No Polling Stations in Schools? That would need Planning
By Peter Dobbs
On the 11th February Nick Gibb, Schools Minister for England, wrote to all Returning Officers in Local Authorities urging them to look for alternative venues if schools were required to close in order to act as Polling Stations for the May 6th elections. A reasonable request you might think, in order to minimise the time lost from the classroom although the simple solution of holding elections at the weekend (as in many other countries) might seem preferable.
However consider the dilemma for the Returning Officer for Derbyshire Dales in finding a suitable Polling Station for the Hilltop polling district in the market town of Ashbourne, Derbyshire.
Hilltop has currently nearly 2,500 residents on the electoral roll in a range of housing estates, old and new, covering a large area to the south east of the town. However in this mass of humanity there is no community hall, church or pub, or indeed any building that would appear suitable for the creation of a Covid secure Polling Station. (No GP, dentist or library either and the one hotel is now a Care Home).
Many of the recently built houses were originally refused planning permission but this was granted on appeal (the District Council had a problem with its Local Plan). A pity no-one thought of community infrastructure at this stage because it is too late now - the land has (virtually) all been built on!