Plans to cut the number of county councillors in Neath Port Talbot and change electoral ward boundaries will “disadvantage valleys communities”, warn councillors.

The Local Democracy and Boundary Commission for Wales says the number of councillors on Neath Port Talbot Council should be cut from 64 to 58, highlighting a number of wards which are “over-represented”.

But it has given the local authority the chance to do its own review before it makes any conclusions.

At a full council meeting on Wednesday, November 7, the majority of councillors voted in favour of ward changes which would see a reduction of just three councillors, but 19 councillors objected to the proposals which principally affect the valleys.

The following wards are all affected: Blaengwrach, Bryn & Cwmavon, Bryncoch South, Cimla, Coedffranc Central, Coedffranc West, Crynant, Cwmllynfell, Cymmer, Dyffryn, Glyncorrwg, Glynneath, Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen, Gwynfi, Lower Brynamman, Onllwyn, Pelenna, Pontardawe, Seven Sisters and Trebanos.

Ystalyfera ward councillor Alun Llewellyn (Plaid Cymru) said: “The Plaid Cymru group and other members have significant concerns the proposed reduction will disadvantage the communities in the valleys once again as all the reductions are focused there.

“The work of the Boundary Commission goes against the work of the Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales who acknowledge the work of the council has increased significantly.”

Trebanos ward councillor Rebeca Phillips (Plaid Cymru) added: “I have discussed the proposal to join Trebanos with Pontardawe with my constituents and they’re very concerned.

“The Trebanos people are already on the boundary of this county council and they feel they’re being ignored.

“Moving a small village like Trebanos into a town like Pontardawe is unacceptable.”

Seven Sisters ward councillor Steve Hunt (Independent) said: “The Pelenna ward is a strong historical ward – we all know Richard Burton and Ivor Emmanuel were born in the area and it has a community council.

“Yet this report is recommending to get rid of Pelenna altogether.”

The plans involve: merging Crynant, Onllwyn and Seven Sisters into a new single ward resulting in a reduction of three councillors to two; merging Cymmer, Glyncorrwg and Gwynfi into a new single ward resulting in a reduction of three councillors to two; merging Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen, Lower Brynamman and Cwmllynfell into a new single ward resulting in a reduction of three councillors to two; merging Glynneath and Blaengwrach into a new single ward resulting in a reduction of three councillors to two and removing the Pelenna ward (the Pontrhydyfen community ward would be combined with Bryn & Cwmavon and the Tonmawr community ward would be combined with Cimla).

There would be no change in the number of councillors in Bryn & Cwmavon or Cimla resulting in a reduction of one increasing representation in the Coedffranc West ward from one councillor to two (largely as a consequence of Swansea University’s Bay Campus); transferring around 550 electors from Coedfrranc West to the Coedffranc Central ward; transferring around 700 electors from Bryncoch South to the Dyffryn ward creating a two-councillor ward in the latter combining the Pontardawe and Trebanos wards into a three-councillor ward.

There would be no change in the number of councillors in the combined ward; but officers say this would address the “major problem of over representation” in the Trebanos ward.

In a report which went before councillors officers say the local authority had previously argued that there was a case for maintaining representation in the above areas due to the “strong sense of community and relative levels of deprivation” in many of the areas.

The report states: “The areas demonstrating the greatest variance are valley communities where, arguably, communities already feel a greater sense of isolation and marginalisation as a result of the centralisation of services, de-population, and poor public transport.”

Officers say the council has also previously argued that creating multi-member wards in some areas would lead to “unfair” workloads for councillors and result in confusion for electors.

The report points to greater workloads as a result of increased duties place on local government, a growth in regional and collaborative arrangements which has “increased complexity” in service delivery, the growth in social media which has changed the way in which the electorate engage with the democratic process, and the impact of austerity which has seen councillors having to communicate, engage and consult local people about the impact of budget cuts.

The report also confirms the council’s opposition to any proposal which would see the City and County of Swansea acquire large parts of the Coedffranc West ward which includes the Swansea University’s Bay campus and the Amazon depot.

Senior officers state: “As we pointed out in July, this was not a valid proposal and would not be considered as part of the electoral review process because the commission’s policy and practice document precludes cross boundary changes as between principal local authorities.”

Once the boundary commission has reviewed the council’s proposals, it will consult on it's own draft proposal for between six and 12 weeks following which final proposals will be submitted to Welsh Government.

The Boundary Commission is undertaking an electoral review of all 22 local authorities.

Any new arrangements are expected to be in place for 2022 local government elections.