To consider the proposals of the Boundary Commission for England in relation to the 2023 Review of Parliamentary Constituencies and how they will affect South Lakeland and to determine the Council’s response to the consultation.
An updated copy of the report had been circulated prior to the meeting, including a revision to Recommendation No.(3) changing the word “finalise” to “submit”.
Councillor Jonathan Brook presented the report informing Council of the proposals of the Boundary Commission for England (BCE) in relation to the 2023 Review of Parliamentary Constituencies and how they would affect South Lakeland. Members were being asked to determine the Council’s response to the consultation.
The aim of the review was to make constituencies more equal in terms of the numbers of electors each contained as, due to population changes since the last review, the number of electors in some constituencies was much higher than in others. The BCE was required by legislation to equalise the number of electors in each constituency and, in the North West of England, was proposing 73 constituencies, a reduction of two from the current number.
The report provided information on the consultation process, following the conclusion of which, the BCE would look at all the evidence received and form its final recommendations, to be presented to Parliament by July 2023 for approval, with the new constituencies taking effect at the next General Election.
The report included detailed information regarding the statutory electorate range as well as other statutory factors.
The report further outlined the proposals for Cumbria. There were currently six constituencies in Cumbria, none of which had electorates that were within the statutory electorate range and therefore none were able to remain unchanged. Only five constituencies could be wholly allocated within the county boundary, necessitating one cross-county boundary constituency to be constructed, the larger part of which was within Lancashire.
Currently, there were two parliamentary constituencies within the boundaries of South Lakeland District Council – Westmorland & Lonsdale and part of Barrow & Furness. The initial proposals from the BCE made some significant changes to parliamentary constituencies within the boundaries of South Lakeland District Council, with no single constituency existing completely within the boundary of the Council area. These were shown in the maps of the proposed constituency boundaries which could be found in Appendices 1-4 of the report. The BCE had stated that the options for pairing Cumbria with another county were limited by the Irish Sea to the west, and the border with Scotland to the north. It was not proposed that any regional boundaries should be crossed unless unavoidable, so the option of Cumbria being paired with Northumberland or County Durham in the North East region, or North Yorkshire in the Yorkshire and the Humber region was not being suggested. As a result, the BCE was proposing to pair Cumbria with Lancashire to the south and a constituency that crosses the county boundary between Cumbria and Lancashire. The BCE was proposing a Westmorland and Eden constituency, which contained the entirety of Eden district, and extended into South Lakeland District. The wards from South Lakeland which were proposed to be included were the Sedbergh & Kirkby Lonsdale ward, the Kendal Rural ward, and the five wards which constituted the town of Kendal itself. The BCE consider the A6 and M6 provided strong transport links between Kendal and Penrith, which formed the two major population centres within the proposed Westmorland and Eden constituency. This configuration avoided the arbitrary division of either town. The South Lakeland district ward of Broughton & Coniston had been extensively reconfigured by the Local Government Boundary Commission for England. The inclusion of this reconfigured ward within the existing Barrow and Furness constituency would result in significant disruption across Cumbria. To avoid this, the BCE was proposing that the Barrow and Furness constituency be extended eastwards, across the Leven Estuary. The BCE acknowledged that the direct transport links eastwards were not ideal. There was a railway line across the estuary, but no direct east-west road link wholly contained within the constituency. However, the A590 was the key road in this area of south western Cumbria, and connected both sections of the constituency, so no part was inaccessible. The proposed Barrow and Furness constituency was, therefore, largely the same as the existing constituency, but now included the Cartmel and Grange wards, and no longer included the Broughton & Coniston ward. The BCE considered this arrangement allowed for a more practicable configuration of constituencies across Cumbria, without fundamentally altering the nature of the existing Barrow and Furness constituency. The proposed Copeland and the Western Lakes constituency was similar to the existing Copeland constituency with an extension eastwards into the South Lakeland District. The proposed constituency would, therefore, include the Broughton & Coniston, Ambleside and Grasmere, and Windermere wards. In order to maintain the entirety of Lake Windermere within a single constituency, and to avoid dividing the communities of Windermere and Bowness-on-Windermere, BCE propose dividing the Bowness & Levens ward between constituencies. The BCE proposed that the westernmost part of this ward, which contains Bowness-on-Windermere and covered the southern expanse of Lake Windermere itself, be included within the Copeland and the Western Lakes constituency. The BCE considered that the division of this ward enabled them to better reflect the community ties between the settlements on Lake Windermere, and resulted in Lake Windermere not being divided between constituencies. This allowed one of the most iconic lakes of the Lake District to not only be included in a constituency which covers the majority of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, but also which was wholly contained within Cumbria. The BCE proposed that the remainder of the divided Bowness & Levens ward be included with the Burton & Crooklands, and Arnside & Milnthorpe wards in the proposed Cumbria and Lancashire cross-county boundary constituency. They considered the existing Morecambe and Lunesdale constituency to be the most suitable for extension across the county boundary as its existing northern boundary lay along the entirety of the Cumbria-Lancashire boundary and there were effective transport links along the M6, A6 and A6070 roads. Aside from the addition of the Cumbrian wards, the bulk of the constituency remained largely unchanged. The BCE proposed that this constituency be called Morecambe and South Lakeland and considered that this name acknowledged both the county crossing, and was an accurate description of the constituency.
Councillor Brook referred to Appendix 5 to the report, which was a proposed response to the Boundary Commission which had been prepared by officers and so, he stressed, formed a non-political view. He moved the revised recommendations which he suggested would carry more weight if endorsed by the Council and was seconded by Councillor Giles Archibald.
A lengthy discussion ensued.
Some spoke in support of the Boundary Commission’s proposals. It was pointed out that the Commission had a duty to periodically review Parliamentary constituencies and that this work was carried out by independent people. Reference was drawn to Local Government Reorganisation and to the recent proposal for the Bay and the relationships of some of the areas included within that bid. Further, reference was drawn to the fact that that particular submission had also not been aligned with regard to NHS and Further Education structures. As regards concerns regarding distance and travel, attention was drawn to the use of digital communication. It was suggested that residents were not concerned as to where lines were drawn but simply wanted Members of Parliament that would work hard on their behalf. It was pointed out that the BCE had done the best job possible and that there would be a problem with whatever was proposed. In order to achieve similar sized Parliamentary constituencies, there would always be an unusual geography, and it was stressed that equal sized constituencies formed a fundamental part of democracy.
Strong criticism was raised, however, with regards to the Boundary Commission’s proposals in relation to the proposed Copeland and the Western Lakes constituency and the inclusion of the Wards of Broughton & Coniston, Ambleside & Grasmere and Windermere wards therein. Concerns raised were around, for example, the impracticalities of the fact that the areas were separated by both England’s highest mountain range and largest lake, the vast distances and travel time and the differences in local industry. In addition, it was pointed out that there was little affinity between residents, with no community linkages, and it was pointed out that not only were the residents of Broughton & Coniston, Ambleside & Grasmere and Windermere against the proposals but so were the residents of Whitehaven and Workington.
A vote was taken and it was
RESOLVED – That
(1) the initial proposals of the Boundary Commission for England in relation to the Parliamentary Constituencies in South Lakeland be noted;
(2) the consultation responses as outlined in Appendix 5 be endorsed; and
(3) the Director of Strategy, Innovation and Resources be authorised to submit the response to the consultation for submission to the Boundary Commission for England by the 2 August 2021 deadline.