Is the proposed new Wells and Mendip Hills constituency a better and more sustainable option for us?

The boundary change consultation ends  on Monday 2nd August

It changes which constituency we are in, and adds us to a new constituency, Wells and Mendip Hills.  Please log on to https://www.bcereviews.org.uk/  put in your post code, and look at the good interactive map which will show you what’s happening at a glance. 

Please send in some comments  about the impacts on our villages, by clicking on the link about how to comment on the consultation.  These are discussed below.   This consultation is a chance to raise issues about local authority boundaries as well.

Question: What do the proposed boundaries changes mean for Winscombe and Sandford?

Answer: We would be represented in parliament by a  Member of Parliament as part of a new Wells and Mendip Hills CC, and be part of a largely rural constituency with Wells as its biggest town.  Wells and Mendip Hills CC would have 69,843 voters.  The new Weston super Mare CC would have 70,772 voters

Question: Why is the change being proposed?

Answer:  The changes have been made to keep within the main rule that constituencies must have between 69,724 and 77,062 electors.  Currently, there are 80,869 North Somerset constituents and they have to be reduced. 

Question : Will there be a better chance of the needs of the rural villages like ours, in the north of the new Somerset and Mendip Hills area,  being heard by central government, if we have the same MP?

Answer:  Various factors for and against have to be balanced:

  1.  Community ties with Somerset:

 One factor  is that Winscombe and Sandford as a rural parish has more in common with Somerset in several ways. After all, within living memory we were under the aegis of Axbridge District Council.  We are still talking about documents about land disputes being lost in the handover to Avon, from time to time!  The leading local magazine, Mendip Times, covers events in the Mendip villages and towns, including Winscombe and Sandford, and reflects the similar community activities and interests.

  •  Shared values and problems with Somerset:

Another factor is that we share the same rural problems as our neighbours in Somerset, lack of public transport, car-dependant communities prevented from taking up active travel, walking and cycling,  because of increasing volumes of traffic speeding through the villages, an AONB and countryside under threat from opportunistic large developments which don’t provide the affordable housing local people need, or the facilities growing communities need.  These are the kind of problems the MP for Somerset is already focussed on.

  • Variations within North Somerset in how urban and rural needs are being met:  the needs of Weston super Mare, with its larger population and higher population density, its designated areas of employment, and  areas of deprivation, a more urban area,  are different from the needs of  the rural communities.   An  MP in a constituency with too many electors and  large variations in needs and priorities as is currently the case,  is challenged in their aim to represent all constituents, and the varying needs of urban and rural communities.  
  • Distance: The factor that the MP will now have another Local Authority to deal with, when taking up the problems constituents in North Somerset face,  has to be considered.   We are 28 miles from Taunton, 17 from Wells and 8 miles from Weston.  In these days of Zoom physically meeting up with our MP may not be so much of an issue, but it will probably stretch the MP’s time and resources.

Question: will the fact that we and the other villages now proposed to be included in the new constituency, Kenn, North End, Claverham, Yatton,  Hewish, Congresbury, Banwell, Christon, Loxton, Barton, Churchill, Lower Langford  and the hamlets will be within a different constituency area make any difference to the way we are treated administratively, when it comes to meeting rural needs?

Answer: Difficult to say. Hopefully more of a focus on rural communities and improvements to meet our needs will come with an MP focussed on Somerset and rural problems.

Question:  What about our local administration, is that changed in any way ?

Answer: In administrative terms, North Somerset remains our Local Authority.  The population of North Somerset was 208,200 in 2014, and is estimated to be 220,464 in 2021.  From 2011-2014 the population growth was 0.82% a year.

Question: Is our administration area likely to change in the foreseeable future?

Answer: This very much depends on political will, including and what people say in this current consultation

Changes in local government administration are  influenced by the over view of the Boundary Commission, The Local Government Boundary commission for England.  One aim of electoral review is to:  

· Promote effective and convenient local government. We also provide independent advice to the government about boundaries between local authorities (from correcting minor boundary anomalies to whole-council mergers) and we have responsibility for advising government on proposed structural change for local authorities.

Question: What factors might affect changes to the administrative area of North  Somerset in the future?

Answer:  (1)  If we rejoin WECA in 2025, things will get a whole let better for North Somerset. From 2025, there might be a substantial improvement for North Somerset, in funding, planning for the future,  administration support and services, if North Somerset succeeds in rejoining the West of England Combined Authority (WECA), currently made up of Bristol,  BANES 9Bath and North East Somerset ) and South Gloucester.

WECA was set up in 2017, and originally included North Somerset. The last North Somerset administration withdrew North Somerset from WECA,  in what must go down in history as one of the worst decisions it made. WECA have got ambitious plans for the future, devolved powers from central government, and £1.15 billion for the region.  In 2020  it agreed a Local Industrial Strategy with government, and have a Regional Recovery Plan in place. WECA speaking to government with one voice is a key benefit, and they are forging ahead with transport and other improvements.

In 2020, the current North Somerset administration tried to rejoin WECA,  a move backed by Bristol City Council  but opposed by the Bristol Mayor and a political group who were against the WECA £ 1.15 billion funding, plus subsequent funding, being split amongst 4 authorities  instead of 3.  North Somerset rejoining WECA has been ‘kicked into the long grass’ until 2025, with opponents saying a government financial package is needed first. Meanwhile, North Somerset is struggling to cover major services, and the drain of administrative officers to Bristol continues, starting with the North Somerset Chief Executive Mike Jackson, a recent example being our own Parish Liaison Officer.

(2) If rejoining WECA doesn’t happen then from April 2023,  Somerset will become a unitary authority, like North Somerset, Bristol and BANES , based in Taunton ( see more information about that,  here: https://questions-statements.parliament.uk/written-statements/detail/2021-07-21/hcws234

  • The impact of this on N. Somerset is yet to be established. Somerset is in the South West, but we don’t know if there might be any support for Somerset being part of a Combined Authority.   Is either Somerset or North Somerset interested in combining their interests as a Combined Authority?  How might this benefit us in North Somerset?  What about WECA and the new Somerset unitary authority? 

Would it be better overall  for Somerset as unitary authority to look after us in  Winscombe and Sandford, and the other rural villages within the constituency boundary proposal, to better align our representation in parliament, and our administrative needs as rural communities?

Question: So is there any  point now in asking the Boundary Commission, through this consultation , to recommend any changes in the administrative area of North Somerset?

Answer:  there may not be another Boundary Commission consultation when we have the chance to do this.   North Somerset and BANES ( Bath and North East Somerset) as neighbouring unitary authorities were consulted on the Somerset proposals, and neither said it wanted to be involved with further reorganisation.

Question: What is a unitary authority?

Answer: A unitary authority deals with all services in its area, and is a two-tier system, with the unitary authority as one tier, and town and parish councils as the second tier.  Areas which do not have a unitary authority may  have a county council and a district council, as well as town and parish councils.

Question: Can our response to this consultation help shape the Boundary Commission’s aim in this review to promote effective and convenient local government, and to advise the government about the boundaries between local authorities, in this case North Somerset and Somerset ?

Answer: Yes, potentially,  if enough of us speak up about our community ties with Somerset , and our problems as rural communities in North Somerset.

Here are some administrative problems for rural communities in North Somerset:

  1. Numerically, the number of District  Councillors representing the villages are far fewer than those representing the towns.  It shouldn’t make a difference, the Code of Conduct says they have to be evenhanded and fair.  However, given the number of issues under discussion over the years, how often do village issues, for example the rural bus service, come up, and where is the programme for bringing them in?
  2. Lack of money for rural improvements. The current situation is that   North Somerset is struggling financially, and has further cuts to make.  When funds are scarce, and decisions are made on funding improvements  there is a strong argument that they should be focussed on areas where there is a higher population, to benefit the most people.  In practical terms, it means that in North Somerset planning for improvements  there are  large gaps in provision for the less populated areas, the villages and hamlets.  
  3. The imbalance between funding and planning for active travel,  and funding and planning for better public transport.   

Question: Will putting in walking and cycling links from the villages to the towns, as a single measure on their own, increase active travel and cut down on car dependency?

Answer: No, it’s unlikely.

  • There is a massive unmet need for good public transport to complement the walking and cycling routes, which really would  tackle car dependency, the impact on public health and hospital services, and the carbon cost of transport effectively, explained fully in the report ‘Every Village, Every hour 2021 Buses Report: https://www.cpre.org.uk/resources/every-village-every-hour-2021-buses
  • We  need 20mph limits in built up areas to slow down traffic enough to reassure villagers’ concerns about speeding traffic, plus good and frequent public transport.  That’s not happening in North Somerset currently, unfortunately, despite an an active community campaign for wide-area 20 mph limits in Sandford, Churchill, and other villages in North Somerset, and parish council support.

There is a strong government drive for active travel, to cut down on car use for short to medium journeys and there is central government funding for Active Travel, which North Somerset has obtained, with possibly more funding to come.  New cycling and walking routes, and improvements to existing ones, are being planned to link the villages to Weston.

Many elderly and disabled people in Winscombe and Sandford, and people with young families, are not going to  walk or cycle the 8 miles to Weston, for shopping, health care, or to work. Most people are either car dependent, or have difficulty in accessing facilities in the towns.   

 Yatton is a special case.  Yatton would be part of Wells and Mendip Hills constituency, and is on the railway line between Weston super Mare and Bristol,  but  bus services between Yatton and the villages are patchy and indirect.

The emphasis on putting in new walking and cycling routes between the villages and towns in North Somerset, without tackling the transport deprivation in the rural areas, and the road safety and public health need to bring in wide area 20 mph speed limits, is partly due to the fact that central government is not funding public transport enough, and is not keeping to its commitment to the UN and the Stockholm Declaration of 2020, to bring in 20 mph speed limits for built up areas and where walkers and cyclists share the streets with motorised traffic, throughout the UK. Lack of funding is a major issue, but already other local authorities, including the WECA local authorities, are bringing in wide area 20 mph speed limits for their areas. These issues are not being tackled in North Somerset.

Will there be a better chance of the needs of the rural villages in the north of the new Somerset and Mendip Hills constituency being heard by central government, if we have to the same MP as Somerset Council?

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