It is amazing how many people living outside Nottingham City Council's boundary feel very proprietorial about the city. Don't take my word for it. Just go through copies of the Nottingham Post for a week or two and I guarantee that you will read more letters about city services, facilities and events from non-residents living in the surrounding areas than you will from actual city residents.
As a local historian I have long argued that Nottingham should pay more attention to its 'Domesday' communities. Places now part of the Nottingham city council area, but with their own entries in William the Conquerer's great 'Domesday Book' of 1086. All of them were separate communities well into the 19th century. It is a historical fact that without the patronage and support of Lenton's Cluniac Priory, Nottingham the borough would probably have got less royal attention than it did. Without the coal mine owners, weavers, lacemakers and manufacturers in places like Ruddington, Beeston, Bulwell, Radford and Wollaton to name but a few, Nottingham's merchants and guilds would not have thrived or become as wealthy as some did.
There is a view that the tiny 19th century borough that was Nottingham expanded to take over the Lentons and Sneintons that surrounded it. I would argue that these communities very much wanted to be part of a greater Nottingham borough because they realised it would be to their ultimate advantage. They argued for the link roads that we now know as 'the boulevards' and ensured that we had open spaces for our leisure. I look at one, Lenton Recreation Ground, every day from my bedroom and living room windows and bless the negotiating skills of those 19th century Lentonians.
None of these places on their own amounted to as much as they did when they became one, when they joined forces at various times between 1877 and 1951, the last time Nottingham's boundary was extended in any significant way. Wollaton and Bilborough did not become part of the city until 1932, whereas Basford, Bulwell, Lenton, Radford and Sneinton joined the then borough in 1877. Clifton and the south part of Wilford joined in 1951. Since then? Nothing.
The last great local government re-organisation in 1974 has to be seen as a missed opportunity on a grand scale. Across the country, national and local politicians connived to protect their interests and one can only assume that some short-sighted Nottingham grandees conspired to keep Labour in and the Tories out, whilst in West Bridgford and Arnold there were almost certainly those who wanted to keep the Tories in and Labour out. The end result was a disaster in terms of good local governance.
In 1974 I was a Birmingham city councillor and Secretary of the city's Borough Labour Party, and found myself embroiled in all the arguments we had there. Birmingham already had a population of 900,000 but still had Sutton Coldfield grafted on and became a city of over one million people. We wanted Chelmsley Wood, then part of Meriden, because it was home to thousands of Brummies in homes built by Birmingham City Council (one of my favourite books, Estates: An Intimate History by Lynsey Hanley, tells you what happened and why). We lost the fight and the area became part of Solihull. The Tories were cock-a-hoop. With twelve Tory councillors from Sutton they thought they would win control. They didn't. They had to wait until 1976. I tell you this because I came to Nottingham in 1979 and became a county councillor in 1981 and saw immediately all the disadvantages of the city being part of the county council and the problems caused by having its boundary so tightly drawn. I began arguing for a unitary Greater Nottingham council then and have lost count of the number of times I have been told since to forget the idea.
And here we are, thirty years on and for the first time I feel as if something may be about to happen. By chance, today's Nottingham Post devotes a page to the topic under the heading 'Mayor debate opens up the thorny issue of whether to widen city boundaries' and includes a map, which I reproduce below:
Article 6 – Council Governmental Systems: Local citizens, through their councils, have the autonomy to choose decision making processes which should be subject to a binding referendum. Processes must be reviewed every eight years. Any electoral system can be adopted by local citizens following consultation and a referendum.
This aim if realised could be tested by the people of Greater Nottingham making common cause for change.
I have deliberately stayed away from where an 'elected mayor' fits into all this because this idea is not part of my argument in favour of some kind of 'Greater Nottingham Governance Commission'. Anyone who has read letters by me published in The Guardian and Nottingham Post over the years, or heard me talk on the topic, will know that I believe in community empowerment and devolved budgets and control to councillors representing single member wards (once I would have argued for urban parish councils, but there are now legal mechanisms in place which actually give more powers to councillors should they want to exercise them).
My personal ideas for a possible 'Greater Nottingham Metropolitan City Area' have their origins in public transport connections across the area. My map below shows those places that have Monday–Saturday daytime links with Nottingham city centre every fifteen minutes or better. It's a simple test and a good one.
National news today:
Nottingham news today: Westminster City Council is considering plans to move homeless housing benefit claimants to Nottingham and Derby, according to proposals by one of its private providers, Smart Housing Group (SHG).