The County Council is having a second go at creating a Parish Council for the area of the City covered by the Elvet & Gilesgate division, the Neville’s Cross division and part of Durham South division.
This time they are conducting a consultative poll of all registered electors rather than the one-vote-per-houshold attempt they tried four years ago. The letters have gone out now and responses need to be in by 6 March 2017.
I have had some queries about whether this is a good idea, and my view is a very definite YES!
With the abolition of the former district council, I believe that the voice of the City is being lost against the shear size of the County and its Labour-run council. A Parish Council can give us our voice back, and have a much louder say on many issues, particularly planning.
If you want to know what a Parish Council is empowered to do, then the LocaGov web site has a pretty comprehensive list. One thing a new local council could do, for instance, is to reopen a Tourist Information Centre in the City.
There is also talk of a Town Council, but in legal terms these are the same as a Parish Council in all but name. A Parish Council can decide to call itself a Town Council, which in Durham’s case is probably the right thing to do.
People also ask what this has to do with our centuries-old Mayoralty, which at the moment has been hijacked by Labour at County Hall and (temporarily) combined with the Chairmanship of the County Council, which in my opinion (and others I have spoken to) has downgraded the office. The Mayoralty is currently run by the Charter Trustees who are the councillors elected in the old Durham District area. At the moment Labour has a majority, but that could change after the coming local elections in May.
The point is that the Charter Trust arrangement will only be wound up when all the original City of Durham District is covered by parish councils. This current exercise is a start, but that still leaves quite a bit to deal with including Newton Hall, parts of Framwellgate Moor and of Gilesgate. Sorting this out is a battle for another day, but half a loaf is better than no bread, as they say.
Finally, there is the issue of cost. It is true that setting up the parish council will be a cost on the council tax of just over £34 a year for a Band D property, but, ask yourself, is 66p a week really that much to strengthen the voice of the city and perhaps do things the Council Council is unable or unprepared to do?