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Highland Council breathes a sigh of relief as ward shake-up plans unanimously rejected

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 councillors 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 Mr Swinney turned a deaf ear even to complaints from across the political spectrum, including members of his own party who slammed the proposals as unacceptable.

Locally the ward shake-up was seen as devastating to local democracy by people from across the political spectrum including allegations that if enacted they would “disenfranchise” Highlanders.

Caithness would have been diced into three wards losing one councillors while Sutherland would have its representation slashed as it became one ward and losing two members.

The carve-up continued by dividing the Great Glen in two and uniting Inverness into four super wards while leaving under-represented and over-populated areas like Culloden and Ardersier without additional members.

There was no impact on Badenoch and Strathspey in the proposal.

Councillor 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 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 underrepresentation of many communities.

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

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