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Highland councillors approve polling station overhaul

Matthew Reiss
Matthew Reiss

A shake-up of north election arrangements has been agreed, despite pleas by councillors to save some rural polling stations.

Members of Highland Council’s community safety, public engagement and equalities committee will be asked to approve the closure of 14 polling stations, with voters having to travel to other facilities to cast their votes.

Among the polling centres axed is the famous Coulags caravan, near Lochcarron, which has been in use for nearly 30 years.

However, at yesterday’s meeting, Councillor Matthew Reiss, Landward Caithness spoke out in defence of two rural polling stations in his ward.

Thrumster Hall near Wick will be closed due to problems with access, heating and lighting.

Council elections manager John Bruce told the committee that staff during a recent by-election had been forced to sit with hot water bottles due to the low temperatures.

But Mr Reiss said it was unfair to ask voters to make a five mile journey to the proposed alternative polling place at the Assembly Rooms in Wick.

He admitted Thrumster Hall is “not in ideal condition” but said that it would be difficult for voters to travel to vote due to the poor public transport connections.

He also read out a letter from the committee at Britannia Hall in Dunnet, which is set to close with voters to be sent to Mey Hall four miles away.

The council said that the hall has “internal lighting issues” and is not accessible to people with mobility issues.

In the letter read to the committee by Mr Reiss, the hall group said that new lights and a mobility ramp had been installed at the hall in the past year.

Committee chairwoman Councillor Angela MacLean said that the authority has a “duty of care” to its staff working in polling stations.

She said that polling stations faced with closure could be reviewed in the future if they are shown to have been improved.

Councillor Roger Saxon, Thurso, added: “Maybe we should push for greater use of postal voting and make that the default.

“I think that’s something we should push the Scottish Government on and bring this up to the 21st century.”

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