The 2023 Review of Parliamentary Constituency Boundaries in England – Volume one: Report – South West
The South West currently has 55 constituencies. Of these, 23 have electorates within the permitted electorate range. The electorates of seven constituencies currently fall below the permitted range, while the electorates of 25 constituencies are above. Our proposals increase the number of constituencies in the region by three, to 58.
The South West comprises the ceremonial counties of: Avon (including Bath and North East Somerset, Bristol, North Somerset, and South Gloucestershire); Wiltshire (including Swindon); Cornwall (including the Isles of Scilly); Devon (including Plymouth and Torbay); Dorset (including Bournemouth, Christchurch, and Poole); Gloucestershire; and Somerset. The South West region is covered by a mix of district and county councils, and unitary authorities.
We appointed two Assistant Commissioners for the South West – Anita Bickerdike and Vicky Smith – to assist us with the analysis of the representations received during the first two consultation periods. This included chairing public hearings, which were held in the region in order to hear oral evidence directly from the public. The dates and locations of these hearings were:
Exeter: 21–22 March 2022
Gloucester: 24–25 March 2022
Bath: 28–29 March 2022
Dorchester: 31 March–1 April 2022.
Following Ms Smith’s resignation, John Feavyour QPM was appointed Assistant Commissioner for the region.
In formulating our initial proposals, we noted that the electorate of the South West of 4,242,136 results in it being entitled to 58 constituencies, an increase of three. We then considered how this number of constituencies could be split across the region.
Gloucestershire’s electorate of 483,442 results in a mathematical entitlement to 6.59 constituencies. This is too large for six whole constituencies, and too small for seven. It therefore needed to be paired in a sub-region with a neighbouring county or unitary authority. Wiltshire (including the Swindon unitary authority), has a combined electorate of 533,514, resulting in a mathematical entitlement to 7.27 constituencies. While it was possible to formulate a pattern of constituencies within Wiltshire, we considered that pairing the two counties allowed us to create a pattern of constituencies that better reflects the statutory factors across the sub‑region as a whole. Having combined Gloucestershire and Wiltshire in one sub-region, we proposed the allocation of 14 constituencies, an increase of one constituency. We considered that the constituency crossing the county boundaries should not be between Gloucestershire and Swindon unitary authority: doing so would mean that the town of Swindon would be divided between three constituencies, covering three council areas (Swindon, Wiltshire, and a Gloucestershire local authority).
The electorate of the unitary authorities that constitute the former county of Avon, at 854,331, results in a mathematical entitlement to 11.64 constituencies. While it was possible to allocate 12 constituencies to Avon, the average electorate in the county would be 71,194, only 1,470 electors within the permitted electorate range, meaning that we would have limited flexibility in formulating a pattern of constituencies. The electorate of Devon (including Plymouth and Torbay) at 919,454 results in a mathematical entitlement to 12.53 constituencies. It would therefore be difficult to allocate a whole number of constituencies to the county without significant disruption to local ties. We therefore proposed that the county be grouped with another county. Somerset has an electorate of 425,570, which results in a mathematical entitlement to 5.80 constituencies and, while it was possible to allocate a whole number of constituencies to both Devon and Somerset, we proposed that the two counties be grouped together. Given the limited flexibility in constructing constituencies within Avon, we proposed that it should form part of a sub-region with the other two counties, thereby creating a sub-region comprising Avon, Somerset and Devon. This results in a mathematical entitlement to 29.97 constituencies and an allocation of 30 constituencies to the sub-region, representing an increase of two from the current figure. We therefore proposed three constituencies that cross county boundaries in this sub-region. Two would cross the county boundary between Avon and Somerset and the other would cross the county boundary between Somerset and Devon.
The unitary authorities in Dorset have a combined electorate of 587,471, resulting in a mathematical entitlement to 8.00 constituencies. We therefore considered Dorset as a sub‑region in its own right and allocated eight whole constituencies, which is the same as the existing allocation.
With an electorate of 438,354, Cornwall (including the Isles of Scilly) had a mathematical entitlement to 5.97 constituencies. We proposed to treat Cornwall as a sub-region in its own right and allocated to it six constituencies, which is unchanged from its existing number. Treating Cornwall as its own sub-region avoided the construction of a constituency that crossed the boundary between Cornwall and Devon, which was mathematically necessary in previous reviews.
Counter proposals were received that suggested alternative sub-regions. A key feature of some of these counter proposals was to avoid crossing, where possible, existing county boundaries, or even the traditional ‘shire’ county boundaries that existed prior to the 1974 reorganisation of county boundaries:
sub-regions of: Gloucestershire, South Gloucestershire and Bristol; Bath and North East Somerset, North Somerset, and Somerset; Wiltshire, Dorset, and Devon; and Cornwall
one representation for a region-wide counter proposal that was the same as we had proposed, but split the Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch constituencies and involved six county boundary crossings
sub-regions of: Gloucestershire, Bristol and Somerset; Wiltshire; Dorset; Devon; and Cornwall
sub-regions of: historic Gloucestershire and Bristol; historic Somerset; Devon; Wiltshire; Dorset; and Cornwall. One counter proposal suggesting these alternative sub-regions added that the adoption of these sub‑regions would require ‘some compromises’.
In formulating our revised proposals, we noted that these counter proposals for alternative sub‑regions had some merit and aimed at minimising constituencies that crossed county boundaries. However, the sub-regions we had proposed were largely supported during the consultation on the initial proposals, particularly from those commenting on the whole region and from the four qualifying political parties. We concluded that in some cases the alternative sub‑regions would result in more disruption to some existing constituencies and would not therefore better reflect the statutory factors in the region.
In the response to our revised proposals, we did not receive any further evidence that would justify the use of alternative sub-regions to those we adopted in our revised proposals, and we were not persuaded that the alternative proposals had garnered greater support in the secondary consultation. Therefore, the sub-regions we propose as part of the final recommendations are:
Gloucestershire and Wiltshire (including Swindon)
Avon (Bath and North East Somerset; Bristol; North Somerset; and South Gloucestershire), Somerset and Devon (including Plymouth and Torbay)
Dorset (including Bournemouth, Christchurch, and Poole)