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Highland Council welcomes unanimous rejection of Boundary Commission ward shake-up plans by Scottish Parliament committee

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.

A Scottish Parliament committee has unanimously rejected plans for a shake-up of Highland Council wards after a torrent of complaints from members and the public.

The leader of Highland Council, Councillor Margaret Davidson, "warmly welcomed" today’s decision, recommending that the proposals by Boundaries Scotland be ditched.

The Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee is convened by Highlands and Islands Greens MSP Ariane Burgess.

Speaking there today Deputy First Minister John Swinney recommended the proposals for approval, arguing they were “pragmatic” and the commission correctly identified the balance between locality and parity of representation.

But even members of Mr Swinney's own party slammed the proposals as unacceptable.

Caithness would have been divided into three wards, losing one councillor, while Sutherland would have seen its representation slashed as it became a single ward, losing two members.

It was also proposed to divide the Great Glen in two and create four Inverness "super wards".

Cllr Davidson said: “I would like to thank the MSPs for taking account of our genuine concerns and unanimously rejecting these proposals.

“The council has been strongly opposed to these proposals from the beginning and have been very clear that these changes to wards did not take into account the unique circumstances of Highland and would have resulted in a significant democratic deficit for many of our communities.

“We are keen to work constructively with Boundaries Scotland on a new review after the local government elections next May which takes into account the issues of sparsity of population, rurality of our geography as well as parity.”

Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Emma Roddick, who will remain a Highland councillor until next year’s local authority elections, dubbed the plans "unfit."

“I wrote to John Swinney soon after my election to make clear my views that the boundary proposals are inappropriate, particularly in terms of serving rural areas,” she said.

“Many of us in the Highlands have raised a number of issues, including wards covering rural and urban areas, the splitting of communities like Hilton in Inverness, and the under-representation of many communities.

“The unanimous recommendation from the committee to reject the Highland proposals demonstrates just how unfit for purpose they are.”

Speaking back in January, during a public consultation on the proposals Caithness, Sutherland and Ross MSP Maree Todd said: “The proposals put forward by the Boundary Commission are completely unacceptable.

“In the most part, the proposals put forward for the Highlands by the Boundary Commission are not fit for purpose, particularly in our rural and remote communities. With Inverness gaining representation, these proposals will inevitably lead to the perception of centralised power.

“If the Boundary Commission continues to base proposals purely on population size, rural areas in the Highlands will continue to lose out.”

Related Story – Highlanders could be 'disenfranchised' by Boundary Commission shake-up of Highland Council wards

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