Following an extensive consultation process, the Boundary Commission has published a final proposed redrawing of the Medway Council map, which once approved by parliament, will take effect from the 2023 local elections.
Medway was long overdue for a review of its electoral boundaries, with many parts of the area growing significantly since they were last changed two decades ago, meaning some areas faced underrepresentation on the existing map.
Boundary reviews have to attempt to balance creating equal representation between areas, as well as maintaining coherent communities so their representation is not split between different councillors. Unsurprisingly, this task can be challenging, and many people will have differing views of what each local community looks like.
As such, over the last year, the Boundary Commission has been soliciting feedback before coming up with these final proposals. The main points from the final proposals are:
- Medway Council will increase from 55 councillors to 59.
- Medway Council will increase from 22 wards to 24.
- Each councillor will represent approximately 3,700 electors.
The big changes
The Hoo Peninsula area of Medway is currently formed of a single three councillor ward, and these new proposals will split it in two. This is necessary due to the population growth on the peninsula. Hoo & High Halstow will be the larger ward, represented by three councillors, while the remainder of the peninsula will be represented as part of a single councillor All Saints ward.
Cuxton and Halling ward was the biggest challenge to the existing map. Too large to only be represented by one councillor but too small to be represented by two. Any solution to this was likely to be inelegant, and so it is here, with the new Strood riverside developments being clustered in with it creating a behemoth of a ward that runs from one side of Halling to Strood town centre.
The most sweeping changes take place along the central belt of Medway, with the abolition of the messy River ward, that previously included Rochester riverside, Chatham High Street, Brompton, St Marys Island, and other surrounding areas. This has thankfully been rectified, with St Marys Island receiving it’s own single councillor ward, Rochester riverside being grouped with Rochester West, Brompton being merged into Chatham Central, and a new slightly clunky Fort Pitt ward positioned between Chatham and Rochester.
The most controversial argument centred around what constituted Twydall, which will see its size significantly reduced following a deceptive and underhanded campaign by Rainham Conservative councillors. During the consultation process, they wrote to residents in the east of Twydall to tell them that there was a risk that they would be moved from Rainham into Twydall, where they had actually been all along. This led to a campaign from residents to ‘keep’ the Rainham identity that they never had, and unfortunately the Boundary Commission decided to listen to them. As such, a large chunk of Twydall has now been moved into Rainham North ward, and Twydall loses one of its three councillors as a result.
What does it all mean?
Obviously, there are other changes all over the map, and we’ve just focused on the biggest changes here. The question is what this means for Medway politics as we move into the 2023 local elections.
These things are incredibly hard to predict, but the most important change seems to be that it does make the electoral map more balanced. The existing boundaries were heavily weighted toward the Conservatives – indeed, in the 2019 local elections they were able to win 60% of the seats on 35% of the vote. Our initial analysis suggests that these new lines make the council more competitive, still likely to lean more toward the Conservatives, but much easier for an election to go either way, or for us to enter a state of No Overall Control.
Further, many councillors will not be able to rest on their laurels in 2023. Facing new electoral boundaries, many will find their seats either no longer exist, or now cover radically different areas. This makes relying on a personal vote all the more challenging, and provides opportunities for challengers from other parties to perform better.
As it stands though, 2023 is still some time away, but its clear that the next local elections in Medway will look rather different than they have in recent years.