April Fools’ Day Council changes

They could perhaps have picked a better day, as it was quite serious – at the stroke of midnight on the 1st of April, 37 district councils and 7 county councils in England ceased to exist, replaced by 9 new unitary authorities. This means people in Durham, Northumberland, Cornwall, Shropshire, Wiltshire, Chesire, and Bedfordshire only have one principal local authority to deal with now. The Wikipedia article on the changes has more information on the background to this change.

Obviously this meant some work for WriteToThem and FixMyStreet, both of which require up-to-date local council information. Our database of voting areas, MaPit, has “generations”, so we can keep old areas around for various historical purposes. So firstly, I created a new generation and updated all the areas that weren’t affected to the new generation. Next, six of the new unitary authorities (all the counties except Cheshire and Bedfordshire, plus Bedford) share their boundaries and wards with the coterminous councils they’re replacing, so for them it was a simple matter of updating those councils to be unitary authorities.

That left Bedfordshire and Cheshire. I created areas for the three new councils (Cheshire West and Chester, Cheshire East, and Central Bedfordshire), and transferred across the relevant wards from the old county councils – basically a manual process of working out the list of correct ward IDs. april2009-update.sql has the gory SQL details if you care.

WriteToThem was now dealt with, but FixMyStreet needed a little more work. The councils that no longer existed had understandably disappeared from the all reports table, so I had to modify the function that fetches the list of councils to optionally return historical areas so they could be included. And lastly, FixMyStreet needs a way of mapping a point on a map to the relevant council. For this, it needs to know the area covered by a council, which was missing for the new authorities I’d manually created. Thankfully, each of the three new authorities are made up of the areas of either 2 or 3 district councils (e.g. Cheshire East is the area covered by Congleton, Macclesfield, and Crewe and Nantwich), so I just had to write a script that stuck those areas together to create the area of the new council. april2009-construct-new.pl. It all seems to work, and I’m sure our users will be in touch if it doesn’t :)

So goodbye to Alnwick, Bedfordshire, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Blyth Valley, Bridgnorth, Caradon, Carrick, Castle Morpeth, Cheshire, Chester, Chester-le-Street, Congleton, Crewe and Nantwich, Derwentside, Durham City, Easington, Ellesmere Port and Neston, Kennet, Kerrier, Macclesfield, Mid Bedfordshire, North Cornwall, North Shropshire, North Wiltshire, Oswestry, Penwith, Restormel, Salisbury (which is getting a new town council), Sedgefield, Shrewsbury and Atcham, South Bedfordshire, South Shropshire, Teesdale, Tynedale, Vale Royal, Wansbeck, Wear Valley, and West Wiltshire. RIP.

5 Comments

  1. So as I work for a living I’d like to know how much you are costing me, a a taxpayer, with this site.

    You seem determined to criticise, but I don’t see you putting up candidates or taking part in the democratic process in any meaningful way.

  2. Hi Alfred,

    The registered charity that runs mySociety has its website at http://www.ukcod.org.uk/ where you can also view its finances. This site, mysociety.org, is costing you nothing. I don’t really understand your comment – I too work for a living, and am a taxpayer.

    I’m also afraid I don’t see what part of my blog post was criticism – it was a simple technical look at the changes I had to make to cope with the local authority changes at the start of this month, I didn’t give (and don’t have) any opinion on the changes themselves, given I don’t live in any of the areas affected.

  3. Presumably it also led to an updating to the authorities listing behind WhatDoTheyKnow?

    Was this difficult, or relatively straightforward, even where the request was in the middle of being processed?

  4. Hi – I’m one of the volunteer admins for http://www.WhatDoTheyKnow.com. There were a number of steps that were carried out leading up to April 1st, but it was fairly straightforward. In case anyone’s interested they were:

    1) Set up of all the new authorities, and add in explanatory help text. This was made easy as we’d had a few emails from their FOI Officers letting us know what their new email addresses would be. In addition, all of their websites were up and running in the weeks before the 1st, so it was quite quick to get hold of all the information required. For Cheshire East / West, where the County Council is split, we leave it up to the user to decide, and the new authorities have said that they’ll transfer any mis-directed requests to the right place.

    2) The abolished councils had their explanatory help text updated to direct users to the new authorities.

    3) On the 1st, I made FOI requests to all the new unitary authorities asking them for their plans for in-course requests & internal reviews ( http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/search/%22unitary%20authority%20changes%22 ). Most replied back within a few days. As these FOI requests were made via WDTK, they would be visible to all users who had been directed to the new unitary authority from the old councils.

    There are a few old requests that appear to be outstanding, however we’ve not been asked yet to move any requests over to the new authorities (eg. if someone wanted an internal review carried out against a request to an abolished council). We can do this if required – please contact the team via http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/help/contact

    Cheers
    Alex