As mentioned in my previous post I have finally got around to looking at the Boundary Commission’s revised proposals for their review of parliamentary constituencies for England. I appreciate that this is something of an academic exercise given that the row within the Coalition Government over House of Lords reform has resulted in a situation where Parliament is unlikely to approve these proposals. However, here are the details for the record.
The initial proposals for the Eastern Region, including the sub-region of Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire, where published in September 2011. You can read what I wrote about them at the time here:
- The proposed new parliamentary boundaries for Luton
- The proposed new Luton North and Dunstable constituency
- The proposed new Luton South constituency
After public consultation on these proposals the Commission published their revised recommendations in October 2012. These revised proposals do seem to me to be an improvement. Given the constraints that the Commission have had to work within, what they are now suggesting appears to work more coherently with the nature of Bedfordshire and so make better sense than the original.
The proposals for changing Luton South and creating a new Luton North and Dunstable seat remain unchanged from the commission’s first report.
In the north Bedford would remain much as it is now with the addition of the Bromham ward to the West. The North Bedfordshire constituency becomes a do-nut around Bedford and takes in the whole of the northern end of the county — upwards from Potton and Biggleswade in the East and Ampthill in the west.
Despite its name returning in the revised proposals the old Mid Bedfordshire seat would still essentially disappear. Just under 30% of it go to make up the new North Beds seat and just under 40% of it, including Flitwick, Woburn and Harlington, go into a stretched South West Bedfordshire constituency. This seat loses Dunstable and is pulled northwards as far as Cranfield.
The remaining bits of the old Mid Beds seat (about 27% of it) as well as bits of the old North East Beds seat go to make up part of a new cross-county seat with parts of Hertfordshire. This includes the villages to north and north east of Luton (including Streatley, Barton-le-Clay, Silsoe, Shefford, Henlow, and Stotfold). This new Mid Bedfordshire and Harpenden constituency is made up of about 45% of the old Hitchin and Harpenden constituency. As well as containing Harpenden itself, it includes Wheathampstead, Kimpton, and the villages to the east of Luton. It also takes in the ward to the south of Luton and Dunstable, containing Caddington and Slip End, from the old South West Beds seat.
- Details of the proposals for the Eastern region (including Bedfordshire)
- Maps of the proposed constituencies for Bedfordshire & Hertfordshire
It is the changes to Luton that are key to understanding the logic behind what the Commission has proposed for Bedfordshire, and they were also the most controversial.
The new tighter rules for how many voters a constituency has makes Luton too large to be a single constituency and too small to have two. So parts of of the town need to be combined with somewhere else to make the numbers work. The Commission have taken the view that the logical place to join with is the town of Dunstable.
Dunstable and North Luton are both urban areas that are part of the same conurbation. The border between the two crosses a continuous built up area. A stranger who travels across that boundary would be unlikely to realise that they have just moved between towns. The two towns share a transport network and other services — not least the Luton and Dunstable Hospital.
The alternatives are also poorer. The best of these, and the one that I thought we might end up with when this process started, would be to combine parts of the north of Luton with the town of Houghton Regis, which is also part of the conurbation. However, Houghton Regis is smaller than Dunstable and so this change would also require bringing in some more rural bits of the county — those villages to north of the urban area. However, the Commission have sought to avoid making mixed urban and rural constituencies when they can.
The other alternatives would require crossing the county boundary into Hertfordshire — either to pick up the villages to the East or, as some have suggested, extend a Luton South constituency further south and combining with Harpenden. Both of this have significant drawbacks.
Once the decision to combine Dunstable with north Luton has been made, alongside the approach to the north of the County, the knock on effects on the other constituencies are largely unavoidable. The Commission has adjusted, and I believe improved, the proposals but the essential impact on the centre and south west of Bedfordshire remains largely the same.