Feelings run high at public hearing into ‘one MP’ plan

David Morris.
David Morris.

Lancastrians have spoken out about a controversial plan to “hive off” parts of the city into Morecambe.

Residents were up in arms about an idea to make Bulk ward, including the Ridge, Newton and Freehold, part of the Morecambe and Lunesdale General Election seat in future.

Cat Smith.

Cat Smith.

They also rejected any notion that there are personal divisions between the people of Lancaster and Morecambe and backed plans to have one MP covering city and town.

Residents aired their views at a two-day public hearing into our district’s Parliamentary constituencies held at the Storey Centre on Monday and Tuesday.

Boundary Commission for England chiefs listened to many differing views and alternative ideas of how our local seats could shape up geographically at the next election. This comes after the Commission proposed that the current Lancaster and Fleetwood, and Morecambe and Lunesdale seats be scrapped.

They believe they should be replaced by a combined Lancaster, Morecambe and Heysham seat, and a North Lancashire seat encapsulating Caton, Brookhouse, the University, Scotforth Rural, Arkholme, the Kellets, 
Hornby, Halton-with-Aughton, and rural areas bordering Cumbria, North Yorkshire and Preston.

David Morris, MP for Morecambe and Lunesdale, is campaigning to keep the Morecambe and Lancaster MPs separate.

The MP has written to Morecambe residents slating plans for a combined seat, saying: “I understand that this proposal is very unpopular locally due to the universally held view that Lancaster take all the funding from Morecambe as it does not want to see Morecambe succeed.

“I agree with many of you and believe very passionately that Morecambe needs its own Member of Parliament separate from Lancaster to spearhead investment following the build of the M6 link road.”

At the hearing, the Conservative outlined a counter-proposal – as reported in last week’s Guardian – where Lancaster’s Bulk ward covering Ridge, Newton and the Freehold would become part of Morecambe and Lunesdale.

The idea to include Bulk in a Morecambe seat was 
backed by Morecambe Town Council.

But Lancaster residents who spoke at the hearing were very much against this concept.

Stuart Lawson, who lives on the Freehold, said: “I think it’s a disgusting idea, I strongly object.

“I have never known there to be any animosity between Lancastrians and Morecambrians. We have seen Morecambe as our place of entertainment and people from Morecambe have come to Lancaster too.

“There has never been any kind of criticism or rivalry. There has always been a sense of community that has enveloped both areas.”

Mr Lawson also spoke out against Skerton being part of Morecambe and Lunesdale.

“Skerton is already part of Morecambe despite its MP saying Lancaster and Morecambe don’t get on.

“I think it’s a great disservice to the people of Skerton. We’re very proud of Lancaster.”

Anne Lloyd-Davies, who has lived in Lancaster for 30 years, said: “To cut the Freehold, Newton and the Ridge out of Lancaster...my reaction is one of disbelief. It would make sense to have Lancaster and Morecambe as one area but not to put parts of Lancaster into Morecambe.”

Mr Morris said after his speech at the hearing: “My constituents don’t want to see Morecambe going with Lancaster. This is an age-old view, it’s been going on for years.

“We think Bulk would be better represented in Morecambe and Lunesdale because it complements Skerton, which is already in the constituency.”

Darren Clifford, a Labour councillor and chairman of Morecambe Town Council, said the town council thought the Morecambe and Lunesdale seat should be more like the old Morecambe and Lonsdale constituency from pre-1983, bringing in Bulk as well as Grange South and North, Arnside and Beetham.

“We don’t believe it makes sense to merge the city centre of Lancaster with the coastal town of Morecambe,” he said.

“We think Lancaster and Morecambe are two distinct brilliant places.”

But Cat Smith, Labour MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood, described the idea as “bonkers”.

“Both the Conservatives and Morecambe Town Council proposals split Lancaster through the one way system,” she said.

Cat Smith, MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood, from the Labour party, spoke in favour of the Boundary Commission proposals, saying they “reflect long-held community ties and create constituencies which bring together communities with similar interests and needs”.

Ms Smith said she had reservations about Lancaster University being separated off into the new North Lancashire seat but said: “You’re never going to have a position where everybody is happy.”

She also supported the Boundary Commission plan to put Fleetwood in with Blackpool North

Ms Smith had originally criticised the Boundary Commission blueprint, describing it as “unfair, undemocratic and unacceptable” because it excludes two million people who were not on the December 2015 electoral register.

But at Monday’s hearing, she said: “That is a matter for Parliament to correct and not the Boundary Commission for England.”

Mr Morris accused her of “going against her own party’s policy” by backing the plans.

The public consultation into the Boundary Commission proposals, part of a nationwide restructuring of Parliamentary constituencies, continues until December 5.

The new structure is due to come into effect in 2020.