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Fact Check: Boundary review: big changes to proposed new constituencies for Preston, Chorley and South Ribble amid objections to previous plans

By Steve Heldon

The Boundary Commission for England has been carrying out a review of the current arrangements, but has now made what it describes as “comprehensive” changes to its initial proposals for the county in the wake of the objections that several of them attracted – including in Preston and Chorley.

Residents, MPs and political parties were first asked for their views during the summer of 2021 and then got a second opportunity to have their say earlier this year, including at 32 public hearings held across the country – one of which was staged in Preston.

A final period of public consultation has now begun over the revised plans, which attempt to address some of the concerns raised by Lancastrians, while still fulfilling the commission’s remit to ensure a more equal number of potential voters in each constituency.

Chorley was at the centre of some of the most controversial of the initial boundary proposals

The biggest change the feedback has prompted is the decision to scrap a suggested new seat that would have combined parts of Chorley with areas of Rossendale and Darwen and Hyndburn.

The commission has revealed that the proposed West Pennine Moors – intended to replace the existing Rossendale and Darwen patch – was “almost universally opposed”, generating more than 1,500 objections. That represents more than three percent of the 45,000 comments so far submitted about all 543 constituencies planned across England.

The result has been a wholesale revision of the original proposals, resulting in a boundary blueprint which largely maintains the status quo in south eastern parts of the county. Under the latest proposal, the existing Chorley constituency remains unchanged – along with those of Blackburn, Hyndburn and Rossendale & Darwen – apart from realignments with new council ward boundaries.

The commission said that its initial intention had been to “avoid the significant disruption elsewhere that we felt would arise from retaining multiple South Lancashire constituencies essentially unchanged”.

The new boundaries should be in force for the next scheduled general election

“It was very clear to our Assistant Commissioners, however, that from the large number of representations we received, and the almost overwhelming opposition contained within them, the constituencies we proposed in this area were widely perceived to prospectively be very disruptive to local ties,” the commission noted in a document setting out its new proposals.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle, MP for Chorley for the past 25 years, welcomed the fact that his constituency looks set to remain largely unchanged.

“I am delighted that the Boundary Commission have listened to the views of local residents and changed their plans to move areas such as Adlington and Anderton, Brinscall, Wheelton and Withnell to a newly proposed West Pennine Moors constituency.

“This proposed seat did not have common ties and community links and common sense has prevailed, leaving the Chorley constituency intact,” Sir Lindsay told the Post.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle was glad that proposed changes to the eastern side of his Chorley constituency have been dropped

Previous proposals for the Preston constituency also proved controversial – including a plan to dispatch the Fishwick & Frenchwood and Ribbleton wards to the Ribble Valley seat. That suggestion has now been scrapped following representations – including from the sitting MP, Sir Mark Hendrick.

Some Preston parts of the Wyre and Preston North patch – which is set to disappear under the boundary change proposals – will be split between the Preston and Ribble Valley constituencies (see below).

Meanwhile, the current MP for South Ribble, Katherine Fletcher, was sanguine about the changes now proposed in her patch, which are fewer than initially planned, but would still see areas including Tarleton, Hesketh-with-Becconsall, North Meols and Rufford move into the Southport constituency. Under the plans, two Chorley wards would also be retained in their current position within the South Ribble constituency, but across a slightly different footprint as result of their realignment with council ward boundaries.

“The Boundary Commission is completely independent, as it should be with the very details of our proper democracy at stake,” Ms. Fletcher said.

The proposals for Preston’s boundaries were given a rethink after representations

“It’s a pretty big change from the current constituency make-up. I love our West Lancs areas and am sad to see them go to Southport, but uniting Farington in one constituency makes sense for Leyland and I have loved Charnock Richard since I was a child, so am happy to work for them in the future.”

However, in a demonstration of the knock-on nature of boundary change proposals – and the divergent reactions that they can prompt in a county as diverse as Lancashire, where local identities are often staunchly defended – Ribble Valley MP Nigel Evans expressed dismay at a new proposal to carve out Clitheroe and Whalley from his patch and insert them into a new Pendle and Clitheroe seat.

He told the Post that he would be “deeply saddened by any split up of my local authority area [from] being coterminous with my constituency”, adding that he hoped the commission would take on board that concern.

THIS IS WHAT’S HAPPENING WHERE – AND WHY

The Boundary Commission for England’s review is being carried out on the basis of rules updated by Parliament in 2020, which require a more equal distribution of the UK’s 650 constituencies across all parts of the country. England will see an increase in its share of constituencies from 533 to 543 as a result.

The electorate within each constituency also currently varies widely due to population changes since the last time the results of a boundary review were implemented at the 2010 General Election.

Sir Mark Hendrick’s Preston constituency had been set to lose the Fishwick & Frenchwood and Ribbleton wards

The current review is charged with ensuring that almost all constituencies in England contain no fewer than 69,724 eligible voters and no more than 77,062, as at 2nd March 2020.

None of the proposals alter local authority boundaries in any way, even if wards are proposed to sit in parliamentary constituencies which appear at odds with their council area.

This is how the final version of the proposals affects different parts of the Lancashire Post area – and how they compare to what was previously suggested:

Chorley

It is now proposed that the existing Chorley constituency remains in its current form, with the exception of some realignment to ensure that it follows new council ward boundaries put in place since the last parliamentary boundary review.

The previous proposals would have seen the Rossendale and Darwen constituency renamed West Pennine Moors and draw in the Adlington & Anderton and Chorley North East wards from the Chorley borough, as well as two Hyndburn wards.

As the Post revealed last year, there was strong opposition to that move from members of Chorley Council, with deputy leader Peter Wilson decrying the potential breaking away of Adlington, which he said had been part of Chorley for more than a century.

He told a full council meeting last August that a future MP – of whatever political persuasion – would be “torn” between representing a constituency with so many differences. The same gathering heard that an elderly resident of Adlington had been “reduced to tears” at the suggested change.

Meanwhile, Chorley North East councillor Jenny Whiffen said it was “a little odd” that her ward had Chorley in its very name – even though it was proposed to be moved out of the constituency with the same moniker.

The proposed Chorley seat will fall wholly within the Chorley Council area – although it will not incorporate all of its wards.

Preston

It was previously proposed that parts of the Preston City Council patch that currently sit within the Wyre and Preston North parliamentary area should become part of the Preston seat. That would have seen the Cadley, Garrison, Greyfriars and Sharoe Green wards make the move into the main city constituency.

Meanwhile, the Fishwick & Frenchwood and Ribbleton wards would have shifted into a radically redesigned Ribble Valley seat, which would also have taken the Preston Rural East and Preston Rural North wards from the Wyre and Preston and North constituency.

However, the report outlining the commissioner’s revised recommendations reveals that there was “significant opposition” to some of the initial proposals – and calls for the Fishwick & Frenchwood and Ribbleton wards to be kept within the Preston constituency at the expense of Greyfriars and Sharoe Green.

The commission said that that view was echoed by the current Preston MP of more than 22 years, Sir Mark Hendrick. Evidence was also provided at the public hearing in Preston that Greyfriars and Sharoe Green were “of a fundamentally different character to urban Preston”.

Assistant commissioners assessing the feedback on the initial proposals visited the area and concluded that the Fishwick & Frenchwood and Ribbleton wards were “undeniably part of the core of urban Preston and…of a similar character to the city centre”.

Under the revised proposals, it now suggested that those two areas should remain in the Preston constituency, where they would be joined by transferees Cadley and Garrison. Greyfiars, Sharoe Green, Preston Rural North and Preston Rural East would all still transfer to Ribble Valley.

The Preston seat would also acquire the city council ward of Ingol and Cottam from the Fylde constituency, as well as the part of the Lea and Larches ward that currently also sits within Fylde’s parliamentary borders.

South Ribble

In a change to the initial proposals, it is now suggested that the South Ribble constituency retains the Chorley borough wards of Croston, Mawdesley & Euxton South and Eccleston, Heskin & Charnock Richard – but along a realigned footprint realignment to reflect local government ward boundaries which have changed since the last parliamentary boundary review.

The constituency would also keep hold all the wards currently within the constituency that sit in the South Ribble council area, along with the Farington

East and Farington West wards. However, a previous proposal to bring much of Bamber Bridge into the South Ribble seat has been scrapped, with the town now proposed to stay in the Ribble Valley constituency, together with the two Walton-le-Dale wards and Coupe Green & Gregson Lane.

“This configuration would result in a larger proportion of the South Ribble wards and electors being included within the named constituency than the existing pattern,” the commission said.

Lancaster and Wyre

It was suggested during the earlier consultation that as the proposed new Lancaster constituency would contain more of Wyre than was the case for the current Lancaster and Fleetwood seat – with the new one stretching as far south as the Garstang and Brock with Catterall wards – it should be named Lancaster and Wyre. The commission agreed, meaning that a constituency name last seen between 1997 and 2010 will reappear on the electoral map if the proposals remain unchanged.

Elsewhere, the commission says that it received support for its suggested decoupling of Fleetwood from Lancaster.

West Lancashire

The initial proposals were to extend the existing Southport seat across the county boundary into its “rural hinterland within Lancashire”, the commission said.

“Although it was possible to retain the existing Southport constituency wholly unchanged within the borough of Sefton, it was considered that this would result in significant disruptive knock-on effects throughout the North West.”

It was therefore proposed that the West Lancashire borough wards of North Meols, Hesketh-with-Becconsall, Rufford and Tarleton – which all currently lie in the South Ribble seat – be moved into the Southport constituency.

During the earlier consultations, there were some calls for Rufford to be incorporated into the West Lancashire constituency, but at the Preston public hearing, it was argued that the four wards proposed to be shifted into Southport for parliamentary purposes made up the “Northern Parishes” and so should be kept together.

HAVE YOUR SAY

The public consultation on the commission’s latest proposals runs until 5th December. Comments relating to the Lancashire area can be made online at bcereviews.org.uk/node/6487, where constituency maps are also available to assist residents in giving feedback.

Tim Bowden, Secretary to the Boundary Commission for England, said that many of the consultation responses to the earlier proposals had included “valuable evidence about local communities”.

“We have revised nearly half of our initial proposals based on what people have told us. We now believe we are close to the best map of constituencies that can be achieved under the rules we are working to.

“However, we still want people to tell us what they think of this latest map before we submit our final recommendations to Parliament next year. This is our final consultation and I encourage you to participate.”

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

After the consultation closes, the Boundary Commission for England will draw up its final recommendations, which must be presented to the Speaker of the House of Commons by 1st July next year.

Within four months of the last report being laid by the boundary commissions for each of the four nations, the government is required to submit to the Privy Council an order that gives effect to all of their recommendations.

No further changes can be made, unless specifically requested by the relevant commission – and any such request would itself have to be laid before Parliament and published.

The new constituencies take effect at the next General Election after the Privy Council approves the order. Any by-elections held in the meantime have to be conducted on the basis of the existing constituency boundaries.

Source: Healthy Duck.