The Boundary Commission‘s final proposals for the new boundaries for parliamentary constituencies have finally been laid before Parliament, as part of its review of seats.
Irrespective of whether I agreed with the decision to cut the number of seats, I do think the number of electors in each seat should be more equal – although I’m not sure it should be as arbitrarily applied as it has been in the process as we have seen – but my experience of the consultation process, and much of the outcome leads me to question the whole thing.
The proposals for the seat I live in (North East Hampshire) had been a bit of a joke, so I engaged with the consultation, offering some solutions to the issues involved. For anyone who is interested, the town of Alton had been added to our constituency (even though it doesn’t sit anywhere near the other towns in the existing seat and is in another district/borough), but more importantly, Church Crookham (which sits in between my town of Yateley, and that of Alton) is split off from its ‘sister’ settlement of Fleet (they are basically inter-twined), and plonked in the separate constituency of Aldershot.
I know it is a difficult issue, balancing the numbers involved, and like the Commission, I found it impossible to resolve just by taking off a single ward here, and adding a ward there – but I did hit upon a solution, re-drawing the parliamentary constituencies across the county boundaries of Surrey and Hampshire, using the natural communities of the Blackwater Valley as their inspiration. If you live in this patch, you know this is the reality when it comes to health provision, transport, education, employment, media and shopping for example.
Imagine my surprise when after the its consultation, the Boundary Commission concluded that it had not received any alternative counter proposals!!!
So, when it had a final consultation, I spent HOURS – nay, DAYS – doing the necessary work, constructing the new potential parliamentary constituencies using this approach, to demonstrate it IS possible to have an alternative proposal.
Imagine my despair, when yet again, the Boundary Commission conclude in their report, published today (10th September) that respondents “did not provide any alternative counter proposals” when I blatantly DID.
I made sure that I referred to their oversight in my submission to their final proposal, and so they could not say counter proposals had not been received, I put the detailed work in, working ward-by-ward, dealing with knock-on consequences in neighbouring constituencies.
I was expecting them to reject my proposals, of course. What I wasn’t expecting them to do was completely ignore them for a second time. It has totally undermined any residual faith I had in the system of public consultation in this country. This was a genuine, and detailed attempt to engage with a public policy problem – and the process doesn’t even bother to acknowledge it.
For your perusal, I thought I would provide my proposals.
Blackwater Valley North means that the towns of Yateley (Hart, Hampshire) and Camberley (Surrey Heath, Surrey) are paired, which historically, makes much more sense. The towns have strong public transport, shopping and employment links, and the surrounding towns of Blackwater, Hawley, Frimley and Bagshot make natural bed-fellows. Frimley Park Hospital is a huge employer across more of this area arguably, than it is in the previous ‘Surrey Heath’ constituency, for example. It also deals with the anamoly of having Yateley, and a far flung town like Alton in the same seat. It makes much more sense for Yateley and Camberley to be in the same seat, than Yateley and Fleet – despite being in the same district, there are zero public transport links, and very little shared shopping or employment.
Blackwater Valley Central seat re-unites Fleet with Church Crookham in Hart, Hampshire (separated by the current boundary proposals), and puts them with conurbation of Farnborough (Rushmoor, Hampshire), which makes for a more natural fit, as part of an overall set of seats based around the wider ‘Blackwater Valley’ conurbation; which has been used in public policy making circles, following the course of the River Blackwater – and more recently, the Blackwater Valley Route (the A331).
Blackwater Valley South brings together the towns of Aldershot (Rushmoor, Hampshire) and Farnham (Waverley, Surrey), which arguably is the closest fit in all of these proposals. It is bizarre in the extreme that the villages and towns of Weybourne, Badshot Lea, Ash and Tongham have all previously been in different constituencies. A solution based on the Blackwater Valley would help solve this, and bring two great towns together into one seat.
East Hampshire in my updated proposals now includes all of the Alton seats, and Holybourne & Froyle, which in the Boundary Commissions proposals, had been switched to North East Hampshire. This makes no sense at all, since they are part of the district of East Hampshire, and look more naturally towards Petersfield for representation – and are not a natural community with places like Yateley.
Guildford in my proposals has merely been tidied up to reflect the need to meet the constituency size rules. This includes switching Pirbright and Normandy from the previous Woking seat (this makes total sense since they are in Guildford borough) together with Bisley (in Surrey Heath) and Brookwood (in Woking), which together form a natural set of shared communities, and could fit well in the Guildford constituency. I have also included Mayford & Sutton Green ward (in Woking), and this fits well too in the northern fringes of Guildford.
Surrey/Hampshire Borders is effectively the South West Surrey seat of old, but I have taken out Farnham. In its place, I have included a number of wards which had previously been in the south of the Guildford constituency (centred on Cranleigh), but which are all actually in Waverley borough, so arguably make a better fit for this constituency. As well as this, I have added three wards from East Hampshire. It needed to do this for the size, but in fact, Bramshott & Liphook, Headley and Grayshott, arguably fit more naturally with the conurbations of Haslemere and Hinhead than they do with Bordon and Alton.
Woking is merely the same seat as before, updated to reflect my other changes. It now includes three wards from Surrey Heath (Chobham, Lightwater and West End) all of which fit more naturally with Woking than they do, say, Camberley. Two wards have been taken out to Guildford (Normandy and Pirbirhgt) which are actually in Guildford borough anyway, and one ward is taken out (Mayford & Sutton Green) to help meet the numbers, but arguably is as much on the fringes of northern Guildford as it is southern Woking.
So, there you have it. I just wanted to show that when the Boundary Commission published their proposals today, and they said that there was an “absence of any such satisfactory overall counter proposal” for my area, they were wrong. I’m not pretending I had all the answers – I am sure there are holes here – but I genuinely felt I had the beginning of an answer to some of the issues, yet no reference was made to this at all in two rounds of consultation. I was born and raised in this area, and feel I have a good understanding of the Commission’s challenge – but feel totally ignored.
I know they received the material, because it all sits, receipt acknowledged on their website. It’s just no reference is made to it in its supposedly detailed reports.
If I was feeling a little more cynical, I might feel it had something to do with the fact that my solution would effectively remove the seats of cabinet ministers Michael Gove, and Jeremy Hunt. And we couldn’t possibly have that, could we?
The whole process waiting for the final Boundary Commission proposals has been a real let-down, and an anti-climax. For me, the process has not worked. It has not produced a solution which works, even though one could exist. In the new seat of North East Hampshire, I can’t get to the neighbouring town of Fleet just four miles away on public transport – and including Alton over twenty miles away is just absurd, even though Church Crookham, just over four miles in the same direction is not included.
I can genuinely understand why the eyes of thousands of people ‘roll’ when a public body announces it is putting a policy or proposal out to consultation – and I’m not sure I will be as keen to engage in future. When a public body says no counter proposal has been suggested during a consultation process, when as you can see from what I have outlined, I did propose one, a boundary has been crossed (just as in the cross-county ‘Blackwater Valley’ based solution I offered in North East Hampshire). I’m left feeling a little bit more dis-engaged.