On the road – public hearings are well under way
Back in September the Boundary Commission for England published our initial proposals, showing for the first time, changes that might be made to parliamentary constituencies across England. This also marked the beginning of a 12-week consultation, during which the public can tell us what they do and don’t like about our proposals. You can comment online at www.bce2018.org.uk until 5 December or at a public hearing – an opportunity for people to come along and meet us face-to-face to have their say.
We’re about half way through our public hearings, which are taking place across England and I’ve enjoyed those I’ve been to so far. They’ve offered really valuable insight into the two regions I’ve been working on – Yorkshire and the Humber; and the Eastern region. As a Review Officer I’ve been involved in developing the initial proposals and attending the public hearings in these areas.
I’ve just finished the public hearings in Yorkshire and the Humber, and am starting the hearings in the Eastern region – beginning in Chelmsford and then we’ll visit Norwich, Luton and Cambridge. It’s been great to get out on the road and see the areas I’ve been working on. What’s been even better is hearing from the people living and working in these areas and learning how our proposals could affect them. This helps bring the proposals to life and really show where we’ve done a good job and where improvements could be made. We know we won’t have got everything right first time as we’re not the experts on each area – you are!
There are some things I’ve been particularly surprised by. First is the level of support we’ve seen in some areas – it’s encouraging that people are taking the time to come and tell us when they think we’ve done a good job. This is just as important as telling us where improvements could be made, otherwise when we revise the proposals we might change something people really liked!
Second is the strong community evidence that has been put forward. I saw this most vividly in Leeds where lots of people from different walks of life came to speak to us about Bradford South. They didn’t like our proposals to move wards that are currently in the Bradford South constituency to Halifax, Spen and Pudsey constituencies, and they gave plenty of community-based reasons why – drawing on their own local experience to support their arguments. It demonstrated how strong the community was in this area and because they took the time to come and speak to us, our Assistant Commissioners now know this is an area we need to think about again. We are constrained by strict rules set out in law so we can never guarantee we’ll be able to address every issue raised, and it will be a case of balancing the evidence we heard in Leeds against the other factors the Commission has to take into account.
Once the public hearings are over and the consultation has closed I’ll be working to prepare all the representations you have made for publication. You will then have the opportunity to look through these and comment on them as part of a second consultation (this will probably take place in spring 2017). Our Assistant Commissioners will then look at what was submitted in both consultations and decide whether to recommend changes to our initial proposals. We then revise the proposals where necessary before running one last consultation and finally submitting our report with our recommended constituency boundary changes to Parliament in September 2018.
As you can see a lot of work goes into this process and we certainly wouldn’t be able to do it without the help of the public. If you think you can help and have something to say about our initial proposals, make sure you submit your comments before 5 December at www.bce2018.org.uk and keep an eye out for future consultations. And if you’ve already got involved – thank you! Your evidence is invaluable in helping us shape the new Parliamentary constituencies in England.