To review the polling districts and polling places in the Dartford constituency area in accordance with the requirements of the Electoral Administration Act 2006 and the Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013.
The Member Services Manager informed the Sub-committee that under the Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013 there was a requirement to hold full statutory reviews of Polling Districts and Polling Places every five years with the first such review being completed by January 2015. This replaced the previous requirement to carry out statutory reviews every four years, with the last one having been undertaken in Dartford in 2011. In any event it was the Council’s practice to carry out a “light touch” review on an annual basis to ensure that the current arrangements were fit for purpose. Although there had been some changes to polling places since 2011, mainly when the previous places had been temporarily available for elections, the only change to polling districts had been the creation of a new polling district (Waterside) in December 2013 to serve new homes in that been built in that area.
Members were advised of the principal requirements of the full statutory review and the proposed timetable which would include the Sub-committee conducting an initial review of current polling districts and polling places, the Acting Returning Officer’s initial submission on the arrangements and the current and future locations of polling stations and widespread public consultation from 1st July until 8 August. There would be a further report to the Sub-committee in September which would include the outcome of the consultation, options for consideration and recommendations for submission to the General Assembly of the Council in October. This would allow any changes to existing arrangements to be incorporated in the annual register of electors to be published on 1st December 2014. It was explained that the Council would be writing to all Councillors, local political parties and community organisations and organisations with expertise in accessibility for the disabled but that any local elector would also be able to contribute to the consultation.
Notice of the intention to carry out a review had been published on the Council’s web site and was on display at the Civic Centre and at Dartford Library. Officers had carried out an initial review of the existing arrangements for polling districts and polling places. A comparison had been made between the electors in each polling district in 2011 when the last statutory review had been carried out and as of 17 February 2014 when the annual register of electors was published. The Electoral Commission recommended that there should be a maximum of 2,500 electors allocated to any polling station and currently only one polling district, Greenhithe, had exceeded this number however when postal votes were taken into account the number of electors eligible to vote at the polling station in Greenhithe was below the 2,500 threshold.
Whilst it was recognised that the pace and scale of residential development in the borough would eventually require a change to electoral arrangements there was a concern that the increase in building in particular areas could result in a need for additional polling districts and polling stations in certain wards which could result in an imbalance between wards where electors were over-represented and wards where there was under-representation. This could only really be addressed by a review of warding which was a matter for the Boundary Commission rather than as part of the review of polling districts and polling places.
Some concerns had been raised about two polling stations during the recent European election. The first related to the inability of a disabled candidate to access the Methodist Church Hall in Ship Lane (Sutton-at-Hone polling district (MB) in his motorised buggy. Upon inspection it proved that the entrance in use on the election day could not be accessed by a large motorised buggy but that if the main entrance to the Hall had been used this would have been fully accessible. It was therefore recommended that the polling station and polling place should remain unchanged but that the main entrance should be open at future elections. Concerns had also been expressed by a small number of residents about the use of a temporary mobile unit in New Barn West polling district (IC). This related to a mobile unit placed at the junction of Nuthatch and Shearwater which had attracted complaints from three neighbouring properties since the location of the unit had been moved further along Nuthatch at the insistence of Kent Highways before the Police and Crime Commissioner election in November 2012. Members were reminded that this had been reported to the sub-committee at its last meeting when it was explained that no other suitable alternative location could be identified in the polling district and that an alternative location suggested by one of the local residents, the junction of Pescot Avenue and New Barn Road had been unsuitable for the reasons stated in the report. This remained the current position although it was recognised that the provision of mobile polling stations tended to result in complaints from people inconvenienced by the temporary siting of the units.
Presiding Officers had also assessed the suitability of the existing polling stations during the recent European election and no significant issues had been reported and the existing arrangements continued to work well. Given this and the fact that Dartford continued to keep its polling districts under annual review it was not proposed to make any changes to the current arrangements at this time. However in order to allow for greater flexibility in the location of polling stations within polling places, particularly where buildings or specific rooms were unavailable for use at an election, Members were asked to consider designating a geographical zone around each current polling station as the polling place. It was suggested that each polling place should be designated as a geographical zone within 500metres of the normal polling station location. The Acting Returning Officer had been consulted and agreed with the proposal for no changes to the existing polling districts and polling stations and with the polling places being defined as geographical zones.
Members noted the comments made about Greenhithe polling district and recalled the discussion at the last meeting when consideration had been given to changing the location of the polling station in that polling district from the mobile unit at Eagles Road car park to the Dance Union Studio. At that time there had been concern that this would move the polling station slightly further away from Ingress Park and that if it became necessary to create an additional polling district because of the increasing number of residents this could result in more changes to polling stations in quick order which could cause confusion. For this reason the arrangements had remained unchanged. The Sub-committee accepted the recommendation to continue with the current arrangements for Greenhithe but also accepted that development in the area would have to be addressed at some stage in the future. It was felt that this should be reflected in some way in the review documentation.
A Member also commented on the use of the Conference Room at Brent Primary school as a polling station for the first time at the European election. The polling station had generally worked well but it was felt that better signage from the previous location used within the school to the new location would have been helpful. It was also suggested that consideration should be given to creating an additional polling district in Newtown ward to serve the community around the former fantasies site as this seemed to form a distinct separate area and it was difficult for local people to access the existing polling place, the Brent Old Schoolboys Club. It was pointed out that the reason for the existing arrangements was partly dictated by parish boundaries and the requirement for each parish to be a separate polling district and not to contain parts of other parishes or un-parished areas. It was also likely that a mobile polling station would have been required for this area.
The Sub-committee considered the proposal to designate polling places as a geographical zone but felt that 500 metres was too large and that a 250 metre zone would offer the Acting Returning Officer sufficient flexibility should a polling station need to be moved.
1. That the Sub-committee agrees the proposed timetable for the review outlined in the report and that any subsequent changes should be agreed in consultation with the Chairman.
2. That the Sub-committee has reviewed the current polling district and polling places and considers that the existing arrangements should form the basis of the Council’s proposals.
3. That in each case the polling place should be designated as a geographical zone within 250 metres of the current polling station location.
4. That the Sub-committee’s proposals arising from the initial review of polling distritricts and polling places be put out to public consultation together with the Acting Returning Officer’s comments on polling stations.
5. That the organisations listed in paragraph 5.3 of the report be invited to comment as part of the consultation exercise.