Parliamentary constituency boundaries are being radically redrawn all over Britain and Greenwich is one of many areas affected. This is the consequence of new legislation which rewrites the rules on boundary changes.
In the past the Boundary Commission, the independent body which oversees the process, was required to review periodically Parliamentary constituency boundaries, and in doing so had to take account of a series of objectives, including the maintenance of natural boundaries and community links as well as the number of electors in the area. The process also allowed extensive opportunities for representations from interested parties and individuals and for a public inquiry to consider proposed boundary changes. Under the new rules, the number of electors has been made the overriding consideration, with no discretion for the Boundary Commission to allow a variation of more than 5% from the quota, even if this involves severe disruption of existing community links.
The timetable for conducting the review has been accelerated, and the opportunities for the public to influence the process have been restricted. Yet paradoxically the need for thorough scrutiny of the proposals is greater than ever. The changes are far more radical than in the past, mainly because the size of constituencies is being increased substantially (from around 67,000 to around 76,000 electors) and in consequence they involve many more constituencies crossing local authority boundaries.
In our case, the Boundary Commission’s initial proposals, published on 13th September, involve splitting East Greenwich from West Greenwich. Greenwich West ward, including the Ashburnham Triangle, Greenwich Railway Station and the Cutty Sark DLR station, St Alfege’s Church, the Town Centre, the Old Royal Naval College and Greenwich Park would be transferred to a new constituency called Deptford and Greenwich, the bulk of which would lie in the borough of Lewisham.
Peninsula Ward which includes Trafalgar Road, Park Vista, the Heart of East Greenwich (formerly Greenwich District Hospital) site, the East Greenwich Pleasaunce, Blackwall Lane, Greenwich Millennium Village, North Greenwich underground station and the 02 would all be within a new Woolwich constituency which would stretch eastwards to cover much of Thamesmead and Abbey Wood.
The boundary of the proposed new constituency would not just divide SE10 in half, but bizarrely would separate the Old Royal Naval College from the Trafalgar Tavern. Blackheath Westcombe ward would also transfer from the current Greenwich and Woolwich constituency so the new constituency, called Deptford and Greenwich, would include Kidbrooke Parish Church but not Trafalgar Road. This is a nonsense.
Even though psephologists tell me that the proposed new Woolwich constituency, as well as the Deptford and Greenwich one, would be safer Labour seats than the present arrangements, I will be strongly opposing the changes. I believe that Greenwich’s historic identity should not be broken up and divided between different Parliamentary constituencies.
These are initial proposals and can be changed. There are alternatives. But if Greenwich which has been represented by one constituency in Parliament since 1832 is not to find itself split in two, it will require forceful and well-argued representations from as many members of the public and representative bodies as possible. Anyone who wants to express their views about the Boundary Commission proposals must do so within the next 12 weeks – i.e. by 5th December – by writing to:
The Boundary Commission for England
35 Great Smith Street
London SW1P 3BQ
Full details of the Boundary Commission proposals can be found on http://consultation.boundarycommissionforengland.independent.gov.uk