The Civic Affairs Committee
RECOMMENDED TO COUNCIL No change in the parish boundary (Option C).
The Head of Sustainable Communities and Wellbeing presented this report which invited the Committee to consider the responses received through public consultation to the Community Governance Review of the Willingham and Over parish boundary and make a recommendation to Council. Representatives of both Willingham and Over Parish Councils were invited to address the Committee.
Parish Councillor Philip King, Vice-Chairman of Willingham Parish Council, addressed the Committee and made the following points:
· The original boundary was determined by the position of the parish churches, but the westwards expansion of Willingham placed the boundary in the wrong position.
· Occupants of Highgate Business Park considered themselves to be part of the village of Willingham, as did the rest of the village.
· Deliveries to Highgate Business Park sometimes went astray, as their address was Over, but their geographical location was Willingham.
· Those living in the disputed area wanted to be represented by Willingham Parish Council.
· Willingham Parish Council did not instigate the review and so this should not be considered to be a “land grab”.
· Willingham Parish Council supported the proposed boundary change as it made geographical sense and was supported by the residents of Willingham.
In response to questioning, Parish Councillor Philip King stated that he had spoken to many Willingham residents who had expressed support for the change, but he acknowledged that his evidence for support was anecdotal. However, he pointed out that paragraph 26 of the report showed that 91% of Willingham residents supported the change, albeit from a small sample (113 residents).
Parish Councillor Geoff Twiss, Vice-Chairman of Over Parish Council, addressed the Committee and made the following points:
· The letter from Farrer & Co solicitors on behalf of Highgate County Stores Ltd should be disregarded as it had been sent a day before the meeting, which gave insufficient time for Over Parish Council to respond.
· In comparison, the views of Over Parish Council had been in the public domain since June this year as they were published in the agenda of the last Committee meeting.
· The stated percentages of total responders in paragraph 19 of the report were inaccurate, as they were based on the electorate of the villages and not on the number of residents.
· The “green” line option, as shown on page 41 of the agenda, went across open fields.
· Willingham had been classed as a minor rural centre and so was subject to different planning considerations than Over. A change to the boundary thus made new development more likely.
· The current boundary had been agreed 400 years ago and should remain unchanged.
Councillor Pippa Corney, one of the three local members for the ward of Over and Willingham, stated that she supported the proposed change as it was backed by the local businesses who regularly had problems with deliveries from drivers who went to the wrong village. Most residents and visitors simply assumed that the area was already in Willingham and the proposed change simply removed an anomaly. A glance at a map showed that the boundary line was too close to Willingham. It was noted that Councillor Corney lived in the village of Over.
The Principal Lawyer – Governance and Deputy Monitoring Officer explained that the letter from Farrer & Co was not part of the agenda and the Council had no control over information submitted directly to councillors by external organisations. It was for each individual councillor to decide how relevant the letter was to the discussion.
Setting the boundary line
It was suggested by Members of the Committee that the proposed boundary change did not need to include the land to the south of Highgate Business Park. The Head of Sustainable Communities and Wellbeing explained that the proposed boundary lines had been determined by the petitioner and the Council had been obligated to consult on these proposals. Officers had then written the report in the agenda on the boundaries suggested by the petitioner. The Committee could suggest an alternative boundary.
The existing boundary
Members of the Committee made the following points on the existing boundary:
· The existing boundary had been agreed by the local vicars 400 years ago to resolve a dispute on watering livestock and should be retained.
· The proposed change would incorporate a large amount of unoccupied land into the parish of Willingham, which was opposed by Over Parish Council.
· Agreement from Over Parish Council should be necessary for the Committee to recommend a change in the existing boundary.
Members of the Committee made the following points on postal deliveries:
· Deliveries were received regularly by businesses in the area under discussion, without any problems.
· Problems with deliveries could be resolved with delivery companies and, if necessary, Royal Mail.
Members of the Committee made the following points on the Council’s consultation with the public:
· The response rate was insufficient to agree a change.
· A low response rate indicated that the majority of residents were unconcerned about the potential change.
· The consultation exercise was carried out correctly by officers who cannot be blamed for the low return rate.
Commercial and financial considerations
Members of the Committee made the following points on commercial and financial considerations:
· The businesses in the area under consideration were in favour of the proposed change.
· Altering boundaries primarily for commercial reasons could set a worrying precedent.
· Over Parish Council’s precept was lower than Willingham Parish Council’s and so the change would bring no financial benefit to residents.
Members of the Committee made the following points on planning issues:
· Planning issues that affected both parishes were discussed by both parish councils, where co-operation was good.
· Development in the disputed area would be more likely if it were transferred from Over, which was a “group village”, to Willingham, which was a “minor rural centre”.
Members of the Committee made the following points in conclusion:
· There needed to be compelling reasons to make a boundary change.
· There were many other potential anomalies with the boundaries in the District and the Council should be wary of setting a precedent.
· The matter should be returned back to the two parish councils in the hope that a compromise solution could be reached.
The Committee were supportive of the suggestion that the two parish councils should work together to attempt to agree a boundary change. However, it was noted that a valid petition had been submitted to this authority and a consultation had been carried out. The Committee were now required to make a recommendation to full Council.
Councillor Brian Burling left the Chamber.
The Committee were generally of the opinion to recommend no change to the existing boundary because:
· The suggested boundary change included a large amount of unpopulated land that was unnecessary to resolve the stated anomaly.
· The consultation response of only 244 residents from both villages provided insufficient evidence for the change.
A vote was taken and with 9 votes in favour and 2 against the Civic Affairs Committee
RECOMMENDED TO COUNCIL No change in the parish boundary (Option C).
It was agreed that members of the Committee should receive an estimate on the costs of this review to the Council.