'Confusing' or 'positive?' Reaction to proposed Parliamentary boundary changes in Wakefield

Local politicians have given a mixed reception to how a proposed shakeup of Parliamentary boundaries will impact the Wakefield district.

Wednesday, 9th June 2021, 10:05 am
How will the Wakefield constituency look come the next General Election?

Under plans revealed by the Boundary Commission yesterday, Rothwell could become part of Wakefield s Parliamentary constituency, despite its Leeds governance and postcode. Outwood, which is currently coupled with Morley, would also join Wakefield.

Lofthouse Gate would join Wakefield, but Lofthouse itself would remain part of the Morley constituency.

Horbury, Ossett and the southern suburbs of Wakefield would be merged with Denby Dale and Kirkburton, both of which are in Kirklees.

The changes would include extending the Wakefield constituency boundary into Rothwell. Outwood would also be incorporated having been coupled with Morley since 2010.

Normanton, meanwhile, would be split from Pontefract and Castleford and merged with Hemsworth.

The changes have been proposed as part of a bid to make constituency sizes more even, so MPs are representing around the same number of people.

If they go ahead, they will not affect the makeup of Wakefield Council, local elections or the geography of the district as a whole.

A number of councillors, many of whom work closely with MPs of the same party, have expressed reservations about the changes however.

Councillor Nic Stansby said she believed the Wakefield district would be best served by three constituencies, without overlap into other areas.

Coun Nic Stansby, who represents Wrenthorpe and Outwood West on the local authority, said: “I think Wakefield would benefit if the district just had three constituencies.

"That would be my personal preference.

“I think a Wakefield constituency that was just a bit bigger and didn’t involve Leeds would be better.

“I think it is confusing for people. If you live in Lofthouse for example, you’re not sure whether you’re in Leeds or Wakefield."

Coun Kevin Swift was critical of the "rigidity" of the proposals, which dictate constituency populations must be between 69,730 and 77,070, with no extra leeway.

Wakefield West councillor Kevin Swift suggested that the Boundary Commission had worked to an "unnecessarily rigid" framework, which dictated that constituency numbers be more similar than ever before.

He said: "We do have a situation where you’ve got quite an artificial constituency being created in Ossett and Denby Dale.

"I’ve never heard any member of the public complain about the maths of it all and asking why their constituency is a different size to another.

"But I think the public do want constituencies that fits their sense of community and where they live.

Councillor Sam Harvey said she would listen to her residents' views on the matter.

"There’s a lot of people I know, both in and out of the Labour Party, who would have liked to have seen Wakefield South brought back into a Wakefield city constituency, even if the electoral consequences of that might not be appealing for Labour.

"We’re looking at a situation where if you cross Chantry Bridge you’re now in this new Normanton and Hemsworth constituency, even though you’re a short walk from the city centre."

Councillor Sam Harvey, whose Wakefield Rural ward would be part of the new Ossett and Denby Dale constituency, said she'd be guided by her residents over the plans.

"It’s hard to see the pros and cons of the new arrangement at the moment," she said. "But I’m sure they will emerge over the next 12 months.

"This can’t be about party politics and what suits one political party over another.

"There is a reason why the boundaries are being changed, given you have some constituencies which are much bigger than others. It’s not just about us here in West Yorkshire, it’s about the whole UK."

Councillor Matthew Morley said he was pleased Outwood could be included within the Wakefield constituency again, if it's split from Morley as proposed.

Councillor Matthew Morley, who represents Stanley and Outwood, said he had "no major concerns" about the proposals.

"I think the proposed Wakefield constituency with Outwood included is a positive," he said.

"I think we've more in common with Rothwell than we do with Morley. People in Stanley do their shopping in Rothwell so it's probably a better fit.

"We'll see what people make of it."

David Herdson, the former chair of the Wakefield branch of the Conservative Party, said he believed voters would be largely unbothered by the changes.

Mr Herdson, who left the party in 2019 and who regularly tweets about West Yorkshire politics, said: "We are quite unusual in West Yorkshire in the sense we have very few constituencies which stretch across two local authority areas - Morley and Outwood being the only one I think.

"I think most people don’t identify with a constituency. Wherever they live, they’d think nothing of going to the shops or getting services from another council area if they’re close by.

"I think the general public would just accept it.

"Council boundaries have actually been more of an issue during Covid because of the restrictions being applied in dfiferent parts of the country, but I don’t think the proposed changes will be too much of a problem."

Mr Herdson predicted that Ossett and Denby Dale would be a "very safe Conservative seat", but that the changes to the Wakefield constituency could benefit Labour.

He suggested Hemsworth could become a safer seat for Labour, although still "relatively marginal" and not as safe as it had been before Brexit.

The changes are subject to the first of a possible three consultations, which will last until the start of August.

Local Democracy Reporting Service