Civil Parish boundaries and what they mean

The other day I received a letter raising an issue that unless you have been close to how parish councils are allowed (by statute) to operate you may well not be aware of.

It concerned Maghull Town Council’s distribution of Christmas hampers but it could have been about other expenditure of that or indeed any other parish council. You see parish councils are limited in the main from expending money other than for the benefit of the civil parish residents of their own parish. So for example Melling Parish Council could not expend money in say Aintree Village Civil Parish unless doing so would create a benefit for Melling residents.

A pictorial representation of the ‘M’ Maghull logo by Keith Page of Lydiate.

In the case of the issue raised with me it was someone wishing to nominate a Lydiate Civil Parish beneficiary for a Maghull Christmas hamper. The answer from Maghull Council was no and the reason for the no was the legislation that made the rule that I mentioned above. To be fair I think a newspaper article had inadvertently contributed to the uncertainty as it had, I’m told (I didn’t actually see the article), not made it clear that nominations were limited to Maghull residents.

Of course there’s a wider issue here as to whether individual parish councils should or indeed should not do certain things. In the case of Christmas hampers for the elderly/needy some parish councils will distribute them and others will choose to spend the council tax they collect in different ways. I’m not taking sides here just trying to say that each individual parish council will spend its money in differing ways, sometimes very different ways but so long as the expenditure is within the law then that’s fine – it’s a policy decision.

Those who know me well will realise that I’m a big fan of parish councils as they are the closet form of democracy we have to the people. I love the quirkiness of parish councils and the fact that they each can move in very different ways to address the perceived needs of their own community. This is so different from District, Borough and County councils which can be so similar in what they do or don’t do, no matter which political party is running them.

I’ll of course bring the letter I received to the attention of Lydiate Parish Council.

Great divides? Community boundaries – Mean a lot, mean a little?

I have often pondered on boundaries especially those associated with local government. What forms a boundary, why was it chosen and who chose it?

Here are two boundaries close to my Lydiate home. One is with Maghull and the other with Aughton:-

Maghull Brook - On the left Lydiate (and me) - on the right Maghull.

Maghull Brook – On the left Lydiate (and me) – on the right Maghull.

Sudell Brook - On the left Lydiate - on the right Aughton

Sudell Brook – On the left Lydiate – on the right Aughton

In both cases the boundary is obviously a stream and this can often be the case with local government boundaries where watercourses have been chosen to divide communities up.

The boundary between Maghull and Lydiate simply divides the two Civil Parishes of Lydiate and Maghull and the only real obvious difference this creates is the amount of Council tax or Precept that the residents of these two communities pay to either Lydiate Parish Council or Maghull Town Council. Both Civil Parishes are in Sefton Borough and both are a part of the Liverpool City Region/Merseyside.

The Lydiate – Aughton boundary is of far greater significance though as it is all but an invisible barrier rather than a boundary because Aughton Civil Parish is in West Lancashire Borough and the County of Lancashire. The world does not look any different on either side of Sudell Brook but in fact it is as the Sefton Borough – West Lancashire boundary has, since 1974, become a local government barrier. Why you can almost hear senior council officers saying ‘we are a Metropolitan Borough [Sefton] and they are just a County’ and of course the reverse will apply too. Sadly, whilst I may well be exaggerating here the reality is that since 1974, in local government terms, Sefton’s communities and those in West Lancashire have mainly planned for their futures in glorious isolation – a great divide indeed.

Considering the massive boundary between West Lancashire and Sefton you would think there would be a huge amount of cross-border co-operation and planning for the joint communities. You would think so but I assure you there is not.

I recall during my time as Leader of Sefton Council I went to Ormskirk to meet the Leader of West Lancs Council to try to kick-start closer working relationships but it seems that those who followed us have not developed things further. What sense does separate transport planning in the two Boroughs make? Environmental protection issues must be similar surely? Health issues surely do not stop at a stream do they? Why we even have an NHS Hospital Trust on split between Southport and Ormskirk either side of the great divide.

I recall when Sefton and West Councils were planning for building on the Green Belt and on the highest grade of agricultural land in England that I started to ask questions about how closely the two two planning departments were sharing and consulting each other. The answers I got were hardly an example of close cooperation in my eyes and I wondered if the contact was little more that phone calls with one side saying ‘we are doing X’, ‘well we are doing y’, ‘OK speak again next year maybe’.

The bottom line is that Merseyside and Lancashire are very different worlds in local government terms. Is this something that is hammered into local government officers from an early age akin to religious indoctrination? Whatever the case it is very much to the disadvantage of communities which are near to a significant local government boundary in my view.