Friday, 18 November 2016

Boundary Review 2018 - 3rd blog

In my last blog I presented my submission to the Boundary Commission for England (BCE) consultation and on 14th November 2016, I attended the hearing in Stafford, chaired by Assistant Commissioner Margaret Gilmore, to highlight my key points and listen to what others had to say. There were presentations from across the region but I have only looked at Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent so only comment on these here.

There were a significant number of speakers contributing their support for the BCE initial proposals. Trudie McGuinness, a Labour party member, spoke in support of the arrangements for the Staffordshire constituencies particularly in the South of the county, as being the best possible arrangement. She particularly supported the proposed Tamworth and Lichfield constituencies.

Martin Lewis, a Liberal Democrat, gave support to the proposals. He expressed regret that Haywood & Hixon ward was in Lichfield constituency and pointed out that the West Staffordshire constituency was the least homogeneous, with wards from 3 Local Authority areas but could not propose a better solution given the constraints so considered it acceptable.

Ian Jenkinson from Newcastle-under-Lyme spoke in favour of the proposed Newcastle-under-Lyme constituency. He particularly liked that the proposal largely follows the Local authority area and that it includes the Kidsgrove wards and transport routes to Newcastle-under-Lyme. He noted that the Western Newcastle-under-Lyme wards were in West Staffordshire but well understood and supported this.

Labour Councillor Allison Gardner of Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council also Spoke in favour of the proposal for Newcastle-under-Lyme constituency, citing industrial connections and bringing the Kidsgrove town council areas together. She said that although the rail links from Kidsgrove are with Stoke-on-Trent, the A34 road link is to Newcastle-under-Lyme. She also thought it appropriate to bring together the urban industrial areas while the more rural wards of the Newcastle-under-Lyme authority area were placed in West Staffordshire.

Neil Thomas from Stafford also Spoke out in favour of the proposals but would prefer West Staffordshire to be named North West Staffordshire. He didn't particularly like Hayward & Hixon ward going to the Lichfield constituency but did not see a good way to avoid this given the rules. He liked the arrangement for Stoke-on-Trent having 2 named constituencies because of not having sufficient electorate to justify 3.

On the West Staffordshire or North West Staffordshire question I would say I don't have a strong preference between the two. But I do prefer a more general name such as these than one that names a particular town or lists some towns, given that the constituency covers such a large area.

Most other contributions, such as mine, suggested only minor changes. Mine, given in my last blog, suggested the movement of 5 Stoke-on-Trent wards to bring similar communities together and bring Longton and Hanley's parks into the same constituencies as their town centres. Because I was suggesting moving Springfields & Trent Vale ward into West Staffordshire the issue of having a boundary in Oak Hill in that ward was raised. This is a reasonable point but I still think this is preferable because it allows Dresden & Florence ward to move into Stoke-on-Trent South, uniting communities along a longer boundary there with Lightwood North & Normacot. It was also pointed out that Stoke-on-Trent South would be a more peculiar shape, true but I think it is more important for the right communities to be linked.  As the constituency is not large in area the shape is less important from the point of view of travelling within it. 

Kirsty Bailey from Blurton did not like the Blurton wards being in West Staffordshire. She pointed out that Blurton as a poor area with a lot of social housing and does not fit well with affluent areas like Barlaston.

I would certainly agree that the Blurton wards do have a somewhat different character to other parts of West Staffordshire but within the constraints of electorate numbers cannot see a preferable solution.

There were quite a number of contributions that concerned the borderline between the Lichfield and Tamworth. Geoffrey Hanson from Whittington wanted the Whittington & Streethay ward in the Lichfield, not the Tamworth constituency and cited many links of that ward with Lichfield.

Conservative Councillor David Smith of Staffordshire County Council argued that either Whittington & Streethay ward or Hammerwich with Wall ward would need to be in Tamworth constituency, because of electorate numbers and he thought the arrangement in the initial proposals with Whittington & Streethay in Tamworth was best. But he said there was a strong argument to split these wards so Streethay could go with Lichfield and Wall with Tamworth. He asked for a constituency name change from Tamworth to South East Staffordshire.

Conservative MP for Lichfield, Michael Fabricant, argued against splitting wards but suggested that Whittington & Streethay should go with Lichfield because Streethay is very much a part of Lichfield and he cited links with Whittington. He said Wall is currently in Tamworth constituency so Hammerwich with Wall ward would be better placed with Tamworth.

Jonathan Hall made similar arguments for Whittington & Streethay to go with Lichfield and Hammerwich with Wall to go to Tamworth.

I have to say I found the argument for Whittington & Streethay to go to Lichfield and Hammerwich with Wall to Tamworth very convincing. The Tamworth constituency would be a more peculiar shape but community links I think should outweigh this shortcoming. I also liked the idea to rename the Tamworth constituency South East Staffordshire because it includes a lot of Lichfield Local Authority wards so a more general name is better. But if this were done I would also like to see South Staffordshire constituency renamed South West Staffordshire for symmetry purposes. As an aside I have throughout wanted to rename Burton as East Staffordshire, or if West Staffordshire were named North West Staffordshire then Burton could be named North East Staffordshire to complete a nice set of compass points.

Conservative Councillor Jack Brereton of Stoke-on-Trent City Council gave a talk in two parts. One was on behalf of Karen Bradley MP for Staffordshire Moorlands fully supporting the proposal for the Staffordshire Moorlands constituency. This is a very neat constituency because the Staffordshire Moorlands Local Authority has the right number of electorate to form a constituency. The other part of his talk was the most radical suggestion of the day and requested for the Kidsgrove wards and Talke ward to be in the Stoke-on-Trent North constituency, citing good transport links. This clearly has knock on effects for Stoke-on-Trent South, West Staffordshire and Newcastle-under-Lyme. The result is actually almost identical to my proposal 1a that I produced before the Boundary Commission proposals were released, the difference being that Talke would be in Stoke-on-Trent North rather than Newcastle-under-Lyme to make the electorate numbers more equal.

Whilst this is quite a good arrangement I still prefer the Boundary Commission Initial Proposals to it, because more areas that are of similar character are grouped together, with of course the minor modifications that I suggested.

I did not attend the second day of presentations at Stafford. It will be interesting to see the transcripts of these and of course all the written contributions when they are published. 

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