Calls for new rules on referenda

Councillor Gareth Fairhurst
Councillor Gareth Fairhurst
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AN INDEPENDENT councillor wants town hall chiefs to agree new rules governing future borough referenda.

He is concerned that currently the local authority can arbitrarily waive vote results if it decides there wasn’t a big enough turn-out.

Standish ward’s Coun Gareth Fairhurst’s concerns stem from a Wigan cabinet decision - due to be ratified by Wednesday’s full council - not to act on a campaign and legal plea for a separate town council for Atherton.

Despite more than 90 per cent of those who bothered to vote in the Community Governance Review being in favour of the concept, cabinet members chose to ignore the result because they adjudged the response to be too low to carry clout.

Coun Fairhurst is now calling for a “more open and transparent way forward” for the council to operate.

And he wants a set of rules agreed by all councillors that will govern the result of any such referenda in future.

The council itself today declined to comment.

Coun Fairhurst said the authority was losing credibility after asking voters to indicate their views - the latest being should Atherton have a town council - and then failing to act on the response.

He said: “When the results came forward in the reports, Labour and the council said that not enough people had responded to the consultation so they were going to do what they wanted anyway.

“A way forward is that the council sets a minimum level so that everyone knows that if a threshold is reached then the decision will be binding.

“For example if the threshold is set at 50.01 per cent, that would mean that so long as the majority of the people respond then the decision will go ahead.

“That way it makes the council more open and transparent and will get more people involved because currently people think to themselves, ‘I just can’t be bothered with responding as the council never listens or does anything anyway’.

“What a great way for a council to be open and transparent by stating these are the parameters and if they are met then we will carry out your views.

“It would also be engaging with residents and communities and bring residents and the council closer together. A win-win situation.

“Currently people never know if they will be listened too or not so they think ‘why bother?’”

But cabinet member for service transformation Coun Terry Halliwell insisted that Coun Fairhurst had “yet again twisted the facts to suit his anti-council agenda.”

He said: “The council does listen to local people very carefully when proposing changes.

“In the case of Atherton, a new layer of local government was being proposed by a few Atherton councillors.

“When we asked people what they wanted only 0.6 per cent of potential voters even responded.

“Coun Fairhurst has consistently adopted an anti-parish council agenda in relation to Shevington so I am very surprised at his sudden U-turn.”