Helen's response to Boundary Commission proposals

The Boundary Commission for England has recently published its latest set of proposals for new constituency boundaries, for consultation.  The proposals are based the requirement to reduce the number of Parliamentary constituencies from 650 to 600, an initiative of the Coalition government, in order to reduce the costs of our democracy.  

At a time when the UK population is increasing, I believe that this reduction is profoundly undemocratic, and that cost savings should be achieved by reforming the House of Lords into a modern, democratically elected Chamber, with fewer than the current 800 Peers.  The current Boundary Commission proposals would split Dulwich and West Norwood constituency into four different new constituencies, and I believe that this would be very damaging for our communities.  I have set out the reasons for this in my response to the Boundary Commission consultation, the full text of which is pasted below.

Anyone can respond to the Boundary Commission consultation – details of how to do so are here.  If you feel strongly that Dulwich and West Norwood is a strong set of communities which should be kept within a single constituency, please write to the Boundary Commission before MONDAY 11 DECEMBER to tell them:

 

1. The reduction in the number of MPs proposed as part of the boundary review is neither necessary nor democratic and the failure to take into account both the impact of the introduction of Individual Electoral Registration and the large number of people registering in order to vote in the EU referendum and the 2017 General Election is a fundamental problem. I strongly believe that steps should be taken to reduce the cost of democracy in the UK primarily through reform of the House of Lords into a modern, fit for purpose elected chamber.

2. The current Dulwich and West Norwood constituency is geographically coherent, comprising the distinct communities of East Brixton, Herne Hill, Dulwich, West Norwood, and parts of Tulse Hill, Crystal Palace and Camberwell. The constituency has been largely consistent with small changes (the addition of Coldharbour ward, and the loss of Peckham Rye, South Camberwell and The Lane wards in 2010) since its creation in 1997, and the constituency has strong continuity with its predecessor constituencies of Dulwich and Norwood both of which endured from 1885 until 1997. The constituency is also within the size parameters of the Boundary Commission’s terms of reference according to the December 2015 electoral register. There is therefore a strong argument for retaining the constituency within its current boundaries.

3. Accepting that changes to boundaries elsewhere in south London will almost inevitably have a knock-on effect across the wider south London area, the initial Boundary Commission proposal had some features to commend it, specifically the re-inclusion of South Camberwell ward which was previously within the constituency prior to 2010. The latest proposals from the Boundary Commission are totally different from the initial proposals, and in my view completely unacceptable because of the negative impact they would have on the communities that I represent.

4. Under the latest iteration of the parliamentary boundary review it is proposed that the wards making up the current Dulwich and West Norwood constituency be split into four new constituencies

  • Gipsy Hill and Knights Hill would become the northern most wards in a new Norwood and Thornton Heath constituency.
  • Herne Hill and Thurlow Park would become the most north-easterly wards in a new highly elongated Streatham and Brixton South constituency.
  • College, East Dulwich and Village would become part of a new Dulwich and Sydenham constituency.
  • Coldharbour would become the most south-easterly ward in a new Brixton and Vauxhall constituency.

5. Under the Boundary Commission for England’s initial proposals, the three Norwood wards (Gipsy Hill, Knights Hill and Thurlow Park) would have been split with Knights Hill ward leaving a revised Dulwich and West Norwood constituency. The latest proposals from the Boundary Commission still split the three Norwood wards, this time separating Thurlow Park from Gipsy Hill and Knights Hill.

The proposed splitting of Thurlow Park ward from Gipsy Hill and Knights Hill wards is of strong concern since it would have the effect of dividing West Norwood town centre. West Norwood comprises Knight’s Hill, Gipsy Hill and Thurlow Park wards, and functions as a coherent single community, with the town centre serving all parts of the three wards. The town centre provides a diverse retail environment, cafes, restaurants and pubs, community facilities such as the library and Health and Leisure centre, as well as the extremely popular and well attended monthly community market which spans the length of Norwood Road and Knights Hill, called West Norwood Feast. Bus routes in the area are almost exclusively north-south in direction, with routes including the 68, 196, 2 and 432.

Both Gipsy Hill and Knights Hill have strong links to Thurlow Park and in general terms face northwards in their outlook in terms of education, employment and West Norwood town centre. There is great strength of feeling within the community in West Norwood about the proposed change to the constituency boundaries. Many residents have contacted me directly to voice their concerns, and many are struggling to understand how Gipsy Hill and Knights Hill would be linked to areas such as Thornton Heath, to which they have no relationship at all. Residents are also very clear that while they regularly use shops and services in Brixton, Dulwich and Upper Norwood, they do not feel such strong connections with the areas to the south of them, public transport links to the south are weak, and residents feel no connection at all to Thornton Heath. There is a strong case to be made for retaining the whole of West Norwood within a single constituency.

6. The Boundary Commission’s latest proposals split two other significant communities which straddle the border between Lambeth and Southwark. I would like to state in the strongest possible terms that this would be disastrous for parts of Dulwich and West Norwood. The most significantly affected areas are Herne Hill and West Dulwich, both of which straddle the boundary between Lambeth and Southwark but currently sit within a single Parliamentary constituency of Dulwich and West Norwood. Herne Hill is currently divided between Herne Hill ward (Lambeth), Thurlow Park (Lambeth) and Village ward (Southwark), while West Dulwich is divided between College ward (Southwark), Gipsy Hill ward (Lambeth) and Thurlow Park ward (Lambeth). 

Under the latest proposals Herne Hill (Herne Hill, Village and Thurlow Park) is split into three different constituencies while West Dulwich (College, Gipsy Hill and Thurlow Park) is split into three different constituencies under the latest proposals.

Herne Hill town centre comprises Half Moon Lane in Village ward (Southwark), Herne Hill (one side Herne Hill ward (Lambeth) and the other side Village (Southwark), Norwood Road in Village ward (Southwark), Railton Road in Herne Hill ward (Lambeth) and Milkwood Road in Herne Hill ward (Lambeth). The main West Dulwich shopping area comprises Croxted Road (divided between College ward (Southwark) on one side and Thurlow Park (Lambeth on the other side), Park Hall Road in College ward (Southwark) and Rosendale Road in Thurlow Park ward (Lambeth). 

The Herne Hill area is represented by two cross borough organisations – the Herne Hill Forum and the Herne Hill Society, while the Dulwich Society represents the wider Dulwich area including the cross borough West Dulwich area.

My experience and the experience of my predecessor Tessa Jowell, is that in these areas, the MP plays a significant role in convening the co-ordinated response of both the boroughs and other public services which are organised on borough boundaries, such as the police and NHS, on many key issues. Examples of issues where this has been the case in recent years include following the major Thames Water flood in Herne Hill in 2013; the co-ordination of waste issues in Herne Hill; consultation on medium term road closures to facilitate railway bridge repainting and replacement; the proposal to relocate a GP practice in the Lambeth part of West Dulwich away from the Southwark part, which was successfully rebuffed in 2014; consultation on controversial new £5million cycleway improvements in both areas; and the promotion of local businesses in Herne Hill town centre and West Dulwich.

The increasing popularity of London schools over the last two decades has meant that many more residents have now chosen to stay in the constituency, rather than moving out when their children reached primary and secondary school age. This has led to rising school rolls and the need for more classes and new schools in the constituency. The complexity of school place planning close to borough boundaries is another issue where the local MP has taken a key facilitating role.

Many residents have been in touch with me to express their horror that these areas are proposed not to be kept within a single Parliamentary constituency. I urge the Boundary Commission not to proceed with these proposals which have the effect of splitting Herne Hill and West Dulwich.

7. It is proposed that the three Dulwich wards be combined into a constituency with Peckham Rye ward from the current Camberwell and Peckham constituency, as well as four Lewisham wards to make a new Dulwich and Sydenham constituency. Residents of the three Dulwich wards and Peckham Rye do not have a natural affinity with the Sydenham area, which is physically located on the other side of a large hill (one of the highest points in London) and transport, education and retail links are very weak between the areas. With transport links mainly flowing north-south in this area it is difficult to see how the Boundary Commission’s current proposals make for a coherent constituency across these two very different areas. Residents of Dulwich and Peckham Rye have strong transport, retail and educational links to Lordship Lane in East Dulwich, to Dulwich Village, West Dulwich and to a lesser extent to Peckham town centre, but there are no natural links to Sydenham.

8. Coldharbour ward is one of the most deprived wards in the whole country, with exceptionally high levels of need and a very large number of difficult issues to be addressed in the ward. I strongly believe that the ward is not well served by frequently being swapped between constituencies. Coldharbour was primarily in Vauxhall constituency prior to 2010, and I believe that consideration should be given to affording Coldharbour ward more consistency of representation by retaining it within Dulwich and West Norwood. It has taken me considerable time to build knowledge and relationships within the ward, precisely because of the complexity and multiple challenges facing the area, and I know that this was the same for Tessa Jowell from 2010-2015 and for Kate Hoey when she represented much of the ward prior to 2010.

8. My preference is that Dulwich and West Norwood is retained within its current boundaries. If knock-on changes are necessary, the constituency should be retained with minimal changes at its margins. In this context, the latest Boundary Commission proposal is completely unacceptable because of the very serious negative impacts it would have on the current coherent constituency and the communities it comprises.


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