Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Final Boundary Commission submission

Boundary Commission report: North West: Lancashire
Consultation response by Graham Jones, Member of Parliament for Hyndburn

Please find below my submission to the reopened consultation on constituency boundaries in England. As is evident, I have a number of concerns about the way that the Commission's stated desire to protect local ties, local Government boundaries and not dividing urban areas have been used as reasons to protect the integrity of Pendle and Burnley but not Accrington and Hyndburn more widely. I believe that Accrington deserves as much respect as Burnley as a large urban area, and there is little if any reason to preserve Pendle on the Boundary Commission's own terms.

·         AC290 refers to the 3 Boroughs of Pendle, Hyndburn and Burnley, which in the commission's view have an "equally strong, opposition to the various configurations of constituencies proposed for these boroughs". I accept the premise that these three Boroughs (I would also add Rossendale) have clear and unique identities, and local ties should be treated equally. However, the Commission contradict this equality in subsequent parts of the summary by protecting Burnley and Pendle, while carving up Hyndburn.

·         In AC292 the Commission talks about the urban area of Burnley, and the Commission did "not feel that the initial proposals did sufficient justice to the criteria relating to local ties or the existing constituency and Local Government Boundaries." This does not stand up to closer scrutiny – the Accrington conurbation has around 45,000 people in it, whereas Burnley has around 55,000. Taking the Commission's view that urban areas of a significant size should not be split, it is difficult to find a reason as to why the Accrington area - given its similar size to Burnley – has been chosen to be divided. Clearly the Pendle area with its unique separate towns should have been chosen as the constituency to divide on this basis.

·         In AC294 the Commission accept that "our recommendations for the constituencies within East Lancashire accord with the suggestions made by the Conservative Party". I am concerned that the basis of analysis is wrong and reflects a party political proposal.

·         In AC296 the Commission state their objectives: "In order best to meet the criteria of respecting local government boundaries and local ties, we kept two objectives in mind. The first was to keep together as many possible of the Pendle Borough wards; the second was to prevent a division of the town of Burnley". It seems perverse that the Boundary Commission were not willing to respect the local Government boundaries and local ties in Hyndburn. As previously pointed out, the urban area of Accrington dwarfs any conurbation in Pendle, and is almost the same size as Burnley. The Commission's view would appear totally incoherent.

·         In AC297 the Commission state "that it is not possible to keep both the Borough of Pendle and the Borough of Hyndburn intact within a single constituency. Moreover, we assess our recommendation as being the 'least worst' option: it breaks up fewest local ties, respects local government boundaries, and allows the optimum fulfilment of our objective of dividing the town of Burnley as little as possible". On this point, firstly by protecting Burnley and Blackburn the Commission is unable to meet the criteria of protecting local ties and local government boundaries. As stated, Accrington is almost the same size an urban area as Burnley. 

·         The Commission have treated Burnley and Pendle preferentially; it would make just as much sense to arbitrarily protect Accrington. Accrington and Burnley are the largest urban areas – Pendle has the fewest local ties and the greatest number of disparate towns. 

·         Earby and Barnoldswick are farming towns associated with the Ribble Valley; Nelson is a post-industrial town with a large BME community that is several miles away and has significantly less local and geographical ties than in similar areas in Accrington.

·         If Burnley is not to be divided, then it seems clear that neither should Accrington; and if local government boundaries are to be minded, than Hyndburn should be minded too. It is clear that the 'least worst' option would be to divide Pendle, between rural and urban.

·         AC298 discusses the Labour Party's proposals for a coterminous Hyndburn, and makes the case that 11 Pendle wards would need to go into the Ribble Valley. This is based on keeping another urban coterminous – Blackburn.
·         In AC299 the Commission state "we agree with the comments made in the Conservative Party's representations in the secondary consultation that the least worst solution is to divide Hyndburn's communities which have their own identities between different constituencies. We have attempted to keep the towns of Accrington and Oswaldtwistle together (even in different constituencies) thus maintaining local ties." The last sentence is nonsensical. The towns of Accrington and Oswaldtwistle cannot be together if they are in different constituencies. Secondly, the Commission clear accepts the argument that there are local ties between Accrington and Oswaldtwistle, and that this is a continuous urban area. This sentence contradicts the previous sentence of the report, which says they have their own identities. There is no doubt that Hyndburn is a more urban and homogenous community, particularly Accrington, than the various towns in Pendle. 

·         The road network in Accrington is a traditional 'spider's web', which highlights the significance of the urban area as one. In Pendle, each town is simply a settlement on a road, to which the constituency has no natural centre. The geographic centre of Pendle is in fact rural farmland, and there can be no comparison between the urban area of Accrington and Pendle.
·         I also note that Rossendale – which has been maintained as a constituency – is also a collection of towns; though Rawtenstall which is much smaller than Accrington is the central town.

·         In AC306 the Commission go much further. Having already discussed divisions within Hyndburn, the Commission attempt to justify the division of Accrington. This is unacceptable based on the Commission's criteria of protecting local ties, local government boundaries and urban areas.

·         In AC307 the Commission appear to accept the difference between East and West Accrington; and in AC309 the Commission accept that they have divided Accrington and furthermore they have divided West Accrington with the inclusion of Spring Hill in the Accrington East Constituency. Moreover in AC309, the Commission make the incorrect assertion that Spring Hill is part of "Accrington centre". However, Spring Hill stretches all the way to Church and Oswaldtwistle – indeed Spring Hill Road is the old road out of Accrington into Oswaldtwistle.

·         In AC311 the Commission accepts the view of Jake Berry, MP for Rossendale and Darwen, that Clayton-le-moors ward has good links with Oswaldtwistle. This is incorrect. There are no regular or frequent bus services between Clayton-le-moors and Oswaldtwistle; and children from the two primary schools in Clayton-le-moors go to secondary schools in Accrington, that fall in the proposed East Accrington constituency. There are no community ties between Clayton-le-moors and Oswaldtwistle, however there are strong communities between Clayton and Accrington.

·         In AC312 the Commission link Altham to Clayton-le-moors. This is right, however both are connected to Accrington via the main arterial road, which also serves as public transport links. There is no road between Clayton-le-moors and Oswaldtwistle.

In summary the Commission's proposals do not fulfil their own criteria. It is unacceptable that the Commission should use double standards in protecting Burnley and Pendle, but dividing Hyndburn. There is no rationale for protecting Pendle – it is a diverse constituency. Hyndburn is a compact area that has a recognisable urban structure: the 4 main roads that leave Accrington go directly to Burnley, Blackburn, Clitheroe and Rossendale. Unlike Pendle, Hyndburn is largely homogenous in its post-industrial geography and makeup. 

As an Urban area a similar size to Burnley, there is no justification to splitting Accrington (poorly) in order to protect Burnley.