Concerns expressed over proposed new Durham constituency boundaries

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County Durham locals are being urged to participate in the second round of public consultation regarding proposed changes to the parliamentary constituency boundaries, which are due to be finalised in 2023.

The council have said that “local knowledge is needed to help reshape the map of constituencies”. It comes as over 34,000 responses nationally were already received by the Boundary Commission for England during the first round of consultations last year, with the Commission now reopening consultations until the 4th of April.

In response to the accusation of gerrymandering from a resident, the Boundary Commission told Palatinate that it is an “independent and impartial organisation”, required by Parliament to conduct the review to balance the number of voters in each constituency.

As part of the proposed changes, the City of Durham constituency (whose MP is currently Labour’s Mary Foy) will be subject to radical boundary changes. Areas such as Bowburn and Coxhoe to the south of the constituency, as well as Brandon and Deerness to the west would no longer be part of the City of Durham constituency and instead be merged into neighbouring ones.

Meanwhile the areas of Hetton, Houghton and Copt Hill, which currently sit to the north-east of the current City of Durham constituency and instead form part of the Houghton and Sunderland South constituency, would be brought into the new City of Durham constituency. The electorate size of the new constituency would hence fall slightly, from 71,482 down to 70,603.

The Boundary Commission for England released public comments about the proposed boundary changes. Many of those concerning the new City of Durham constituency were negative in tone. The principal concerns expressed were that areas would be placed in constituencies with little historical or economic ties, and accusations that the boundaries will benefit certain political parties.

“The proposed changes are an attempt to consolidate all safe Labour seats into a single constituency.”

Resident of elvet and gilesgate ward

One resident from the Elvet and Gilesgate ward in the heart of the City of Durham constituency argued “the proposals amount to splitting a city, which is clearly in breach of rule 5, schedule 5”, while another said that “The proposed changes to the Durham city constituency are clear gerrymandering; cutting across the Western part of the wider metropolitan area in an attempt to consolidate all safe Labour seats into a single constituency and create new potential Tory constituencies”.

Residents in Coxhoe ward, which would fall into the proposed Newton Aycliffe and Sedgefield ward instead of City of Durham, expressed concerns about being placed into a constituency in which it has little geographical ties. A local councilor said “These communities have traditional links with the City of Durham…moving the area to a Sedgefield and Aycliffe constituency would be damaging to the area, ensuring that local MPs and political parties are not familiar with our issues”.

A local in the Brandon ward, who would fall under the proposed Bishop Auckland constituency, said they “lived throughout my life in County Durham” and that “there is no logical justification for this proposal. Brandon is situated only 5 miles from Durham City Centre…Brandon has no relationship whatsoever with the Bishop Auckland constituency”. Another resident said the removal of Brandon from the City of Durham constituency “makes no sense either geospatially or socially”, and a third resident branded the plans “ludicrous”.

Meanwhile, residents in Hetton and Houghton wards, which are currently part of the local authority of Sunderland rather than County Durham, expressed mixed feelings about being merged into the City of Durham constituency. Some residents pointed out that their postcodes were “already a Durham postcode” rather than a Sunderland one, meaning some “would welcome going back to County Durham” constituencies.

“Your feedback is valuable – during the last review, we changed over 50% of our initial proposals based on the responses we received”

Boundary comission for england

However the majority of locals expressed concerns over being placed in a constituency that they have little personal links to. Many were keen to notice that the coalfield communities in the area would be partitioned between the new constituencies, with one resident saying that would be “detrimental to residents in this area and fracture the coalfield wards”. Other residents explained said they “feel very little attachment to the City of Durham”, with one noting that the wards “are very different areas and necessarily have very different concerns”.

In response, the Boundary Commission for England told Palatinate that it is an “independent and impartial organisation”. They continued: “we are required by Parliament to undertake a review of all constituencies in England, and to recommend changes which will balance the number of electors in each. It’s an important process: populations have changed, meaning that some constituencies are much larger than others, and the 2023 Boundary Review will ensure each MP represents roughly the same electorate size.

“This requires considerable change to the existing map of constituencies. We’ve published our suggestions for the City of Durham constituency on our consultation website, and have invited members of the public to have their say. Your feedback is valuable – during the last review, we changed over 50% of our initial proposals based on the responses we received during the public consultation stage.”

As part of the second round of consultations on the proposed constituency boundary changes, residents are being encouraged to leave comments on the proposals, which can be viewed on the Boundary Commission for England’s map. There will also be 32 public hearings as part of the consultations – the meetings for the North East will be held in Newcastle and Middlesbrough towards the end of March.

Image Credit – Boundary Commission for England

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