Giving parish councils extra powers would lead to 'balkanisation' of Northampton fears former leader

Alderman John Dickie fears Northampton could become fragmented if too many powers are given to parish councils
Alderman John Dickie fears Northampton could become fragmented if too many powers are given to parish councils

A former council leader of Northampton believes that extending the size and powers of parish councils in Northampton will lead to the ‘balkanisation’ of the town.

Alderman John Dickie, a former Labour leader of Northampton Borough Council, raised concerns about the authority’s community governance review, which is looking at parish council boundaries and the possible formation of a town council for Northampton when a new supersize unitary authority is likely to be created in 2020.

Mr Dickie was addressing councillors at The Guildhall on Monday (November 5), where he said: “This unitary council is doomed to failure, and we are starting to see the cracks already, such as on HS2 with one council supporting it and another against it.

“You can’t weld two large rural areas like Daventry and South Northamptonshire with an urban area like Northampton. But what I’m really concerned about are the proposals to give more powers to parish councils.

“I notice young Phil Larratt [deputy leader] stirring up the idea of parishes, but I fear young Philip that you are wrong.

“Encouraging the rich, well-off parishes at the expense of the urban centre is nothing more than balkanisation.

“There are people of Duston Parish Council who want to take on Sixfields and other areas. But the strength of the town is in its unity. If you start partitioning off little bits of Northampton then that’s a recipe that spells only disaster.”

Balkanisation is a term used to describe when fragmented states fail to co-operate.

It was a view shared by current Labour leader Danielle Stone, who also had fears over the level of representation on parish councils.

She said: “I know that a lot of parish councils are finding it hard to get people to stand. Only one person came forward for Duston recently, so they didn’t even need an election. That’s not democracy. If we are not careful we will be making a mess even messier.”

A consultation is set to take place on a series of proposals, which could see the creation of a town council for current unparished areas of Northampton, or the formation of six new parish councils in the Northampton North parliamentary constituency, with the town council taking on the remaining area in the Northampton South constituency.

But responding to Alderman Dickie, the Conservative deputy leader Councillor Phil Larratt said that he had ‘not been overtly promoting one option’.

He also dismissed suggestions from some that it formed a ‘land grab’ by some of the more affluent parish councils.

Councillor Larratt said: “We're hearing a lot of comments tonight from people who don't know anything about parish councils. These people don't know the good that they do.

“The parish councils are not just the privileged. Billing has some of the most deprived areas in the town.

"This is not about creating parishes for the rich. It's about giving people a voice in a monstrous, huge, wide and what will be an out-of-touch unitary authority.”