Boundary hearing – Stafford
I gave a presentation at the boundary hearing in Stafford on Monday 14th November, of my ideas discussed in a previous blog. This is an account of my experience of it. I could only attend after work, so that limited me to only about an hour out of 2 days of presentations, so unfortunately I cannot give an account of other contributions, but the Boundary Commission will publish these.
The venue, the county building at Martin Street, Stafford, was not great because parking was difficult. If I’d not been working and had plenty of time, I could easily have travelled by bus from Trentham. However as I was dashing there from work I had to travel by car. I got there by 6.30pm and was due to speak at 7pm.
I think I did ok but not brilliantly. I had practiced my talk which took 10 minutes. That was what I was allowed so I felt I shouldn’t dither too much. I had prepared a few handouts of my spreadsheet but to avoid disruption only gave them to a few interested people afterwards. I used a powerpoint presentation which essentially compared my proposals with the Boundary Commission initial proposals using maps instead of spreadsheets. (I’m not publishing the maps here because I still worry about copyright but contributions will appear on the Boundary Commission web site in due course).
I struggled with the technology a bit. The computer provided and microphones were in front of me while the screen was behind me. I needed to point to the maps but failed to use the cursor/arrow because it was very sensitive, I know I have my own computers set less sensitively than average. So I gave up on that and resorted to a laser pointer, which showed up well on the screen. But the difficulty was I had to stand to do this so was too far from the microphones really. I have no trouble making myself heard but for the transcription microphone it may not have worked out well. I don’t know how well others coped as the other speakers there that evening did not use the computer.
Because of the trouble at the start I messed up the introduction a bit. I said I was an ordinary member of the public but forgot to mention that I’m not a member of any political party. I said I was focussing on community links but didn’t point out at the outset that my emphasis was on matching constituencies to local authority areas as far as possible and had to work this in later.
I made the following points:
1. I agree with the Boundary Commission on boundaries for
- Staffordshire Moorlands.
- East Staffordshire (BCE Burton).
- Cannock Chase.
- Outer boundary of the 4 constituencies encompassing SOT, NUL and areas to the South of these.
- Outer boundary of the 2 constituencies Stafford and South Staffordshire.
- Outer boundary of the 2 constituencies Lichfield and Tamworth.
2. SOT has 2.4 UK quota of electorate so have 2 SOT only constituencies keeping the 6 towns in them; Tunstall and Burslem in SOT North and Hanley, Stoke, Fenton and Longton in SOT South. Disadvantage of BCE proposal is Tunstall is outside SOT constituencies and Burslem and Stoke are cut though their centres.
3. NUL has 1.3 UK quota of electorate so keep most in 1 NUL only constituency. Disadvantage of BCE proposal is NUL is cut in half.
4. Have a largely rural constituency to the South of SOT and NUL to include some areas from these.
5. At Lichfield - Tamworth border have Hammerwich ward in Lichfield and Whittington ward in Tamworth; this unites rather than splits Burntwood and places Whittington with other rural wards around Tamworth.
6. At Stafford - South Staffordshire border have Wheaton Aston, Bishopswood and Lapley ward in South Staffordshire constituency, consistent with LA.
7. I have named constituencies to match LA names as much as possible, which is why I have chosen the names East Staffordshire and Newcastle-under-Lyme. For Stoke-on-Trent it seems sensible for 2 constituencies to call them North and South. I have chosen the name West Staffordshire because the LA names have been used and it pairs well with East Staffordshire.
8. Local people should decide boundaries.
The questions I had from the Boundary Commission chair sought to establish the extent of the links between the 4 wards I had placed outside 2 Stoke-on-Trent constituencies; Trentham and Hanford, Blurton, Meir Park and Sandon, Weston and Meir North and the areas to the South of these. These were fair questions and I discussed the geographical separation of Trentham and Hanford and its village history, giving it similarities to villages such as Barlaston to the South. However I didn’t put any more emphasis than this on Trentham, where I live. I could have mentioned it would be nice to unite the bulk of Trentham in Stoke-on-Trent to the part of Trentham in Stafford Borough, but didn’t because my key aim is much less about Trentham and primarily about finding a solution that neatly encompasses the 6 towns of Stoke-on-Trent in 2 constituencies and the vast majority of Newcastle-under-Lyme in 1 constituency. I did reiterate that the numbers constraint just means some Stoke-on-Trent areas have to be placed in another constituency.
I had not expected the hearing to include questions from the audience but Paul Farrelly, MP for Newcastle-under-Lyme, asked good questions I was happy to answer. He asked why I had included the Northern Newcastle-under-Lyme wards; Newchapel, Kidsgrove, Ravenscliffe, Talke and Butt Lane, in a Newcastle-under-Lyme constituency. I explained I was matching the constituency with the LA and it fitted around the neighbouring constituencies. I had not included the Southern wards Clayton and Seabridge, which Paul didn’t like especially as he is from Clayton. I said living in Trentham I perceive links to Clayton but admitted again it has much to do with numbers constraints.
I can understand how the changes are disruptive to MPs if they think they are likely to be selected and elected again, but it was the MPs collectively who decided we should have this boundary review. I don’t personally agree with the reduction in MPs but as we have to do it I think there is little point trying to retain existing constituencies as that is logically destined to fail. So we might as well focus on local links and local authorities although the numbers tightly restrict this. Also, from an ordinary person’s point of view, our existing MP may not decide to stand again in the area or may not be selected by their party, so there is no guarantee of continuity anyway.
As I couldn’t attend much of the hearing and didn’t take notes, I cannot give a reliable account of other contributions, but the Boundary Commission will publish these.
I recall one person who spoke in favour of the Boundary Commission’s proposals, especially for Staffordshire Moorlands, I agree for that constituency. There was another argument made in favour of linking Stone with the split Newcastle, which I can’t agree with. A point made was the link for students travelling in to Newcastle private school. I think this is a weak argument as it is irrelevant to the vast majority of the population and those who attend private schools often travel a distance anyway. A speaker from Audley opposed the Boundary Commission’s proposed Kidsgrove and Tunstall constituency and said there were no links with Audley and it seemed as if it were just for the left-overs.
I shall back up my proposal with a written submission, as it was impossible to cover all points in the 10 minute hearing. I may even look into whether I could submit more than one suggestion, but time is likely to rule that out as I have a very busy life. It would be nice if the next 4 week consultation stage were during the Christmas holidays when I have more time, but I expect it is more likely to be January. It will be good to see a full set of everyone’s ideas.