Borderline row as Tory leaders dispute boundary changes

Pam Mills
Nus Ghani might see her constituency lost

Nus Ghani’s Wealden seat would be one of 50 abolished under proposals to cut the number of UK constituencies to 600 in a bid to even up the number of voters per seat.

Following a consultation, the Tory Government is planning to move the changes through Parliament next year after Brexit. New boundaries would come into force for the 2022 general election.

It has not been decided which existing MPs would take which seats, but it seems likely Greg Clark would become MP of the proposed Tunbridge Wells & Crowborough constituency – which would cover parts of Kent and East Sussex for the first time.

This would take in much of the existing Wealden, but see Pembury, Langton Green and Southborough lost to Tom Tugendhat’s revised Tonbridge patch.

The Tory-led government has been criticised nationally for looking to change the boundaries to keep themselves in power, with several Labour-held Welsh seats set to be dissolved.

But locally, there’s dissent over the new boundaries appearing at odds with those for borough councils – which critics have said could ‘split the community’.

Cllr David Jukes, leader of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, will share his concerns in a full council meeting tonight [Wednesday, September 26]. He will appeal for members of all parties to support his bid to adopt his motion as the council’s official position.

The Conservative’s motion of notice states: “Whilst recognising the motivation driving the boundary review, this council regrets the final proposals have failed to take account of the views of this council and local people.

“The proposals fail to recognise natural and historic communities of place, are administratively burdensome and would impact adversely on democratic representation. We urge our local MPs to reject these proposals and to seek revisions that better reflect the views of local people.”

Cllr Jukes represents Speldhurst & Bidborough ward. Both these villages would both be swallowed by Tonbridge under the plan, meaning voters would elect a councillor for Tunbridge Wells Borough but elect a Tonbridge MP.

Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council leader Nicolas Heslop has also criticised the proposals, which would see Tom Tugendhat’s constituency lose Kings Hill, home to the council’s offices.

“As a council, we have concern they do not reflect the best interests of residents as longstanding associations between communities were severed,” said Mr Heslop.

“There was a strong feeling that communities that were affiliated with each other should continue to be linked and in the same Parliamentary constituency.”

Whitehall had appointed the independent Boundary Commission to draw up the new lines for all constituencies to have between 71,031 and 78,507 voters.

Cllr Bob Standley, leader of Wealden District Council, said: “I am generally in favour. It is right to reduce the number of seats from a cost point of view. It also currently takes more votes, statistically, to elect a Conservative MP than a Labour one.

“Nus Ghani is a good MP and I hope she stays locally, but I don’t think it is fair to change what has been proposed because of one example.”

Bjorn Simpole, Vice Chair of Tunbridge Wells Labour Party, said: “It is quite clear that these plans have been drawn up by people with no understanding of our local communities and residents’ historical ties to the place in which they live.

“There were 108 representations by Tunbridge Wells residents in the last stage of the consultation, the vast majority of which were opposed to the proposals, and these have been ignored.”

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