish council as it is and we will be raising even more so that we easily beat the 899 signatures raised by the borough councillor.
“At the moment, we don’t know what will happen when Swindon Council makes its final decision on 10 November but I’ve got to say making such significant decisions for the people of Swindon in so little time is madness and won’t give them the complete picture of how the boundary changes will affect things.”
Cllr Vera Tomlinson, who represents St Andrew’s ward of the borough council, said: “Sometime ago, residents of St Andrew’s ward brought to my attention a desire to split away from Blunsdon Parish Council. They called for a more local council that would adhere to our ward boundaries. The residents of the newer builds in St Andrew’s feel little commonality with those in the older properties that make up Blunsdon village and feel that the large amounts of money spent in the village mainly comes from the those living in those St Andrew’s new builds.”
“This has enabled Blunsdon village to stay pristine whilst little is spent in the area where the money is principally raised. The residents of St Andrew’s ward feel this is grossly unfair, and that the money raised should be spent in the area that raised it.
“Providing Swindon Borough Council agrees to the new parish being formed, in April 2017 the newly formed parish council’s will be given the opportunity to take on services such as grass cutting, street cleaning and litter management which a newly formed St Andrews Parish Council would relish as an opportunity to look after our own community. Blunsdon Parish Council felt they were not capable of taking on these extra services and even asked Haydon Wick Parish to help take on these services. Haydon Wick justifiably declined.
“Ian Jankinson has said that to maintain the Blunsdon area, the parish council would have to raise their precept to potentially over £60 to keep things as pristine as they are now, but my message to Blunsdon Parish Council is that they must learn to live within their means as we all have to do when balancing our own household budgets.
“If St Andrew’s became its own parish area, we would be able to raise money to spend in our area via a new precept that could be lower than that we are currently paying. Cllr Mary Friend and myself have collected over 900 signatures from residents agreeing with our proposals to split from Blunsdon. Steven Taylor, the borough solicitor, has been supportive of our efforts also.
“If you would like to add your name to the list of those who want to split from Blunsdon Parish Council, please contact me on 01793 703751 or email firstname.lastname@example.org or contact Cllr Mary Friend via email: email@example.com.”
See more details at the Blundson St Andrew Parish Council petition
Below, the areas of the town to be parished, split or amended