The Boundary Commission for England (BCE) following a consultation on their initial proposals and a second consultation on representations received on these, has now produced a set of revised proposals. The final consultation on these is now taking place, for a deadline of 10th December 2012. I would encourage people to contribute, whether in favour of the proposals or against. My submission, endorsing the revised proposals for Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent, is given at the foot of this blog.
It is widely thought that the outcome of the boundary review will be thrown out by parliament irrespective of what it contains, due to bickering between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in the coalition. So what's the point of engaging with the review any further? Well, there are actually a number of reasons:
- This is the first of a rolling series of boundary reviews initiated by theIt must by law continue in the absence of any further legislation to stop it, so we might as well try to make the best of it. Taking part in the process allows better experience to be gained, both by those conducting the review and members of the public participating, so this can be used to inform actions to be taken in future reviews, regardless of whether the current outcome sinks or swims in parliament.
- Specifically, it would seem sensible to embrace the body of local knowledge and opinion that has informed the revised proposals. It would also seem sensible that the final proposals arrived at in this review form a starting point for considerations to be made in the next review, regardless of whether these proposals make it through parliament or not. So completing this review thoroughly provides the best basis for the next one.
- It looks like most MPs are not destined to treat the content of the final proposals seriously and have largely decided what way to vote according to their party political games, without sight of the final proposals. Why should we as local people let such actions stop us making our contributions? No, I think it's better that we carry on and at least have our input on record.
- Perhaps the proposals will actually be passed by parliament. I know that's not expected to happen but party politically the divide putting Labour and Liberal Democrats on one side and Conservatives on the other is quite finely balanced. I expect there is a likelihood that more of the 'others' will oppose the proposals and more rebels within the 'main parties' would oppose rather than endorse the proposals, but there will also be some who abstain or absent themselves. Also, who knows what further political games may play out between now and the vote. If the proposals were by surprise to be passed by parliament, it would be better to have contributed completely.
Despite reservations I have about the Act of parliament itself, expressed in previous blogs, I have found the consultation process a largely positive one. It was not so good that the initial proposals were produced without local input, however since that point the consultation has been largely well conducted, despite scope for improvement which I address in my submission. I was actually very cynical about individuals such as myself, not being a member of any political party, being taken seriously. Part of my cynicism comes from experiences with Stoke-on-Trent City Council so-called 'consultations'. In the case of the boundary review however, the points made, evidence raised and alternatives presented by everyone were considered and used as a basis for real changes in order for the revised proposals to better match the wishes of the majority within the constraints of the legislation.
Of course I do feel particularly positive because the review, see West Midlands Revised Proposals Report, has incorporated (page 39) almost all aspects of my alternative proposals (pages 31-33). I congratulate the Assistant Commissioners for the West Midlands region for the care taken in consideration of all the representations. The revised proposals for the West Midlands region can be found as a large map and as constituency and ward lists by viewing the West Midlands revised proposals annex. Maps are available for Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent individual constituencies with further details in the WM R STAFFORDSHIRE sheet of West Midlands revised proposals by sub region.
Response to Boundary Commission for England Revised Proposals
I would like to commend the Boundary Commission for England (BCE) and in particular the Assistant Commissioners for the West Midlands region for running a thorough, inclusive and well reasoned consultation. I fully endorse the revised proposals for the Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent sub-region.
I am very pleased that the alternative proposals submitted by individuals, including myself, as well as political parties, were considered. The assistant commissioners adopted a sensible approach, noting the concerns of all residents, even those not submitting alternatives or providing limited alternatives and identifying the key issues which their initial proposals did not satisfy. Then all alternative proposals were examined to investigate the extent to which these could address the issues to satisfy the concerns of the bulk of residents in a way which worked within the rules for the entire sub-region. Importantly, the proposals were significantly revised in light of the alternatives presented and the concerns of local communities. I admit I had been cynical about the possibility of actually being properly listened to, but that is probably due to experience of Stoke-on-Trent City Council 'consultations'. In this case however the BCE did run a genuine consultation although they were naturally constrained by legislation. I am particularly pleased that the revised proposals have incorporated almost all of the suggestions I made in my alternative proposals.
The key issues raised by a large number of residents were that they did not wish to see splits in communities with historical and current relevance such as the core urban area of Newcastle-under-Lyme and the six towns of Stoke-on-Trent, particularly Burslem, which were present in the BCE's initial proposals. There was also a widely held desire amongst Staffordshire Moorlands residents for the constituency to match the local authority area, in agreement with the BCE's initial proposals and strong views from areas such as Biddulph and Werrington to remain in Staffordshire Moorlands in preference to combining with parts of Stoke-on-Trent constituencies. There was also a desire to keep Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle-under-Lyme electorally separate. As a resident of Trentham in Stoke-on-Trent I personally agree with all of these sentiments.
I had submitted three slightly different alternative proposals in the second consultation on the initial proposals, of which two are given at the links:
It is however the following link
(also attached as a file “BoundaryReview2013NickyDavis3” in xlsx, ods and pdf formats) which was the one which has been for the most part adopted in the revised proposals, so this is the one to which I shall refer in my comments now.
Endorsement of revised proposals for 'South Staffordshire'
The ‘South Staffordshire’ area (the area covered by the initially proposed constituencies of Burton, Cannock Chase, Lichfield, South Staffordshire, Stafford and Tamworth) presented fewer highly contentious issues.
I had suggested it would be sensible to place the Wheaton Aston, Bishopswood and Lapley ward in the South Staffordshire Constituency and this would avoid splitting Kiddemore Green and I am happy to see this in the revised proposals. I had also suggested placing Whittington ward in the Tamworth constituency and Hammerwich ward in the Lichfield constituency to unite Burntwood and make use of the A461 geographical separation. This suggestion has not been adopted and these wards have been maintained the other way around in the revised proposals. I had also suggested changing the name of the Burton constituency to East Staffordshire to match the local authority name but this has not found favour. I am nevertheless content with these aspects of the revised proposals as I don't live very locally to these areas and have not read all the representations relating to them. I trust the Assistant Commissioners to have done this, taken proper account of local views, which is what matters most and not found cause in those views to make the changes I suggested.
Endorsement of revised proposals for 'North Staffordshire'
There were far greater difficulties with the 'North Staffordshire' area (the area covered by the initially proposed constituencies of Kidsgrove and Tunstall, Newcastle under Lyme and Stone, Staffordshire Moorlands, Stoke on Trent Central and Stoke on Trent South). There were several alternatives presented in addition to my own (IP/025156 and CR/003080), which are all discussed in the West Midlands revised proposals:
pages 25-34, including my own alternatives, pages 31-33. It can be noted that for some reason my attachment has disappeared from CR/003080 but the submission made can be found within my blog at:
and I am attaching it again now (pdf file ”NickyDavisCR003080”).
The Labour party proposals (IP/025315 and CR/005106), had the advantage of rectifying the splits in Burslem and Newcastle-under-Lyme but brought the Biddulph area into Stoke-on-Trent North and the Werrington area into Stoke-on-Trent Central, which would be deeply unpopular and adversely impact Staffordshire Moorlands as a whole.
Henry Parocki, a resident of Wolverhampton, put forward similar but slightly different proposals (IP/019672 and IP/008834) to Labour, with the same advantage and drawbacks.
Adrian Bailey (IP30026) put forward proposals with a great deal of merit, in that they united Staffordshire Moorlands and avoided splits in Burslem and Newcastle-under-Lyme and brought the village of Madeley into Newcastle-under-Lyme which would please residents there. Under his proposals I would live in his Stoke-on-Trent South and Stone constituency and would personally be satisfied with that. However his proposals mean spreading the 6 towns of Stoke-on-Trent between 3 constituencies in a 2-3-1 split and leaving the town of Stoke isolated in one of them. I think my proposals for a 2 constituency 2-4 split are preferable. Currently in Stoke-on-Trent the council is planning to squander millions of pounds of our taxes moving the civic centre from Stoke to Hanley, whilst cutting and closing numerous public services and facilities. This is deeply unpopular and part of the concern amongst ordinary folk is the detrimental future for Stoke. To apparently isolate Stoke further may not prove desirable. Also Adrian's inclusion of more Stoke-on-Trent wards than I do with other wards to the South may make the proposals less palatable to those outside the city. So I think the revised proposals adopting my suggestions are marginally better.
Stephen Whittaker, a non-party political resident of Urmston, Manchester, put forward proposals (IP/025396 and CR/003585) the same as mine apart from the names of Stoke-on-Trent North and Stoke-on-Trent South being Stoke-on-Trent Burslem and Stoke-on-Trent Hanley respectively. It gave me a good deal of pleasure to read especially his second consultation submission, as I agree with so much of it and see many of my own views, attitudes and personality reflected there, even though I do not know him. I found reading his views on political parties very refreshing. I share Stephen's concern about the prominence given to political party representations but am glad that the Assistant Commissioners did in fact treat submissions from individuals seriously. I think Stephen's alternative names make sense in terms of Burslem and Hanley being major towns in the city and each nearest within their constituency to the boundary between the two proposed constituencies of the city. I would be equally happy with these names as I would with the use of North and South, the only drawback being possible dissatisfaction from residents of the other historic 4 towns. I am very happy that the revised proposals have at least selected North and South over North and Central as the latter aren't a very logical pair. I am also pleased that the revised proposals include the West Staffordshire named constituency which Stephen and myself proposed. The West Staffordshire constituency is not a particularly simple arrangement but within the bigger picture is the best practical option. It is of some regret that Madeley residents are not brought into Newcastle-under-Lyme, but many of their objections to the initial proposals were a lack of affinity with the North of Stoke-on-Trent. In the revised proposals this link is dissolved and being part of a wider constituency including just a few wards from the South of Stoke-on-Trent may be rather more acceptable to Madeley?
In conclusion I am very pleased that the revised proposals have adopted the revised constituencies proposed by myself and Stephen Whittaker for the 'North Staffordshire' area. They address the key issues, to unite every one of the 6 towns of Stoke-on-Trent in two constituencies, unite the urban core of Newcastle-under-Lyme, unite Staffordshire Moorlands and produce an acceptably workable arrangement named the West Staffordshire constituency.
Comments on the review and consultation process
There are positive aspects of the process as well as scope for improvement. I hope the BCE can consider the following comments in shaping future reviews.
Provision of the review guidance, spreadsheets of numerical data and maps on the website was very good, with the exception that perhaps more maps covering smaller areas could have been made available to contributors on which to draw our suggested boundaries.
The review process started with initial proposals from the BCE without prior consultation. It would be better if we could be invited for our initial suggestions.
I liked the opportunity to contribute at a public meeting where questions could be asked of me interactively to aid the Assistant Commissioners' understanding, as well as being able to provide a written submission. But improvements could be made for the public presentations, especially bearing in mind that boundaries depend on maps as well as numbers and are therefore very visual. So contributors could perhaps be forewarned that a verbal description to accompany diagrams would help the transcript and perhaps diagrams and maps provided by contributors could be incorporated into the body of the transcript. I found making my presentation at Stafford a little tricky because of having to speak into a microphone in front of me whilst pointing to my powerpoint presentation on the screen behind me, the screen position needs to be set up in the forward direction. Venues could be considered which are well set up for presentations and have ample and preferably free parking close by.
Whilst I approve of the publication of all submissions I think there is more that could be done to aid viewing of these. The constituency grouping of responses was brought in to help viewing of responses from certain areas but I think this is still too coarse and would be better subdivided into wards. A more sophisticated search facility would be helpful. It would also be useful to have submissions categorised into firstly comments and secondly alternative proposals that meet the required criteria, with the alternative proposals categorised into those for single constituencies and those for larger regions. It was not particularly easy for those of us providing alternative proposals to connect with others doing this, so this process could be aided by grouping submissions appropriately. I'm personally not party political but do understand that political parties will produce proposals and it is good to be able to see the views of our elected representatives. However I don't think the party submissions should be given a priority place on the website and would like independent proposals to be given equitable prominence.
It could be useful for the BCE to provide a summary of responses received, highlighting key issues, at the same time as publishing the comments. There are advantages and disadvantages in that. The advantage, particularly under the conditions of the current review, would be the ease of us discovering the concerns of others for those of us who as individuals can not find or read all the relevant comments. If there are improvements made to the presentation of comments as described above, this would be less necessary. The disadvantage would be that it could be seen as the BCE either deliberately or inadvertently trying to bias further input. Some balance would need to be struck.
The next review
At present it seems that the BCE proposals when laid before parliament look likely to be rejected, but we cannot be completely certain of that.
Whether they are rejected or accepted, it would seem sensible for the current review conclusions to be used as a starting consideration for the 2018 review. As well as changes in electorate numbers caused by population changes and movements, that the reviews are set to address, there is the change in legislation on voter registration that may produce further variations in electorate numbers regardless of population. So the current review results may possibly turn out to be markedly different from what is required at the next review. The requirement for constituencies to be within 5% of the electoral quota is a little tight, but is in the legislation so we are stuck with it. For the next review however, there will be a little more flexibility in places such as Stoke-on-Trent, because instead of using local government boundaries as they existed on 6 May 2010, the current ward boundaries will be used and most wards are smaller than they were.
I await with interest the final proposals, in the hope that no further changes are required in the 'North Staffordshire' area at least.