WINCHESTER councillors have rejected the chance to radically alter their electoral system.

The city council holds three elections in a four-year cycle with a third of members going to the polls each time.

The Liberal Democrats proposed changing it to the ‘all-out’ system whereby all councillors stand at the same time, once every four years.

However the Conservatives and Labour blocked the move, at a special council meeting in the Guildhall tonight.

Support by two-thirds of the vote was needed but the Lib Dem proposal got 25 votes compared to 29 against, or 46 per cent.

The benefits of ‘all-out’ were said to be less cost; a stable four-year term for any administration and the avoidance of voter fatigue with three elections every four years. The fourth year stages the county council elections.

Advantages of election by ‘thirds’ are greater accountability; regular engagement with voters and a reduced impact from an influx of new councillors.

The council consulted the public and 161 people responded, with 52 per cent preferring the current system, compared to 48 per cent for change. Of 16 parish councils which responded 13 favoured no change.

But the full Council heard that change is coming, with Winchester set to have the number of members cut from 57 to possibly as low as 42.

Lib Dem leader Kelsie Learney said the Boundary Commission had told Winchester that keeping election by thirds will mean having three-member wards which would thus have to be far bigger than now.

“These wards will no longer represent communities. I became a councillor to represent and work for residents on local issues.”

Lib Dem councillor Jane Rutter said: “This will mean enormous wards covering many disparate and separate communities. Electors will feel disconnected from the councillors, resentful of the system and disempowered.”

Under ‘all-out’ there will be greater flexibility to retain one and two-member wards that better reflect local communities.

But Tory councillor Barry Lipscomb rejected that argument. “The size of the wards we have at the moment are capable of being extended without any reduction in effectiveness.”

Council leader Keith Wood, Conservative, said of elections by thirds: “Local people have a chance to have more say. The present system serves the public best."