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Voters in Brenchley and Matfield in Tunbridge Wells feel ‘disenfranchised’ with boundary commissions’s new ward name

Shakespeare had Juliet pose the question: “What’s in a name?”

Well, quite a lot if you live in the small Kent villages of Brenchley or Matfield.

Matfield village near Tunbridge Wells
Matfield village near Tunbridge Wells

The Local Government Boundary Commission for England (LGBCE) has recently conducted a review of the council seats and wards in the borough of Tunbridge Wells.

The review, which will see the number of councillors reduced from 48 to 39, and the number of wards reduced from 24 to 14, has naturally resulted in some larger wards.

One of the new wards will encompass four existing parishes: Goudhurst, Lamberhurst, Brenchley and Matfield, and Horsmonden.

When the Commission’s review last went out to public consultation, it was being proposed that this new ward be called “Rural Tunbridge Wells”.

But one person suggested during the consultation that the name was out of line with the names of other wards, and was able to persuade the Commission to change it to “Goudhurst, Lamberhurst and Horsmonden”, with Brenchley and Matfield left off, because the addition of their names would have made it too long.

Councillors discussed the ward name change at a recent meeting
Councillors discussed the ward name change at a recent meeting

The Commission’s report said: “A resident proposed that Rural Tunbridge Wells be renamed Goudhurst, Lamberhurst and Horsmonden … we have decided to name the wards after all or most of the constituent parishes.”

Perhaps not surprisingly the change upset Brenchley and Matfield Parish Council who said that their voters would feel disenfranchised.

Tunbridge Wells council agreed and after consultation found there was unanimous support among all the parish councils and all the local ward councillors for the original name of “Rural Tunbridge Wells”.

But because the commission’s report was “final”, it cannot be changed before it is “laid“ before Parliament for approval.

Once it is “laid”, there is no potential to amend it and any objection to the recommendations can only legally result in a vote either to accept or reject the report in full – something that has never happened before.

The Local Government Act does allow a council to change a ward name if a resolution is passed at a meeting especially convened for that purpose – and passed by a two-thirds majority – provided the council has taken “reasonable steps” to consult the public.

Cllr Jane March (Con) said the choice was ‘disenfranchising’ some wards
Cllr Jane March (Con) said the choice was ‘disenfranchising’ some wards

However, even that power does apply for the first five years after new boundaries are introduced.

So all the borough can do is request the LGBCE make the change.

Last Wednesday, the council held an extraordinary meeting to discuss the subject and passed by unanimous vote a resolution to ask the commission to change the name back to Rural Tunbridge Wells.

Cllr Jane March (Con) said: “I will help us to all feel we are part of one ward as opposed to disenfranchising some parts”.

Cllr Steve MacMillan (Tunbridge Wells Alliance) said: “The parish of Brenchley and Matfield was somewhat surprised and very disappointed to see the name that was given to us by the boundary commission.

“If we are going to be grouped together in such a way, we want a name that represents the whole area.

Cllr Steve McMillan (TWA) was left feeling ‘very disappointed’
Cllr Steve McMillan (TWA) was left feeling ‘very disappointed’

“Brenchley and Matfield Parish Council has been established for over 130 years and it’s unfair that its name was not mentioned.”

The borough had already conducted a public consultation across the four parishes on whether to change the name back to Rural Tunbridge Wells.

The response was low, but overall 60 were in favour, and 21 were against.

Perhaps not surprisingly the biggest margin of difference was in Brenchley and Matfield, where 36 were in favour and only three against.

Somewhat ungenerously, residents in Goudhurst preferred to stick with the Commission’s name, by a margin of 11 to 7.

The council hopes the commission will accept the borough’s request and change the name back to Rural Tunbridge Wells before the full council elections next May.

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