Who are you? Where do you live? What is home for you? These questions are intrinsically linked to our identity, sense of community and democratic voice.
And residents are being given the chance to have their say on these big questions in a vital review which will shape the future community landscape of the Bury St Edmunds/Haverhill area for generations to come.
Few may have heard of the dryly-dubbed ‘Community Governance Review’ (CGR) but it could make the difference as to whether you are classed as a Bury St Edmunds resident, part of one the area’s many picturesque villages or a pioneering member of a newly created parish.
It is a review of the fundamental grassroots which allow you to be heard - parish electoral arrangements, whether to have parish or town councils, boundaries and the numbers of councillors and parish council wards.
“It affects everyone with quite big changes for some people. It’s local identity, where you live and who represents you. It’s the first tier of local democracy and the building block of all the other local electoral arrangements. People have a real chance to shape their local democratic arrangements,” says Borough Councillor Pat Warby.
The last CGR was held around 15 years ago and this review is being kick started by the impending influx of up to 5,900 new homes as part of St Edmundsbury Borough Council’s ambitious blueprint for growth Vision 2031.
The council is leading the review and will have the final say on any changes made.
It also addresses a call from County Cllr Trevor Beckwith to create an entirely new parish council for Moreton Hall and is a chance to identify boundary anomalies identified through elections
Last autumn, it consulted with parishes, communities and councillors about the future of 25 areas and has drafted recommendations or ‘hypotheses’ on which residents can have their say.
The borough council will then sift through the responses before it is presented to the democratic renewal working party, chaired by Cllr Warby. A final decision will then be made by the full council in June.
“On the first round of consultation we had a significant consensus in about 75 per cent of the cases,” Cllr Warby says.
However, some suggestions proved contentious and at the moment the borough is opting to keep Moreton Hall within the Bury St Edmunds parish.
“With the case of Moreton Hall Parish Council we just didn’t get enough evidence to support the change to the status quo,” Cllr Warby explains.
“If we get that evidence in the next round of consultation we’re legally allowed to change that recommendation completely.
“The key thing is that the consultation is completely genuine and we can change our minds (from the initial recommendations).”
Addressing some frequently asked questions, Cllr Warby says the review will not change school catchment areas or residential addresses.
“It’s about saying how the parish arrangements should reflect where you think you live, what kind of governance at parish level do you want and what parish council would affect the community of where you think you live.”
The consultation will run until April 27th.
For more information and to download a consultation form visit http://westsuffolk.gov.uk/CGR . Or send your views by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Service Manager (Democratic Services and Elections), West Suffolk House, Western Way, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, IP33 3YU.
CASE STUDY: Boundary issue
The CGR’s role in cementing community identity is perhaps best illustrated in solving the plight of seven households on Moreton Hall, which were not able to vote for representatives on their estate last year because of a technicality over a boundary line.
One house in Primack Road and six others in Mortimer Road were actually deemed part of the Rushbrooke with Rougham parish - resulting in a 3.6 mile trip to a village to vote on issues which didn’t affect them.
However, following the first round of CGR consultation the borough council is recommending the boundary line be moved so the properties are included in the Bury parish.
Graham West and his wife Jennifer, of Primack Road, were amongst those affected.
The 63-year-old, who is a member of Moreton Hall Residents Association, said: “I’m pleased they’ve realised this wasn’t an ideal situation to have just a few houses isolated from their natural area. We’re very glad now we can actually have a say in the place we live.”
CASE STUDY: Rushbrooke with Rougham Parish Council
With 500 new homes to be built to the east of Bury St Edmunds, Rushbrooke with Rougham Parish Council feared its parish could be absorbed into Bury St Edmunds, losing its identity and history.
However, it has won a series of recommendations from the borough following the first wave of CGR consultation to help maintain distinctiveness.
As a result Lady Miriam Way would be the boundary between the parish and Bury St Edmunds Town Council.
The new housing development by Taylor Wimpey would be part of Rushbrooke with Rougham parish as well as the new Sybil Andrews Academy, sports facilities and the Suffolk Business Park.
The revised parish would be split into two wards.
It follows petitions and questionnaires with residents, letters of support from neighbouring Great Barton Parish Council, councillors, Rougham Tower Association and Sybil Andrews Academy.
To mark the parish’s connections with Rougham Airfield, Taylor Wimpey is to recommend the streets of the new housing development are named after various US airmen and aircraft who served at Rougham.
Ian Steel, chairman of Rushbrooke with Rougham Parish Council, said: “There was a lot of history and emotion in the parish about this.
“By effectively retaining the existing boundary along Lady Miriam Way and in order to retain the integrity of the whole of the Taylor Wimpey site the parish council were of the view that this development would be better served by being part of the rural development than being absorbed into Bury Town Council.”
During the first consultation, Bury St Edmunds Town Council felt the Bury parish boundary should be expanded to incorporate the housing growth site citing reasons including community cohesion, integration and identity.
CASE STUDY: Moreton Hall Parish
County Cllr Trevor Beckwith is campaigning to create a new parish council to represent Moreton Hall.
He said: “It’s four times bigger population-wise than the third biggest town in the borough Clare. I think we’re big enough to have our own identity.
“It wouldn’t be an additional tier of government - we wouldn’t pay Bury Town Council. We would pay our own little parish council instead so the money comes from us and is spent by us.
“It was a parish council of about 11 elected people - hopefully no politicians - a local parish council with ordinary people on it making decisions on a small element of their own taxes.”
During the first round of CGR consultation, Bury Town Council argued that ‘it would not be in the Moreton Hall electorate’s interest to create a separate parish’ and noted that Moreton Hall is served by three ward councillors on the town council.
Out of the residents who responded, six favoured Moreton Hall to remain part of the Bury parish and seven favoured a new parish council.
Rushbrooke with Rougham Parish Council felt Moreton Hall should remain part of Bury Town Council, which was backed by Cllrs Sara Mildmay-White and Terry Clements.
Cliff Hind, chairman of the Moreton Hall Residents Association, told the Bury Free Press it is still discussing the proposal and had not yet reached a view.