MP welcomes revised boundary changes

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REVISED proposals for the Northumberland General Election voting areas have been welcomed by one of the county’s MPs.

There was anger when the initial plans for the new Parliamentary constituency boundaries were unveiled in September 2011, with local residents and politicians claiming that some of the changes would unnecessarily divide communities.

Following the representations, the Boundary Commission for England decided to take on board many of the suggestions, including that Ponteland East should remain with the other Ponteland wards in the Hexham constituency.

But the changes may not go ahead at all following a vote in the House of Lords on Monday, which called for the process to be delayed until a couple of years before the 2020 General Election.

Under the commission’s initial proposals, South Tynedale and Haltwhistle were to be placed in a new constituency of Consett and Barnard Castle focused around County Durham and Ponteland East was to be transferred to Berwick, Alnwick and Morpeth and replaced by Rothbury.

Hexham MP Guy Opperman launched a campaign to amend the changes and keep Ponteland as one within his Northumberland constituency.

For the North East, there were 1,950 representations. Of those, 950 related to the Hexham constituency alone — about 50 per cent of the total for the entire region.

This was supported by many town and parish councils, including Ponteland Town Council, and the local county councillors who represent the areas involved, including Ponteland East member Eileen Armstrong.

The revisions effectively accepted the vast majority of submissions put forward as Haltwhistle and South Tynedale have been retained in the Hexham constituency, Ponteland East is back in Hexham with the rest of Ponteland and Rothbury has returned to Berwick-upon-Tweed – now proposed to be called Berwick, Alnwick and Morpeth.

Mr Opperman said: “I am so grateful to the hundreds of local people who got involved in our campaign to keep Northumberland and Ponteland whole. It would have been a terrible shame to have split Ponteland.

“It just goes to show what we can do when we pull together.”

The ward of Bothal had been initially proposed for Berwick, Alnwick and Morpeth, but the commission accepted that its strong ties with Ashington meant it should go in the proposed Blyth and Ashington constituency.

Representations were made to do the same with Choppington because of its links with Bedlington – the other three Bedlington wards are in Blyth and Ashington – but the officials said they reluctantly could not do so because the Berwick, Alnwick and Morpeth constituency would then be outside the statutory electorate range and its case was not as strong, in their opinion, as the one for Bothal.

Mr Opperman added that he is now ‘happy to vote for the revised changes’, which will see 50 MPs cut from the House of Commons.

However, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has cast doubt on whether the new boundaries will eventually be adopted after telling his Liberal Democrat MPs not to vote for the changes when the coalition abandoned reform of the House of Lords because of opposition from many Conservative MPs.

Labour MPs are also expected to vote against the changes and three days ago, the House of Lords voted by 300 to 231 to delay the boundary review until 2018. Those in support of this move say it would ensure that the 2015 General Election was contested on the basis of current boundaries and provide a window of time to address the current deficiencies in the electoral register.

Those against say this was put forward for political reasons in response to the House of Lords reform delay and because Labour would be hit hardest by the reduction in the number of MPs.

The Government can try to overturn the Lords amendment when the legislation is returned to the Commons towards the end of its Parliamentary scrutiny, but it appears unlikely that this can be achieved.