Next May’s Greenwich Council election battle began today after boundary commissioners tore up the borough’s wards to bring in a whole new political map for the area.
The borough will gain four new councillors, taking the total up to 55. After early proposals were put out to consultation in March, the final recommendations have been published today.
Every ward in the borough changes, with the existing pattern of three-councillor wards turned into a mix of two and three-councillor wards.
With the slate wiped clean in many areas, many councillors will have to find whole new wards to represent – and particularly in the ruling Labour group, that will mean fighting through party squabbles to get there.
There are also likely to be more women on the council from next May – Labour rules state that in two-member seats, the party must pick at least one woman to contest an election.
The boundary changes take into account the borough’s fast-growing population, and replace the current 20-year-old pattern. They include brand new seats covering the Greenwich Peninsula, Kidbrooke Village, West Thamesmead and the area around Deptford Creek – which the commission has christened Greenwich Creekside.
They do not affect Greenwich’s boundaries with its neighbouring boroughs – last tweaked in 1994 – or parliamentary constituencies, which are the subject of a separate review.
Many of the commission’s recommendations from March remain broadly the same. They were derived from a pattern of wards submitted by the opposition Tories after Labour’s call for the existing wards to be largely maintained was rejected.
While some initial changes clearly helped the Conservatives, they have now been altered following feedback from Labour, local MPs and other local groups – with political parties armed with canvassing data showing where their support lies. The Liberal Democrats also contributed, but the Greens did not.
In Woolwich, the original plans envisaged the Royal Arsenal forming the bulk of a new two-member ward – bringing the possibility of Woolwich’s first Conservative councillors for a century. Now Woolwich Arsenal expands to take in the town centre, becoming a three-member ward, and becomes more likely to stay Labour.
While Blackheath Westcombe – London’s most marginal council ward – now includes the entire Cator Estate, handing a major boost to the Tories, Labour-voting streets east of Kidbrooke Park Road have now been restored.
And in the north of Eltham, another hotly-contested area, boundaries have been altered so a new Eltham Park and Progress seat is separated from Eltham Town & Avery Hill by the Bexleyheath railway line.
All of Eltham High Street will be in the Eltham Town & Avery Hill ward – a symbolic blow to Labour, with the new ward likely to go to the Conservatives.
Tory hopes for the new Greenwich Peninsula seat – now separated from East Greenwich – will be slightly weakened by it being stretched to include streets near Charlton station.
However, in the south of the borough, Labour attempts to turn the A20 in Mottingham into a ward boundary – increasing its chances of securing councillors representing the Coldharbour Estate – were rebuffed. Labour MP Clive Efford also objected in vain to the name “Mottingham” being included in the new ward name of “Mottingham, Coldharbour and New Eltham”. The commission noted that “he maintained that this area in the borough of Greenwich was best described as Eltham”.
Efford also unsuccessfully objected to the name “Kidbrooke Village” being included in a ward. He wrote in his submission: “I object strongly to the name Kidbrooke Village. This was a marketing name created by the developers and has largely been tainted by the history of antagonism that existed in the past and it should not be used for the new ward.”
The new seat will now be called Kidbrooke Village & Sutcliffe.
One Labour activist joked to 853 that the changes would result in a “great purge” of councillors – but the changes do turn parts of the borough’s political map on its head.
While candidates for council do not have to live in the ward they seek to represent, Labour in particular will be under pressure to find potential candidates who live in newer areas such as the Greenwich Peninsula and the Royal Arsenal, places where the Conservatives have already found candidates.
An unintended consequence of successful Conservative lobbying for two-member seats will be an increase in the number of female Labour councillors because of the party’s rules on equal representation.
Women in the council have particularly suffered in the town hall’s toxic atmosphere, with some younger councillors deciding that the constant battles within Labour were not worth the personal strain.
However, recent by-elections have bumped the number of women on the Labour benches up to 18 – against 24 men – providing the prospect of something approaching equal representation after May.
The increasing number of Labour women will also put the spotlight on who the Tories pick for the next election – the party currently has just one woman councillor, Eltham South’s Pat Greenwell, against eight men.
Labour councillor David Gardner expressed regret on Twitter that his seat would be split four ways but the Conservatives were happier with the outcome.
Tory leader Nigel Fletcher said:“This has been a long and complex process, but it was important to get it right. The way our wards are configured affects how people are represented at the Town Hall, and how decisions are made.
“There was significant engagement by residents and community groups at both stages of the process, and I’d like to thank all those who engaged in the process – many more than the average for consultations like these.
“Overall, those local voices overcame the council’s rather lazy attitude that no change was required.”
The new seats take effect from May 2022’s election – if any by-election is held before then, it will be on the old boundaries.
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