CONTROVERSIAL changes to East Hampshire District Council’s (EHDC) ward boundaries have been rubber-stamped by Parliament.
The independent Local Government Boundary Commission for England held a round of consultations, returning in April with its final recommendations for the district.
It proposed changes to almost all wards, with the alterations designed to achieve electoral balance.
The new wards will see the council represented by 43 district councillors in the future, one fewer than the current arrangement. Those members will represent two three-councillor, eight two-councillor and 21 one-councillor wards across the district.
But while Holybourne is now to become one of seven Alton wards, with an extended boundary, leaving Froyle to team up with Bentworth, this reconfiguration could be shortlived.
Convinced that independent status would better serve the community, Holybourne is investigating a possible break from the town to become a standalone rural ward - a move already affectionately dubbed ‘Hexit’.
Holybourne Village Association has already begun the process, the next stage of which is to consult the village with a view to engaging the level of support, needed to petition EHDC to trigger a governance review. This would require 187 signatures (10 per cent of the population) of residents on the electoral register, supporting the formation of a parish council for a “defined area”.
This, it is thought, would not follow the new ward boundary which has been extended along the south side of London and Anstey Road to embrace Barley Fields, the new housing on the former Coors sports ground, and Alton Health Centre and, on the opposite side, taking in Anstey Park and Alton (Convent) School, but would be confined to the village proper.
In light of the new boundary arrangements such a move, according to Alton town clerk Leah Coney, could throw up all sorts of complications because it could result in an imbalance of council tax yield, leaving the village cash rich but asset light, with Anstey Park and the Barley Fields play area remaining in Alton.
It could mean yet another review of the Alton ward boundaries with the possibility of a council tax rise as the cost of these major assets would be borne by a reduced number of Alton residents.
Holybourne may have a different agenda. Writing on the subject in the Holybourne Village Magazine, village association vice-chairman David Houghton makes the case for independence, pointing out that it would mean having “more control over our own affairs”.
An elected parish council would be made up of people who live in the village and would have its own budget to cover such things as “maintenance of open spaces, provision of allotments, a part-time Clerk, possible funding for local organisations, and the provision of any other services that the community requires, that are not provided by EHDC or Hampshire County Council”.
The main disadvantage, writes Mr Houghton, would be loss of economies of scale and the extra responsibility that would come from breaking away from the protection of the Alton Town Council umbrella.
The hope may also be, according to Mrs Coney, that as a rural parish the village may be afforded better protection against development - the bulk of which, in recent years, has been taken up by Alton.
But autonomy will be a major decision which, if pursued, is unlikely to happen in time for next year’s parish and district elections.
In the meantime, thanks to a successful challenge by the town council to the Boundary Commission’s original draft recommendation for Alton that would have seen the town carved into four council wards represented by one, two or three councillors, Alton will now be covered by seven wards, each to be represented by one councillor, which the town council believes will better reflect community ties in the town.
The wards of Amery, Ashdell, Eastbrooke, Holybourne Westbrooke, Whitedown and Wooteys have all been realigned to take into account new development and to create a more equal number of voters for each councillor.
In future, Wooteys ward will take in the Manor estate and the new Cadnams Farm development. Amery ward will include the Greenfields estate and the new homes at Will Hall Farm, while Alton Whitedown will scoop up development on the former Treloar Hospital site, and Ashdell the new homes at Borovere Farm.
Commenting on the final outcome of the electoral review, Mrs Coney said: “Alton Town Council supported the revised proposals for seven single-councillor district wards for the town. The revision better recognises the pattern of existing communities and provides good electoral equality. The original proposals which had two or three district councillors per ward was confusing.”
Under the new arrangements, Froyle will be in a ward with Bentworth (represented by one councillor), Four Marks and Medstead embracing Chawton (three), Binsted, Bentley and Selborne embracing Farringdon (two), while Ropley will be linked with Hawkley and Hangers (one).
Deputy leader Julie Butler said EHDC had worked hard to achieve the preferred option of single-ward councillors, although there were exceptions such as Liphook and Bramshott and Medstead and Four Marks which will have three.