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Local government review 1972

It is often asked why Hartley, which is only 6 miles from Dartford and Gravesend, should be in Sevenoaks District when Sevenoaks is 16 miles away?  Most recently at the Parliamentary Boundary Review, it was suggested that the Hartley area may be in the wrong borough.  Here is the story of how it came about......

Under the system of local government set up in 1888, Kent had 3 tiers of councils - the county council, urban and rural districts (some urban districts had "borough" status), and parishes.  There were more districts than today.  Hartley, Ash and Longfield were all in Dartford Rural District Council, the main settlement was Swanley.  It was one of the largest "rural" districts in the country.  Nearby district councils were Dartford Borough Council, Gravesend BC, Northfleet Urban District Council, Swanscombe UDC, Sevenoaks UDC, Sevenoaks RDC and Strood RDC (which came as far as Meopham).

This system had a lot of acknowledged problems, but nothing was done until Harold Wilson's Labour Government set up a review under Lord Redcliffe-Maud (1966-9), he believed that outside the metropolitan areas there should be unitary authorities serving 250,000 to 1 million people each.  This was in the interests of local government efficiency.  Under these proposals there would be two unitary authorities for Kent - West Kent and East Kent.  For strategic planning he proposed 8 regional councils, which are very similar to the current government economic regions.  Harold Wilson accepted the proposals and pencilled in legislation for 1970 or 1971 sessions.  However in the meantime the Conservatives won the 1970 election and they repudiated the report, after grassroots opposition from party activists.  Ironically it was this party who revived Lord Redcliffe-Maud's plans for unitary authorities in the 1990s.

Having decided on a two-tier structure for local government, a minimum 40,000 population was stipulated for the 2nd (district council) tier, and the Local Government Commission was tasked with redrawing the boundaries.  Ultimately it was to reduce over 1,100 borough and district councils by 80%.

Dartford Rural District Council wanted to become one of the new districts in its own right and it certainly met the size criteria.  However the Commission rejected this and went with the proposal of Kent County Council to (1) merge Dartford Borough, Dartford RDC and Swanscombe UDC into one borough with a population of 119,280 and (2) merge Sevenoaks UDC and RDC councils into another borough with a population of 63,103.

This proposal met with a lot of opposition from local politicians, and in the end the Commission agreed to divide Dartford RDC along the lines of the then parliamentary constituency boundaries.  This meant that Hartley and Longfield, which were then briefly in Sevenoaks Constituency ended up in Sevenoaks Council area too.  The new Sevenoaks area was then 98,892 population and £2.745 million rateable value.  So had the review been made 5 years later, we would have been in Dartford Borough!

In their submission Sevenoaks UDC was concerned that without the bigger area their authority would be unviable.  They claimed the support of Dartford BC, Sevenoaks Liberals, Swanley Parish Council and Dartford RDC (if they can't be an authority on its own).  The submission by the Sevenoaks Conservatives in support contains some astonishing claims.  They claimed it was "doubtful in the extreme" whether there was any significant community of interest between parishes like Hartley and Longfield with Dartford, the Dartford RDC title was an "accident of nomenclature".  They alleged that Swanley was the main centre for the immediate area and that there was a "surprisingly good country route" between Longfield, Hartley, Ash and Sevenoaks.  They did however acknowledge "impressionistic" evidence does not point directly to links with Sevenoaks but they claimed it was what those who lived there wanted.  The Sevenoaks Labour party was also in favour but were much more realistic.  They acknowledged part of the Dartford RDC area did look to Dartford, as parts of the south of Sevenoaks District would be closer to Tonbridge.  They thought cohesion could arise, as the area had the common interest in defending the green belt.  They were skeptical of the claims of many parishes that they wanted to be in Sevenoaks, and thought more consultation was necessary.

The parishes had differing views.  Wilmington still supported the original Commission proposal, they said the opposition was not constructive.  Darenth also supported the original proposal, but felt parishes should choose authority.  The case for Sevenoaks was led by Swanley parish council.  This was an about turn from the 1965 Parliamentary Boundary review, when they had said they had "no affinity of interest with the Sevenoaks area", either cultural, social or business!  They threatened to boycott elections if it went ahead.  Their argument was that using the constituency boundary would create an authority in the range of 75,000 - 100,000 which was what they were told to find, they also produced a 3,000 signature petition in favour of Sevenoaks.  They said Stone, Eynsford, Farningham and Hartley all support or "do not object" to their proposals of wanting to be in a rural area.  Longfield and West Kingsdown also wrote in support of Swanley.  Of the other affected parishes, Sutton at Hone said they wanted to be in a "rural" area, while Southfleet thought they should be in Gravesham borough.  Meopham anticipated the 1994 proposals by advocating one authority for Dartford and Gravesend.

Source: National Archives File AX 2/66