Caution and concern as Calderdale political figures react to Parliamentary boundary changes
Boundary Commission proposals which would redraw Calderdale’s Parliamentary constituencies have been greeted with caution and by some with concern.
The commission’s initial proposals, announced last week, would see parts of the borough divided into three constituencies rather than two and would see some major towns changing seats.
Under the proposals – first step on the way to final recommendations expected around June 2023 – the Calder Valley constituency would lose Hipperholme and Lightcliffe to a new constituency of Batley and Hipperholme, while Brighouse and Rastrick would become part of the Halifax constituency.
Halifax would gain Brighouse and Rastrick but would lose Sowerby Bridge and some parts of the town of Halifax to Calder Valley.
Calder Valley Conservative MP Craig Whittaker said the proposals represented a big change but he would be working in the coming weeks to see whether recommendations can better reflect communities’ traditional links.
He said it is highly likely proposals will change again before we get to 2023 and the final decision and explained the commissioners’ dilemma.
“The problem is that within the criteria that has been set with regards to numbers of electors – between 69,724 and 77,062 to level up every constituency in England – Calderdale currently represents the equivalent of 2.2 constituencies.
“On this basis the Calder Valley does have to reduce numbers because we are the largest constituency by several thousand.
“The issue the Boundary Commission then have is where you can take a ward from to level up and they have taken Hipperholme and Lightcliffe, because that ward fits in with the other changes east of us.
“With Hipperholme and Lightcliffe gone, the numbers still do not balance for both constituencies, hence the reason for the swap with Brighouse and Rastrick from the Calder Valley with Sowerby Bridge and Warley from Halifax.
“We will be working in the coming weeks to see whether there are tweeks that can be made to the proposals which better reflect community and cultural ties between wards,” he said.
Halifax Labour MP Holly Lynch also hoped to see as little disruption as possible caused by changes.
“Halifax as a constituency currently has an acceptable number of electors according to the boundary commission guidelines so I was surprised to see some significant changes within the proposals which would mean Sowerby Bridge and Warley taken out of Halifax.
“I will be engaging fully and constructively in the consultation to ensure that the review is fair and democratic, but would like to see as little disruption to Halifax boundaries as possible,” she said.
Liberal Democrat group leader on Calderdale Council, Coun James Baker (Warley), who also represents a ward which would move constituencies, said one of the problems with the voting system is that constituencies have to be divided up into equal sizes for it to approach anything like fairness.
“It’s one reason our party favours upgrading our country to a more proportionate voting system such as the single transferable vote system.
“Under such a system we could have larger multi-member constituencies of varying sizes to fit around the geography of communities.
“Also, more importantly, votes wouldn’t be wasted and Parliament would actually reflect the views of the electorate,” he said.
Coun Baker said from his perspective as a Warley ward councillor, parts of it such as Pellon are clearly in Halifax, whereas other parts of the ward such as Mount Tabor and Warley Town also look towards communities such as Wainstalls in the Calder Valley, with many children going to the school there.
“Currently a small part of Mount Tabor is actually split off into the Calder Valley constituency.
“However you carve things up causes problems but we recognise if we are going to stick with first past the post we do need fairly sized constituencies.
“We believe that is what the Boundary Commission has set out to do,” he said.
Labour group leader, and leader of Calderdale Council, Coun Tim Swift (Town) expressed concern, particularly about the breaking of existing natural community links, particularly losing a Calderdale council ward to a constituency taking in parts of two local authorities.
“I am very concerned about the draft proposals.
“Parliamentary constituencies should broadly represent natural communities, and these break up many existing links.
“I hope the Boundary Commission will consider alternative suggestions which retain two constituencies wholly within Calderdale’s boundaries and are less disruptive,” he said.
Conservative group leader Coun Steven Leigh (Ryburn) said the proposals as they stood would be very interesting electorally from his party’s point of view.
“At first sight, the removal of Hipperholme and Lightcliffe, a historically Conservative-voting seat in the Calder Valley constituency, would be a real loss.
“On paper, the Brighouse and Rastrick wards joining the reformed Halifax constituency would bolster our chances of turning the seat blue, for the first time since 1983.
“However, the departure of these wards from the Calder Valley makes that constituency increasingly marginal, exacerbated by the loss of Hipperholme and Lightcliffe,” he said.
Coun Leigh said there was a long way to go yet for boundary reform and he expected many opinions to be expressed, and alternatives suggested in the months ahead.
“Realistically, it’s unlikely that we will see any general election contested on new parliamentary boundaries for some time and I suspect that the next general election will be fought on the existing boundaries,” he said.
In many respects the most affected citizens would be in Hipperholme and Lightcliffe, and ward councillor Coun George Robinson (Con) is very concerned.
“Under these proposals, a Batley MP would represent the Hipperholme and Lightcliffe Ward.
“This is illogical. We shop in Calderdale, our council tax is paid to Calderdale, our local history is entwined with Calderdale, and our transport network is more connected to Calderdale.
“We must make representations to the Boundary Commission and outline the ridiculousness of these proposals,” he said.
Coun Robinson urged people to make their concerns known to the commission and to help he was drafting objection points with community leaders which would be published on his Facebook page.
Although Calderdale and Kirklees wards have previously been together in a constituency, Brighouse and Spen, over the border serious concerns have also been expressed by Spenborough politicians.
Baroness Kath Pinnock (Lib Dem, Cleckheaton) was furious over the loss of the Spen identity.
“Spen has always had a constituency name, either Spen Valley or Brighouse and Spenborough and then Batley and Spen. Somebody, somewhere with a pen says Spen does not exist.
“Batley and Hipperholme is a nonsense of a constituency. You can drive along the A58 and pass through Hipperholme and not know you’ve been,” she told the Local Democracy Reporting Service.
Coun Pinnock said the cross-border constituency would be a nightmare for the MP, who would have to deal with two local authorities and two hospital trusts, Mid-Yorkshire and Calderdale and Huddersfield.
Sowerby Bridge ward councillor Coun Adam Wilkinson (Lab) said pre 1983 part of the current Sowerby Bridge ward was in a constituency called Sowerby with parts of the Upper Calder Valley, which is not dissimilar to what is being proposed by the Electoral Commission.
“However, I believe the Willowfield and Pye Nest areas of the ward have always been in the Halifax constituency, and the whole of Sowerby Bridge ward has been in the Halifax constituency for almost as long as I have been born.
“The ward therefore has connections with both constituencies.
“I am a little surprised that such widespread changes are being proposed when there are much simpler ways of meeting the Boundary Commissions requirements in Calderdale,” he said.
Under the initial proposals, which are now out to consultation – you can make your own representations online at www.bcereviews.org.uk – would see the following constituencies, with these Calderdale Council wards in them.
Calder Valley: Todmorden, Calder, Luddenden Foot, Warley, Sowerby Bridge, Ryburn, Greetland and Stainland, Elland.
Halifax: Ovenden, Park, Skircoat, Town, Brighouse, Rastrick, Northowram and Shelf, Illingworth and Mixenden.
Batley and Hipperholme: Hipperholme and Lightcliffe – Kirklees council wards in this constituency would include Cleckheaton, Liversedge and Gomersal, Birstall and Birkenshaw, Batley West and Batley East.