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Highland Council fury as it looks to reject 'monkey with a paint brush' redrawing of ward boundaries

By Scott Maclennan

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Boundary Commission proposals to redraw the ward maps of Highland Council.
Boundary Commission proposals to redraw the ward maps of Highland Council.

Highland Council looks set to reject a highly controversial shake-up of wards by the boundary commission that drew almost universal condemnation for undermining local democracy.

Speaking ahead of this week’s full council meeting, the leader of the political administration Margaret Davidson hit out at the proposals which would see a reduction from 74 councillors down to 72 for the May 2022 election.

Already, MPs, MSPs and local members have slammed the plans fearing they could undermine effective local representation.

The council will ask members to approve asking the commission to go back to the drawing board and find a model which “more appropriately reflects the requirements of a large local authority that has a mix of urban, rural and island wards.”

Approval will also be sought to approach the Scottish Government to review the commission’s remit regarding local authorities to lift the cap on total councillor numbers and allow for greater discretion when applying people-to-councillor ratios, especially in remote rural areas.

Cllr Davidson said: “A reduction in councillors would have a significant and detrimental impact on rural communities. Democratic representation will be starkly affected.

“Councillors would be required to cover even larger geographic areas with no reduction in the number of community councils, schools or community groups, all of which require engagement with their local councillor.

“Members will be asked to agree that the Council goes back to the Commission and ask them to reconsider. If members approve, we will also make representation to the Scottish Government, asking them to outline the remit of the Commission.”

Worst hit by the plans was the north as they envisage a new Caithness ward with three members, while new Wick and Thurso wards would get two councillors each – this would come at the expense of one councillor.

The changes in neighbouring Sutherland would be more drastic by making the huge county one ward and taking the the number of councillors down from six to just four, potentially leaving huge areas unrepresented in anything but name.

Inverness would lose two wards but gain two councillors, in a move that could make the city even more politically influential than it already is within the council. Other changes would see Loch Ness split in two down the centre of the Great Glen whereas before it was one ward.

The Dingwall and Seaforth ward is geographically small and stops short of Strathpeffer but the new ward would extend almost to Achnasheen more than 20 miles away. Local councillor Ian Cockburn described that change as though it was a plan drawn up by a "monkey with a paint brush."

The plans are in a consultation period with the local authority that runs until the end of September when they will go out to public consultation and have yet to be approved.

The Boundary Commission aims to place them before Scottish ministers for agreement next May in time for the May 2022 council elections.

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