Monday, 31 October 2011

And who will be our next MP?

What follows is the draft evidence I submitted to the Boundary Commission for England when I went to Derby last Thursday (27 October) to give verbal evidence in support of my proposed parliamentary constituencies for Nottinghamshire and 'greater' Nottingham.

It's long, but brief in comparison with that of the three main political parties, and I have yet to find the time to compile maps and tables of my 'proposed' constituencies for Northamptonshire and Leicestershire.  I say 'proposed' because I am hoping others from these counties will, either individually or collectively, come up with their own proposals — all I have aimed to do with mine is to demonstrate that it can be done and that, as a consequence, Nottinghamshire can have its own MPS and there is no need for cross county border constituencies in the case of Nottinghamshire.




Thank you for hearing me today. At the end of my evidence I have added a section telling you who I am in terms of experience and knowledge.

For now, all I want to say is that I live in inner-city Nottingham and have a good understanding of the geography and communities that make up the East Midlands from a number of perspectives: as an East Midlands regional housing and support manager for over twenty years; as a one-time councillor who chaired East Midlands Airport and the Midlands Area Museum Service and as a professional local historian until I retired in 2006.

I have been a community activist and a Labour Party member for over fifty years, but I am here today in an individual capacity and I will leave in the hope that I can persuade others in the wider community to support my proposals for how new parliamentary constituencies might be created in the East Midlands, especially Nottinghamshire.

In 2000 I was the architect of community led proposals to create twenty new Nottingham City Council wards which were accepted, for the most part, by the Local Government Commission for England and implemented in 2003. I am particularly proud of the fact that every ward in Nottingham has a name which was proposed by local people.

At the end of day, I am in no doubt that a 'sense of place' is at the heart of good government. My proposals try to reflect this belief — as I am sure has been the case with the Commission. However, such are the constraints placed upon the Commission and others like myself by the Government, I have been forced to make proposals for Nottinghamshire I am less than happy with. But where I have made them, I have tried to apply my local and regional knowledge in a way which takes existing boundaries of one kind or another into account.

What I support in the Boundary Commission's proposals.

I would leave the Derbyshire and Lincolnshire 'sub-regions' as they are in the Boundary Commission proposals in the absence of commissioners being persuaded by any counter-submissions they might receive.

In the case of Nottinghamshire, I support their proposed Ashfield constituency.

What I would change in the Boundary Commission's proposals.
I believe that Nottinghamshire can be made a stand alone 'sub-region' like Derbyshire and Lincolnshire, and that ten viable Nottinghamshire constituencies can be created.

I propose that Leicestershire and Northamptonshire become the sub-group. Given the constraints placed upon the Commission (ie. constituencies have to be based on wards, which means that polling districts in larger urban wards cannot be used), it is not possible to create seven Northamptonshire constituencies without including wards from an adjoining county. It might be possible to achieve this by using wards from another adjoining region, but for reasons of time I have chosen to accept that the wards needed to make a seventh Northants constituency viable will have to come from Leicestershire.

According the Commission's own figures there are 506,628 voters in Northants and 754,878 in Leicestershire. If you take 12,889 voters from Leicestershire as follows: 9,513 (Bosworth, Fleckney, Lubenham and Misterton wards) into the Commission's proposed Daventry constituency and 3,376 (Ketton and Lyddington wards) into the proposed Corby constituency, you can create five self-contained Northants constituencies (Kettering, Northampton North, Northampton South, South Northamptonshire and Wellingborough). I will submit a detailed copy of my Northants proposal before the end of November 2011. I will do this to show that it is possible to create a solution which does not have the same drastic consequences for Nottinghamshire as the Commission's proposals.

As for Leicestershire, it has 754,878 voters in total. Delete the 12,889 transferred to Northants and you are left with 741,989 voters. Divide this number by 10 and you have an average of 74,199 voters per new Leicestershire constituency without the need to create the Commission's proposed Coalville and Keyworth cross-border constituency.

This seems a simple alternative approach that does its best to protect, and respect, county boundaries in the East Midlands. My proposals for Northamptonshire and Leicestershire can, I am sure, be improved upon by those with a more intimate knowledge of these counties and their communities and it is not my intention to talk about them in my evidence. What I want to establish is the fact that Nottinghamshire need not be part of the solution when it comes to creating the seven Northants constituencies.

My Nottinghamshire proposals for ten viable constituencies.

At this stage I would like to refer the commissioners to the two maps I have included as part of my evidence. One shows the six county constituencies I propose the other shows the four greater Nottingham constituencies I propose. These can be referred to as I talk briefly about the nine Nottinghamshire constituencies I propose (the tenth, Ashfield, is the same as that proposed by the Commission).

I have also included a separate three-page table containing information about all the electoral wards in Nottinghamshire, which I have organised by local authority areas, the proposed Boundary Commission constituency and the nine constituencies I have proposed.

I would now like to at Nottinghamshire in more detail:

Ashfield constituency.

I am happy to accept the Boundary Commission's proposal.

Bassetlaw constituency,

I have added two further Bassetlaw local authority (LA) wards to the BC proposal — which helps to remove the long ‘tail’ from BC’s proposed Sherwood constituency. Logic says it must make sense to include as many Bassetlaw wards in the constituency as possible. I have chosen to include Rampton ward (BA23) in with Newark. I could have included East Markham ward (BA22) instead, as the electorates are very close in size.

Mansfield constituency.

I have taken Birklands ward (M19), which covers the Church Warsop part of Mansfield borough, from BC's Sherwood constituency and added into my Mansfield constituency to create a constituency co-terminus with the borough.

Newark constituency.

My 'Newark' contains 20 Newark and Sherwood District Council wards as opposed to the Commission's 16 and only 3 from Rushcliffe LA area, as opposed to 9 in the Commission's proposal. I have added Rampton and Tuxford wards from Bassetlaw LA area, instead of the proposed Sherwood constituency as proposed by the Commission. Geographically this make more sense.

Sherwood constituency.

BC's constituency comprises of 22 wards from four LA areas: 5 from Bassetlaw LA; 7 from Gedling LA; 1 from Mansfield LA and 9 from Newark & Sherwood LA.

My Sherwood constituency comprises of 19 wards from three LA areas: 4 from Ashfield LA; 10 from Gedling LA and 5 from Newark & Sherwood LA. It is also more compact in terms of area and will enable those involved to meet easily in Nottingham.

'Sherwood' is, at best, a cluster of separate communities, brought together to form a constituency. At worst, it can be described as 'the leftovers' after you have made the other Nottinghamshire constituencies. The upside is that these communities will have the attention and loyalty of their own MP and this, of itself, has to be a good thing!

BC's Coalville and Keyworth constituency and my Rushcliffe alternative.

BC's proposal makes no sense at all, especially since it contains wards from both Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire and contradicts their own stated aim of 'trying to respect county boundaries wherever possible' (para 21, 'East Midlands Initial proposals' document).

I propose a new Rushcliffe constituency containing all the wards from the Rushcliffe LA area, with the exception of three to the north and east of Bingham (Cranmer R14, Oak R17 and Thoroton R18 — 4,981 voters in total). My Rushcliffe, with 80,427 voters, is only 46 voters short of the maximum number allowed by the Government.

If the wards allocated to Newark constituency could be added to Rushcliffe instead, I do not believe one person would object. Perhaps it is not too late for the commissioners when they produce their final report to ask the Government to allow exceptions to the formula (ie. 72,810 – 80,473 voters per constituency) where and when local communities are happy to agree and accept that a constituency can be outside this range. I know this is very unlikely to happen, but I believe it still needs to be said.

The 'greater' Nottingham constituencies.

The Commission proposes five constituencies for the area: Broxtowe; Nottingham East; Nottingham North & Hucknall; Nottingham South & West Bridgford and Nottingham West with a total of 377,161 voters.

The Commission's proposals include the Hucknall (24,050 voters) and West Bridgford (26,819 voters) urban wards, plus the outer Gedling wards of Newstead and Ravenshead (6,436 voters) and the rural Gotham ward (1,682 voters) from Rushcliffe.

To include Gotham ward in the Commission's proposed Broxtowe constituency makes no sense whatsoever. The fact that Gotham is geographically separated from the rest of Broxtowe by the River Trent, with no physical link between the two, and no social, transport or economic links whatsoever, should be reason enough for the commissioners to reject their own Commission's proposal.

For my part, I propose four constituencies for greater Nottingham: Nottingham South West & Beeston; Nottingham West & Broxtowe; Nottingham Central & Arnold and Nottingham South East & Gedling South with a total of 315,194 voters.

My greater Nottingham constituencies follow established transport and community networks and draw on my experience as a community activist and as someone who has spoken publicly on numerous occasions for the creation of a 'Greater Nottingham City Council' based on existing local authority partnerships. Since the whole of Rushcliffe LA area is included in existing partnerships, I think it reasonable to leave Rushcliffe as a separate constituency. The same can be said for the Broxtowe and Gedling LA areas, so you could argue that they should have their own constituencies as well. The problem is that Nottingham city does not have enough voters under the Government's formula to have exclusive constituencies, so you have to look beyond the city's boundaries, so I have chosen to base mine of shared community interests and bus routes (as odd as this may seem to some). I will explain as I take you through my proposed Nottingham constituencies one at a time:

Nottingham South West & Beeston proposed constituency.

I live in Lenton, which is a thriving inner-city community with its own ward and councillors (thanks to the efforts of local residents like myself and the support of some local councillors and our then MP). As a community we actually gravitate south west to Nottingham University and Beeston. We are very much like the neighbouring ward of Wollaton East & Lenton Abbey, insomuch as in each ward some 70% of local residents are in full-time education and there are far more private landlords than there are owner-occupiers. We share the same bus routes (there is a bus every 2 minutes between Nottingham city centre, Lenton, Beeston and Chilwell). Clifton is home to one of the main Nottingham Trent University campuses, and Dunkirk & Lenton ward is home to the Kings Meadow Campus. The two main Nottingham University campuses are in Wollaton East and Lenton Abbey ward. The large Lenton Industrial Estate and the Boots complex straddle the Beeston – Lenton border.

The main bus routes out of Clifton cross Clifton Bridge into Lenton & Lenton ward and The Meadows. I and countless others go to south west to Beeston or to the city centre to shop and socialise. We rarely go to West Bridgford, unless it is to a football or cricket match.

I am conscious that at the time of the last parliamentary boundaries review in Nottingham, the commissioners took the view that 'Wollaton Park served to unite rather than divide the two wards of Wollaton West and Wollaton East & Lenton Abbey (and there were) no community ties between the wards of Wollaton west and Bilborough… with the railway line forming a readily identifiable boundary'…

…but as my Wollaton West ward map shows, the links with Bilborough ward are actually much better and how can you ignore the Wollaton Park boundary wall which runs along the Derby Road, only breached by the prison like gatehouse which marks the park's southern entrance.

As someone who lives in an adjoining area, I believe that the only link between the wards in question is the place name 'Wollaton'. Beyond that they are different in numerous ways. The population and housing mix is very different. Wollaton West ward is almost exclusively residential, apart from a large Co-op supermarket, and has a large park of national significance within its boundary, whilst Wollaton East & Lenton Abbey ward includes two large Nottingham University campuses and has to deal with all the issues they bring to long-term local residents (it also has an important city park of its own).

The commissioners' colleagues at the Local Government Commission for England had no problems with the creation of two wards in Broxtowe LA area (Bramcote and Trowell) which straddle the same railway line. I hope the Commission will take this as additional evidence to allow the wards of Wollaton West and Wollaton East & Lenton Abbey to be in different constituencies.

Nottingham West & Broxtowe proposed constituency.

Broxtowe hugs the county boundary and all the main routes in and out of the area begin or end in Nottingham city centre. Wollaton West ward straddles the Ilkeston Road and runs on into Trowell and Ilkeston over the border in Derbyshire. 'Strelley' and 'Broxtowe' are place names you already find in the Broxtowe and Nottingham City Council areas and both are at the centre of this proposed constituency. The Nuthall Road threads the Aspley, Cinderhill, Nuthall and Kimberley areas together with the 'Rainbow One' and other routes providing high-frequency bus services between these areas. Greasley and Eastwood stand at one end and Nottingham city centre the other, with IKEA in between.

The Bulwell wards can trace their roots back to Domesday and were once a township in their own right. They are pulled into the constituency and south by the Nottingham City Transport 'Orange' 35 bus route, which begins in Bulwell, then heads south through Cinderhill, Aspley, Broxtowe, Strelley, Bilborough and Wollaton Vale to the Derby Road and Lenton, before heading north east into the city centre. It runs every 10 minutes and shares its journey with other variants of the route. As a local historian I love this bus route for way it pulls places and people together. I use it for my favourite walk into rural Broxtowe and Strelley and if I am lucky, I may get a double-decker home and see Wollaton Hall across the rooftops and catch the city centre just beyond.

My proposed Wollaton West and Broxtowe constituency may seem to the untutored eye a motley collection of places, but look more closely and you see history and communities which share more than a bus route.

Nottingham Central & Arnold proposed constituency.

Running north from the city centre this constituency is pulled together by the a series of roads. Mansfield Road travels out through Sherwood and skirts Arnold town centre, with two main spurs which go off to the north west after it has left the city centre: Sherwood Rise and Hucknall Road, with Edwards Lane a little further to the north. Then there is 'The Tram' which glides out to Hyson Green and Basford before reaching Bulwell and continuing to Hucknall. These are natural and historic lines of communication and as the city and it historic Domesday neighbours have merged, it has been along these roads. Nottingham's ring road also pulls these wards together. And as for the buses, there are too many to count. Stand beside The Forest on Mansfield Road during any work day and you will always see a bus carrying workers, shoppers and others as they go about their business.

Arnold and Daybrook in Gedling merge seamlessly in with their Nottingham neighbours and unless you are a long-time local, you will not know where one ends or begins — which is why they can be fairly included in the same constituency.

Nottingham South East & Gedling South proposed constituency.

My final proposed greater Nottingham constituency is also brought together by a mix of history and local transport links. The Woodborough and Carlton Roads, with numerous others in between all snake their way from the city centre into modern Gedling borough and places known better to local residents as St Anns, Sneinton, Mapperley, Bakersfield, Colwick, Netherfield, Carlton and, yes, there is at the end of all this a 'Gedling'. A collection of high-frequency daily bus routes knit all these thriving communities together, with the railway providing an extra link between the city, Netherfield and Carlton.

Only Nottingham City Transport's 'Lilac' 25 bus route provides a through link as it travels down north – south down Gedling's urban spine from Arnold through Woodthorpe and Mapperley to Carlton Valley, Gedling and Netherfield, before turning west to Colwick and Nottingham city centre. Other routes provide even more services between what I have termed 'south Gedling' and the city centre.

Bridge ward includes The Meadows, the railway station and the city centre, which is why I have included in this proposed constituency. Some wards could sit easily in any number of proposed constituencies and this is one of them.


preparing evidence for a public consultation such as this is never easy. It is time consuming and it is inevitable that somewhere along the line I will have got something wrong, despite my best efforts. I wish you well in your decision making and I am confident that you will consider my evidence fairly.

At the end of the day I want the chance to elect councillors and MPs able to serve my community either individually or in clusters with other areas I can relate to because of some kind of shared interest. This is 'the sense of place' I referred to at the beginning of my evidence and I know this is how countless other people feel. When the Commission makes its final decisions, I hope it will look beyond 'the numbers' as best it can.

Robert Howard
26 October 2011.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Another chapter begins

In the past week, four people have commented on the fact that I was no longer doing the blog and that they were all sorry I had stopped. After months of no one saying anything, it was a coincidence I could not ignore. A friend in America also emailed to say how much she missed it. Another friend said Blogspot was now easier to use, so I have  been back and checked and the problem with pics seems to have been resolved. You can now add pages as well. So here goes. Another chapter begins… watch this space. In the meantime a couple of pics…

This is 'Wowly Cat' – an un-neutered tom – who first arrived about two months ago, very nervous and thin. We put food out for him, now he eats in, but he sprays a lot, so he gets no further than our kitchen and breakfast room. Fortunately, Markiza (our 'inherited' cat) sniffs out his marks for us and they seem to get on OK. He is the first cat she has not seen off for some reason only known to her. We will have to make a decision about him soon. To get him taken by Cats Protection or to have him done, chipped and jabbed in the hope that his spraying habit will disappear with time after he has had 'the surgery'.

Last week some friends took us to Cleethorpes in Lincolnshire for fish n'chips. It's just south of Grimsby on the North Lincolnshire coast. This pic says it all. Once is enough. We won't be going back. I'm glad we went though, as we got to Barton-on-Humber by the Humber Bridge and we will be going back there for a couple of nights at least. I will write more in my next posting at the weekend.

The senior police officer leading the phone hacking inquiry into The News of the World says that there were 4,000 possible victims listed in the pages of the notebooks belonging to the private detective, Glenn Muclaire, at the centre of the inquiry. Source: The Guardian.