Skip to main content

St Albans and Welwyn Hatfield (Boundary Change) Order 2012

Volume 735: debated on Tuesday 14 February 2012

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the St Albans and Welwyn Hatfield (Boundary Change) Order 2012.

Relevant documents: 38th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

My Lords, I beg to move that the Grand Committee consider the draft St Albans and Welwyn Hatfield (Boundary Change) Order 2012. This is a very straightforward matter. The order transfers a small area of land, part of a cul-de-sac and a few houses, from one local authority, Welwyn Hatfield, to another, St Albans.

Before addressing the particulars of the order, it might help if I explain, as briefly as I can, the statutory framework that allows the change and the context within which the boundary change is now being considered. This is the first use of the powers in the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 for boundary change and the first principal area boundary review undertaken by the Local Government Boundary Commission for England since it was established on 1 April 2010 as an entirely independent parliamentary body under the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2010.

Under the legislation, a boundary change between two local authorities can take place only upon the recommendation of the Boundary Commission. The Boundary Commission's responsibility is to advise the Secretary of State. In doing so, it gathers evidence, for example, from the councils involved and local people, publishes and consults on draft recommendations based on this evidence and, once it has considered the representations, makes final recommendations to the Secretary of State. When considering whether a change is desirable, the Boundary Commission must bear in mind the statutory criteria that change should lead to effective and convenient local government and reflect the local community’s views. Before deciding whether to accept its recommendations, the Secretary of State must consider any further representations he may receive on the recommendations.

The context within which boundary change is being considered includes ensuring that local government boundaries reflect communities and that councils can deliver effective and efficient services. However, apart from changes brought about by structural change, the boundaries of our local authorities have not been looked at for some 20 years. In that time, there have been many changes with new developments and the extension of urban areas. It is inevitable that some boundaries will need changing. A boundary that cuts through a property or an estate is unlikely to be convenient to the property owners who may have to have dealings with two separate local authorities. Perhaps more importantly, out-of-date boundaries can affect perceptions of community identity. People who do not feel, for whatever reason, part of an area are potentially less likely to take an interest in the work of the local authority or to want to play their part in civic life.

In this particular boundary change, the current district boundary between St Albans and Welwyn Hatfield weaves between houses and across gardens in Franklin Close and Roestock Gardens so that some properties are in Welwyn Hatfield and others are in St Albans. While some residents of Franklin Close live in Welwyn Hatfield, they cannot access their homes without going through St Albans. This has been a bone of contention for some time. The Boundary Commission agreed to undertake a review and on 20 September 2011 published its final recommendations which are now being implemented by this order; namely, the transfer of numbers 2 to 24, even numbers only, of Franklin Close from Welwyn Hatfield and the gardens of 9 to 13 Roestock Gardens into St Albans. As a result, all the houses in Franklin Close and the entirety of their respective gardens will be in the same district council area: St Albans. This change also affects two parishes as the existing district boundary is also a parish boundary between North Mymms parish in Welwyn Hatfield and Colney Heath parish in St Albans.

St Albans and Welwyn Hatfield agree that the change is necessary. Both have actively sought and supported the boundary change on behalf of the residents concerned. Everyone who has made representations, including local Members of Parliament, residents and the parishes concerned, have been supportive, both those who responded to the Boundary Commission and those who wrote to the Secretary of State.

The Boundary Commission has confirmed that the change will provide for effective and convenient local government and that in its view, the change has no adverse impact on either local authority's ability to deliver value for money to local residents. Indeed, any impact is likely to be positive.

Article 3 transfers the relevant area from Welwyn Hatfield and North Mymms parish to St Albans and the parish of Colney Heath from 1 April 2012. This article also amends the boundaries between the relevant electoral areas. Article 4 ensures that the development plans that apply to the area continue to apply. Article 5 ensures that anything that applies to or is being done in relation to the transferred area can continue; for instance, any legal proceedings or appeals. Article 6 provides for the transfer of any property, while Article 7 provides that the sitting councillors will represent the revised areas until such time as they stand for election in the normal way. Article 8 allows the two local authorities to prepare for those elections.

In short, this order implements a small boundary change between St Albans and Welwyn Hatfield that is wanted by local people and recommended by the independent Boundary Commission. I commend this order to the Committee.

My Lords, I welcome this order and want to proclaim that at last common sense reigns. I come from Hertfordshire, although not this part, and know the councillors for the London Colney area, which will receive the houses that are being transferred. I am delighted that this anomaly has been corrected. I had personal experience of it when I went to help during a hotly contested by-election in the village of Welham Green over Christmas some five years ago. Finishing canvassing in the village, I offered to do the last few houses on the remaining canvass sheet. “Yes”, said our Welwyn Hatfield councillor, “but I would not walk if I were you”. The reason was because the journey to get from the village to these houses is across a number of fields and past the entrance to the M25, the dual carriageway and a whole string of new industrial estates. This whole area is a complete anomaly. Luckily, the Welwyn Hatfield councillor said that the local London Colney councillor would do the canvassing for us. It is bizarre how history manages to make a small number of houses in completely the wrong place for local government purposes. I suspect that the change will not be visible to the residents of the up to 14 properties, who probably feel as if they have always been in London Colney anyway. I urge the Committee to free the Welwyn Hatfield 14 and their occupants and let them move to their natural home of London Colney in the city of St Albans.

Well, my Lords, I begin as I began the last debate with a reference to where we are. I am pleased to say that we have moved from the 10 commandments to 14 houses being relocated in what must pass for something like the transposition of Clochemerle to rural Hertfordshire. We have gone through an extraordinarily convoluted process to accommodate the perfectly reasonable request of a handful of residents. They were supported, I understand, by the local Member of Parliament, Mr Grant Shapps, with whom I have occasional disagreements but whom I congratulate on his efforts on this particular occasion in meeting the needs of his constituents.

I cannot quibble with these changes, but I rather contrast the work of the whole machinery of state to produce this splendid result for the residents of this patch with what is going on in respect of other boundaries. Presumably, this boundary change will also shift these voters from one parliamentary constituency to another, unless of course these are two constituencies that may be combined. At the moment, we have some extraordinary propositions that make this look even more minuscule by comparison. We have boundary changes to which all political parties seem to have profound objections.

For example, there is to be a boundary change in Merseyside creating a Mersey Bank constituency with part of it in Wirral and part of it Liverpool divided by the River Mersey—with no crossing at that point. We have a parliamentary constituency in my part of world, which is a diagonal stripe across Northumberland down to Barnard Castle in Durham from Haltwhistle. We have constituencies in Cumbria divided by the Pennines. We have Gloucester city with the centre, town hall, markets and so forth transposed to another constituency whose name currently escapes me but is certainly outside the traditional city of Gloucester, and so on and so forth.

By comparison, this is a straightforward and simple matter. It is only a pity that the Government's decision to force a change of boundaries on a radical scale with limited discretion in terms of the size of constituencies will lead to much more of a problem for many more people up and down the country. But I appreciate that that is beyond the scope of the Minister, who I am sure would be only too willing to adjust the instructions given to the Boundary Commission had she the power to do so. In the circumstances, of course, I can only endorse these proposals and give them the blessing that we will not be conferring on the regulations that we discussed previously.

My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their support for this order. I guess that the local authority has to ask the Boundary Commission for a review. Since it has only just got this one done from 2010, it will take a little while to do the others.

Motion agreed

Sitting suspended.