Great divide: Tory bid would ‘split Lancaster in half’

Lancaster would be "split down the middle"
Lancaster would be "split down the middle"

Plans to move a chunk of Lancaster into the Morecambe and Lunesdale constituency have been revealed in a leaked Tory document.

Lancaster MP Cat Smith said the plan – which is a Conservative Party response to proposed changes to parliamentary boundaries – would split the city in two, with Lancaster Town Hall and the castle on one side, and the city’s two theatres, bus station and fire station on the other.

County Coun Lizzi Collinge with Paul Batchelor of Ullswater Road Corner Shop, Freehold.

County Coun Lizzi Collinge with Paul Batchelor of Ullswater Road Corner Shop, Freehold.

The leaked document proposes that Bulk ward, which also includes Ridge, Freehold and Newton, should become part of the Morecambe and Lunesdale constituency.

A consultation into electoral boundary changes is due to kick off in the city next week.

Proposals to change the electoral boundaries in the Lancaster area have certainly caused a political stir.

The initial Boundary Commission plans, published last month, grouped Lancaster, Morecambe and Heysham together and put Carnforth, Silverdale, the Lune Valley, Scotforth and Lancaster University inside a new North Lancashire constituency.

A map of the initial Boundary Commission proposals

A map of the initial Boundary Commission proposals

Now a leaked Conservative Party counter proposal document shows Lancaster’s Bulk Ward grouped in with Morecambe and Lunesdale, with Lancaster and Wyre joining back together instead of the city’s current connection to Fleetwood.

Morecambe and Lunesdale MP David Morris said the Boundary Commission’s initial proposals are “simply unworkable”, and do not take into account community ties, while a Lancaster campaign group said the Lancaster district needs one MP to represent its views.

The document, obtained by the Lancaster Guardian, says that the counter proposals reduce the number of local authorities covered by the Commission’s proposed North Lancashire seat from three to four.

It also said 33,838 fewer electors in Lancashire would be moved into a different constituency.

Looking up Moor Lane towards Moorgate, Lancaster.

Looking up Moor Lane towards Moorgate, Lancaster.

Labour County Councillor Lizzi Collinge, who lives in Bulk Ward, is leading a petition against the counter proposals, which Mr Morris has refused to comment on.

Coun Collinge says the proposals would split residents in Freehold, Newton and Ridge from their natural neighbours in the rest of central Lancaster.

A public hearing into the plans will be held in Lancaster on October 24-25.

The new boundaries would reduce the number of MPs across the country from 650 to 600. Tim Hamilton-Cox, Lancaster City Councillor for Bulk Ward, said: “Bulk is at the heart of Lancaster and, as such, it fits into a constituency with the rest of Lancaster.

“For the Tories to propose to move it into Morecambe and Lunesdale is a desperate manouevre and will rightly be resisted vigorously.

“That is not to defend current boundaries either.

“But David Morris would do better to follow his own advice on maintaining ‘historic community ties’ and also to reverse his party’s self-interested decision to reduce the number of MPs by 50, which is forcing the creation of geographically over-large constituencies.”

We sent the document to Mr Morris, who would neither confirm nor deny whether it is official.

He said he will lay out his plan and full arguments in front of the Commission at the hearings in Lancaster.

He said: “The initial proposals from the Boundary Commission are simply unworkable and they do not take into consideration any community ties at all.

“The proposal for a Morecambe and Lancaster seat is crazy as they are two separate areas who have fought for years to be kept separate.

“The proposal for a North Lancashire seat takes no consideration of community ties and lumps Carnforth and Silverdale in with Gisburn and North Preston, with no centre of population.

“I would like to thank all of the constituents who have already written to me expressing their views on this and if any of you reading this would like to make your views known to the Commission please contact me.

“I am confident that this decision will be overturned after the consultation period but it is vitally important that everyone who has a view makes a submission.”

Coun Collinge said: “I object to the Conservative plan to split the Ridge, Newton and Freehold off from Lancaster by making it part of their proposed Morecambe and Lunesdale parliamentary constituency.

“This would split our community from our neighbours in the rest of central Lancaster and would not serve our interests as residents of Lancaster.

“The Conservatives

are obviously trying to make two safe parliamentary seats for themselves, with no regard for our long standing Lancaster communities.”

Lancaster businessman Michael Gibson, representing local campaign group One MP, said: “The Boundary Commission proposals recognise the common needs of the people of Morecambe, Heysham and Lancaster.

“With one main hospital and one district council we need one MP to represent our shared interests.

“The Conservatives’ proposal is not based on people but on their own political self-interest.

“It’s beyond belief that people in Freehold would be represented by one MP but people in Bowerham by another MP who also has constituents in the north of Preston.”

Cat Smith, MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood, initially said the Boundary Commission process was flawed, as it is “based on an out-of-date version of the electoral register with nearly two million voters missing”.

But she said: “I can honestly say I am astonished that the Conservative Party’s submission to the Boundary Commission proposes splitting the historic county town of Lancaster down the middle, literally splitting the one-way system!

“Having Lancaster’s two theatres, the fire station and the main supermarket in one constituency and the town hall and castle in another is ludicrous.

“Having read all of David Morris MP’s columns in this newspaper over the past month lamenting

how Lancaster and Morecambe couldn’t be merged – leaving aside the fact that the Vale, Skerton and Scale Hall have been in the Morecambe constituency since 1997 in case he’s forgotten he represents those parts of Lancaster – he will now be proposing to move Newton, the Ridge and Freehold into his constituency too in a desperate attempt to hold onto his seat.

“I say, less of the party

political gerrymandering and let’s support the non-partisan Boundary Commission’s proposal for a Lancaster and Morecambe seat.

“The Commission looked at community links and did their best, within very restrictive parameters, to draw boundaries that reflected our community.

“Personally I think their first draft proposals make a lot of sense.

“There is no doubt that Lancaster and Morecambe fit together far better than Morecambe did with Lunesdale, and certainly fits better than Lancaster does with Fleetwood.”