Major changes are on the cards for Hampshire’s rural communities should the biggest electoral reforms in recent times get the go-ahead.
The Boundary Commission for England has revealed a package of proposals seeking to reduce the number of MPs in parliament and redraw constituencies so there is a more even spread of voters in each one.
The biggest reform would see Meon Valley – a seat representing around 71,000 constituents – scrapped and its voters moved to either Fareham, Winchester or the East Hampshire constituencies.
More minor plans have been unveiled to tweak the Portsmouth North and South constituencies.
Under the draft plan, Winchester could expand south and swallow up ten wards, including the area of Bishop’s Waltham.
And East Hampshire could gain seven areas, including Clanfield and Horndean.
Fareham would take Whiteley from the Meon Valley.
The big question for rural areas is whether their issues – which include the threat of new housing on greenfield land, farmers’ rights, village floods and the need for super-fast broadband – could get overlooked if they are swallowed up by urban constituencies with other priorities.
But MPs are content the right approach is being taken, believing the proposed changes are in the ‘best interests of democracy’.
Meon Valley MP George Hollingbery said: ‘Issues in Meon Valley such as rural crime, public transport and rural broadband are common to both the existing Winchester and East Hants constituencies.
‘Both the new Winchester and East Hampshire constituencies have excellent MPs in Steve Brine and Damian Hinds, who I have every confidence will provide an excellent service to their rural constituents.’
Despite being ‘deeply disappointed’ by the proposal to abolish his seat, Mr Hollingbery said: ‘These changes to constituency boundaries mean everyone’s vote should carry the same weight in future parliamentary elections.
‘This is clearly in the best interests of democracy, so I welcome it wholeheartedly.
‘Of course, I’m deeply disappointed my constituency will cease to exist because I very much love representing Meon Valley – a place full of great people, places, businesses and natural beauty tucked into the heart of Hampshire. But, until the change, I promise I will continue to do the best I can to represent residents and to help them with their problems and issues.’
The changes form part of the commission’s initial proposals for new electoral boundaries that will be presented formally in 2018.
It follows a ruling by parliament in 2011 where it was agreed electoral boundary reforms should be worked on.
Under the plans, it will be required that every constituency – apart from two exceptions – must have an electorate that is no smaller than 71,031 and no larger than 78,507, five per cent flexibility either side.
Portsmouth North would reach outside the city by taking in Havant’s existing Purbook and Stakes wards.
Nelson – covering Tipner, Stamshaw and North End – could in return be added to Portsmouth South.
Though the commission says it has not ruled out Baffins ward falling into the South instead, as part of efforts for the Portsmouth Harbour area to fall under ‘one single constituency’.
Plans previously being considered by the Commission included splitting Portsmouth into east and west, taking in parts of Portchester.
Portsmouth Lib Dem council group leader Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson is pleased Portsmouth South looks set to remain – and believes it will become a more hotly-contested seat.
Cllr Vernon-Jackson said: ‘Portsmouth South is one of the seats that the Conservatives won at the 2015 general election, with just 35 per cent of the vote. Sixty-five per cent of the people voted against the Conservatives.
‘And in the local elections this year, people voted in seven Lib Dem councillors.
‘So clearly, this is a Conservative seat that’s at risk, and the Lib Dems are the main challengers.
‘With Portsmouth South gaining Nelson, that is a good thing as we won it with a big majority in May. It was a Labour seat which we took off them.’
But Portsmouth South Tory MP, Flick Drummond, doesn’t believe there will be a big difference.
She said: ‘It will be up to the local people as to whether they want to put contributions forward as part of the review, as to whether they would want North End or Baffins in Portsmouth South, and I would be delighted with either.
‘I don’t really think it will make much difference politically either way.
‘But it’s good that every MP will roughly get the same number of constituents. It means everyone will get the same amount of work.’
To make up for losses in Havant, the constituency would sweep up Meon Valley’s Hart Plain, Cowplain and Waterloo.
Havant MP Alan Mak said: ‘Equalising boundaries and constituencies is the right approach, and I look forward to reviewing the draft proposals in detail in the coming months.’
Portsmouth Labour group leader, Cllr John Ferrett, believes moving part of Havant into Portsmouth North makes the city constituency a stronger Tory seat. Cllr Ferrett, who previously supported the city being split into east and west, said: ‘The boundary proposals for Portsmouth are neutral. Portsmouth North would become less Labour territory should it take in Purbrook and Stakes.
‘That leaves it being further away from being a winnable seat for Labour, and that’s the sort of seat we would need to form a government.’
No changes have been put forward for Gosport.
There will be 600 parliamentary constituencies covering the UK in future – a reduction of 50. This means that the number of constituencies in England must be reduced from 533 to 501.
The proposals are now out for consultation until December 5.
Sam Hartley, secretary to the commission, said: ‘The proposals mark the first time people get to see what the new map of parliamentary constituencies might look like. But they are just initial thoughts. During the next 12 weeks we want people to take a look and tell us what they like and don’t like about our proposals.
‘Parliament has set us tight rules about reducing the number of constituencies, and making them of more equal size, and we now need the views of people around the country to help us shape constituencies that best reflect local areas. Use our website to tell us what you think, or come along to one of our public events to give us your views in person.’
OTHER BOUNDARY CHANGES
CHANGES will be made to reduce the size of constituencies in West Sussex.
Chichester is deemed to be above the total number of constituents allowed for an individual constituency.
Therefore, the Boundary Commission has proposed to transfer the Plaistow ward from the Chichester constituency to Arundel and South Downs
The change would see Chichester being within five per cent of the electoral quota. The number of electors in the Mid-Sussex constituency would also be reduced through the transfer of the Bolney ward of the District of Mid Sussex to the Arundel and South Downs constituency.
However, the Commission says the inclusion of both wards in the Arundel and South Downs constituency results in it being above the 5 per cent limit.
Therefore, the Barnham ward of theDistrict of Arun could be moved into Bognor Regis and Littlehampton.
The Isle of Wight, which is currently served by one MP under one constituency, could be broken up into two separate parliamentary seats. The Commission says they would be named Isle of Wight East and Isle of Wight West.