RESIDENTS in Lawn have accused the council of ignoring the views of the people of Swindon as they push forward with parishing plans.
Currently, 41 per cent of households in the town fall within existing parishes, the proposals being consulted on would see the other 59 per cent of households split between four new parish councils from next April.
The four newly created parishes look set to be West Swindon, North Central Swindon, South Central Swindon and South Swindon.
They will take on responsibility for a range of services including street cleaning, grass cutting, litter, graffiti and minor maintenance because the need to achieve financial savings means that the borough will no longer be able to fund them.
The arrival of new parishes will mean an increase in council tax via a parish precept, the amount will be determined by the new authorities.
At a passionate public meeting on Tuesday evening, representatives from Swindon Borough Council were left in no doubt that many residents feel the consultation is just a paper exercise with no real meaning – they believe parishing is already a done deal.
The hall at the Lawn Community Centre was packed out with standing room only for the meeting which came just days before the window for public feedback closes.
Many seemed frustrated that other options for plugging the financial gap, including a referendum on a one-off borough council tax increase, were not being fully considered.
Others who had accepted the seemingly inevitable introduction of parishes felt the boundaries made no sense in terms of existing community ties.
One resident, Jan Neill, said she felt like the plans were a “recipe for inequality across Swindon” and that the benefits that might come in some areas would not be shared by all residents.
She was asked to note the remarks on her consultation form but said that went to the heart of the problem as residents see it.
“That’s what angers us,” she said.
“We don’t believe it will make any difference. I have put forward emails asking questions and the answers I got were so woolly and vague that it is quite clear that they’re just going to wash their hands of this.
“We ask questions that matter to us all but we never get specific answers – that’s just not good enough and we don’t have much time.”
The council’s Director of Legal Services, Stephen Taylor, was even forced to defend the legality of the proposals after a resident suggested that councillors may have colluded in a conspiracy to embark on a consultation having already decided the outcome.
His assurances that nothing was set in stone and all aspects of the proposals were still up for debate were met with groans from most audience members and heckles from some others.
A straw poll conducted as the meeting came to a close showed that despite his best efforts to persuade residents about the legitimacy of the process, an overwhelming majority of those present were still opposed to the idea of parishing altogether.
A further show of hands suggested that if it had to go ahead, then the proposed boundaries would need to change if they were to get the support of the public.
The cabinet is expected to consider the final proposals at their meeting next month.