Periodic Electoral Review of the City of Cambridge

Submission to the Local Government Commission by the Cambridge Liberal Democrats

  1. Common ground
  2. At an early stage all four parties (Conservative, Green, Labour and Liberal Democrat) involved in the deliberations on the ward boundary proposals agreed that the City should retain three member wards with councillors retiring in rotation three years out of four so that elections should be held every year. They strongly agreed that each ward should also be a County Electoral Division with the same areas used for representation at both levels of local government in the City.

  3. Retaining 14 wards
  4. As the controlling party on the City Council, the Liberal Democrats have been particularly exercised with the transition to the new Executive arrangements as required by the Local Government Act 2000.

    Early on in the considerations a broad cross-party consensus was reached on a number of principles for the new structures which have implications for the number of city councillors. An early key decision was that all major decisions should be subject to public scrutiny before they are made.

    In addition the requirements of the development control process have imposed considerable burdens on the Councillors involved and limited the number able to devote the time necessary (in a place like Cambridge) to give the large number of contentious applications proper consideration. This is despite extensive delegation of decision making on uncontentious applications to Officers.

    A smaller council membership would, in our judgement, impose serious constraints on the options for the Council. Either the Planning Committee would have to have a smaller membership than widely desired or the number of Executive members would be constrained to the point where it would not be possible to leave to the Opposition the option to join the Executive or not.

  5. 13 ward schemes sought without success
  6. Before settling for a 14-ward scheme with 42 members, serious consideration was given to a compromise with 39 councillors in 13 wards. For four years in the last nine (and eight year since 1974) the council has been exactly balanced with one party holding 21 of the 42 seats, relying on the Mayorís casting vote, This has strained the mayorís traditionally non-partisan position. It would be a gain for the possibility of an even split to be more easily avoided.

    A possible 13-ward scheme was therefore sought. It proved impossible, however, for any of the parties to produce such a scheme.

    At the same time the City Council officers attempted independently to find such a scheme and also failed. The difficulty they encountered was reported thus (using 2005 electorate forecasts):

    "When an attempt was made to work up a thirteen ward scheme real difficulties were encountered. This option would require an average ward electorate of 7147. To create wards which reflected community interest resulted in variations between +18% and Ė13%. One method of achieving a one ward reduction would be to divide up a central ward and reallocate electors to the surrounding wards. This is a viable option in towns and cities which have seen a decline in their central population. For Cambridge it was rejected because of the dense population in Market ward, and the fact that the adjoining wards already have large electorates. As a result either further boundary reworking would be required to move the electorate out to the over represented areas, or long thin wards radiating out from the centre would be produced, which would cut across communities of interest. No viable method of creating a thirteen ward scheme has been identified to date, although officers would be happy to look at Sub-Committee suggestions in this area."

    We believe that the other fundamental difficulty is the location of the river. This is an effectively impenetrable boundary through the City, except in the City Centre. In that area the electorate to the West of the river is rather limited, so that the ability to avoid the river as a boundary there is of limited benefit. We believe the numbers of wardsí worth of 2006 projected electors on either side of the current boundaries that generally follow the river shows the fundamental difficulty:

    North & West 39930

    (Arbury, Castle, East Chesterton, Kingís Hedges, Newnham, West Chesterton)

    South & East 52540

    (Abbey, Cherry Hinton, Coleridge, Market, Petersfield, Queen Edithís, Romsey, Trumpington)

    In a 13-ward allocation these numbers equate to 5.61 and 7.39 wardsí worth of electors respectively. Some 2750 electors from the South and East bank would have to be included in a ward predominantly on the other bank. This would require a boundary dividing the vibrant community that is Cambridge city centre.

    In contrast, the allocations of the 2006 projected electorates to 12 and 14 wards are much closer to those required, 5.18 to 6.82 (12 wards) and 6.05 to 7.95 (14 wards).

    Therefore, despite considerable efforts, no one was able to find the outlines of a viable 13-ward scheme. Discussions were thereafter limited to 12 and 14 ward schemes.

  7. 12 ward schemes
  8. A 12-ward scheme was presented to the Councilís working party. The corresponding split in the cityís electorate by the North & West to South and East division described above is 5.18 to 6.82

    In our view the fatal flaw in this scheme was its cavalier treatment of the long-established Romsey community. The Councilís consultations showed overwhelming opposition amongst the respondents almost entirely on this ground. The high response from Romsey resulted from an additional consultation described below. We were frankly amazed at the high response rate.

  9. Romsey Consultation
  10. The 12-ward scheme, which cuts across Romsey, was mentioned in the May/June 2001 edition of "Romsey Reporter" (the Liberal Democrat newsletter in Romsey ward) during the June election campaign. This went to every house in the ward. The contents can be found at The full text of the article was:

    Labour plan to break up Romsey

    Labour has put forward plans to break up the community of Romsey and move hundreds of Romsey residents into Abbey.

    The Labour Party plans would affect residents of Cromwell Road, Brampton Road, northern Ross Street and Vinery Road, Stourbridge Grove and Coldham's Lane.

    Labour's plans would see provision of community services for these residents come under Abbey rather than Romsey as at present.

    "This is gerrymandering," said Cllr Catherine Smart, "which will do no-one in Romsey any good at all".

    "I will oppose these plans, and I have invited local Labour representatives to join the campaign, but they have refused."

    It was, however, one short article on one leaflet in a campaign which included the delivery of a minimum of six and a maximum of twelve leaflets, newspapers and letters. The ward boundary question only appeared the once; the consultation was not mentioned in the article.

    During the period of the consultation which followed the elections we delivered a letter to the 650 houses that would be affected by the change and moved into Abbey Ward. A copy of this letter is attached: please note that the geographical wording of the second paragraph was specific to each street. With the letter we enclosed a copy of the official comment form and an envelope. We did not communicate again with the rest of the ward.

    We understand that 76 comments were received from the area we targeted, most on our white copy of the form but some on the buff official form and some by e-mail. This is a response rate of about 11.7% - all opposed to the suggested alteration of the boundary between Romsey and Abbey.

    We consider this response rate quite astonishingly high, indicative of very strong feelings on the matter.

  11. 14 wards preferred
  12. We therefore concluded that 12 wards resulted in too few councillors, that the change was unsupported by the public and that retaining the present Council membership of 42 would be the best way to proceed.

    We believe the scheme endorsed with no votes against by the council more than fully meets the Commissionís requirements and represents a good 14-ward scheme. It changes the ward of residence of just 10216 (11.75%) of City electors. We believe such a minimal change approach is appropriate and that the Councilís scheme more than fully delivers objectives of the Commissionís guidance.

    Because we are endorsing the scheme submitted by the City Council we do not include details here except to draw attention to a few specific points.


  13. A few observations on the 14 ward scheme
  14. Abbey

    The changes here are the obvious ones to restore the bulk of the previous ward, including all the historic features that give rise to the "Abbey" name. A view was taken when the 1975 wards were adopted that growth rates in the estates to the East of the railway line would be sufficient to justify that area being a ward on its own. This growth never occurred to that extent. See also the comment on Petersfield ward below.


    The area transferred from Newnham has been chosen to leave the traditionally Newnham "West Cambridge" residential areas in that ward while transferring an area whose electorate is almost exclusively comprised of students in colleges to Castle which already has a sizeable population in the colleges. It may not look so simple on the map but keeping Grange Road in Newnham does retain community ties there. We suggest a minor technical change to the City Councilís proposed boundary to follow the centre of the river from Clare Bridge Southwards rather than following one bank. No electors are affected.

    Cherry Hinton

    The natural extent of this community is divided by the City boundary. This is the single most unfortunate consequence of the lack of a City boundary update since 1934. The areas added to the ward have significantly less claim to a place in the ward than parts of Fulbourn and Teversham parishes.


    The recently accepted plans for the Leica site in Rustat Road provide for a turning facility. This would allow the present road closure point to be re-aligned with the foot of the cycle bridge, making the proposed boundary with Romsey even clearer in an area where many people identify themselves as living in part of "Romsey". See also the comment on Queen Edithís ward below.

    East Chesterton

    The boundary at the rear of the properties on the South-East side of Milton Road would probably be best located about half way down the rear gardens of the Milton Road properties. That would make it more proof against future backland development beyond what has already been agreed. Such development would be accessed from the roads to the South-East of Milton Road and therefore logically should be in East Chesterton ward. It would, however, mean creating a boundary that did not follow any geographical feature on the ground. The Commissionís predecessors were unhappy about creating such boundaries.

    Kingís Hedges

    See East Chesterton.


    See Castle.


    We were not sure where best to place the boundary in New Street. It could be better placed along the middle of the road, with numbers 130-172 remaining in Petersfield and just the houses in Coldhamís Lane and Silverwood Close to the South of the centreline of New Street added to Abbey. This would transfer 44 electors from the proposed Abbey to the proposed Petersfield ward.

    The area around Harvey Road chosen for transfer to Trumpington is largely owned by Gonville and Caius College and occupied by its students. This makes it rather different from the streets to the east, such as Glisson Road. They are generally not in institutional ownership. Fennerís Cricket ground also forms a clear natural boundary.

    The area between Station Road and Hills Road was one we suggested for transfer to Trumpington in the past, as it is remote from the rest of Petersfield but quite close to the Newtown area of Trumpington, sharing local facilities.

    Queen Edithís

    If the garage on the corner of Cherry Hinton and Hills Roads were to be redeveloped for housing it might be better if it was in Coleridge ward, with the boundary drawn the other side of it from the City Council proposal. No voters would be affected for now.


    See Coleridge.

    West Chesterton

    The boundary with the proposed Arbury ward, as with the existing boundary with Castle ward along Holland Street, is not entirely ideal. The details are intended to be reasonably coherent and to meet the needs for additional electors in West Chesterton ward to provide better equality of electorates.

Letter distributed to parts of Romsey proposed for inclusion in Abbey

136 Ross Street50 Sedgwick Street
Tel: 511210Tel: 513052
 20th June 2001

Dear Fellow Romsey Residents,

Breaking up Romsey

As you have already read in the Romsey Reporter, there is a threat to break up Romsey. The Local Government Commission (LGC) requires Wards to be of equal size. As the Wards in Cambridge have become unequal over the years, adjustments have to be made.

A 12 ward scheme has been put forward by the Labour party which would put your house into Abbey Ward, along with the rest of your side of Fairfax Road (but not the other side), Cromwell and Brampton Roads, parts of Ross Street and Vinery Road and a large part of Coldham's Lane. This would mean that community provision for you and your family would be considered as part of Abbey instead of part of Romsey.

A rival 14 Ward proposal has been put forward by the Liberal Democrats which leaves the boundary between Romsey and Abbey as it is, but moves a few houses from Coleridge into Romsey. Full details of both schemes can be seen in the Guildhall and in Newmarket Road Library at Barnwell Court and on the Council's web site at

If you prefer one scheme to the other, NOW is the time to say so. We enclose a copy of the official comment form and an envelope in which to post it.

Please note that your comments will not count if you do not add your name and address. If you want more copies of the form, please let us know. You could also email your comments to

With best wishes,

Catherine H.L. Smart      Sarah Ellis Miller

P.S. We think the 12 ward scheme is unacceptable because it cuts straight through the community that is Romsey. If you agree with us, please say so before 1st July when consultation ends.