MPs speak out on ‘Lancaster and Morecambe’ combined seat

Cat Smith, MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood, and David Morris, MP for Morecambe and Lunesdale.
Cat Smith, MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood, and David Morris, MP for Morecambe and Lunesdale.

Our MPs have both spoken out against controversial plans to create a combined Lancaster and Morecambe parliamentary seat.

David Morris, MP for Morecambe and Lunesdale, said he was “appalled and outraged” that the Boundary Commission for England still wants to have one MP for Lancaster, Morecambe and Heysham in time for the next general election despite massive public objections.

Parliamentary boundaries are set to change.

Parliamentary boundaries are set to change.

And Cat Smith, MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood, said she couldn’t back the proposals either because they are based on “out of date data”.

A report out this week into a nationwide shake-up of seats says proposals for the Lancaster and Morecambe seat were “amongst the most contentious in the region”.

The Boundary Commission for England also still wants to put Lancaster University in a new seat outside Lancaster despite recommendations to the contrary.

The revised proposals for England, published on Tuesday, will now go out to a final public consultation.

The plans would mean the current Lancaster and Fleetwood, and Morecambe and Lunesdale seats would be scrapped.

A new Lancaster and Morecambe seat, and a separate North Lancashire seat stretching from the outskirts of Preston to the Cumbrian border – controversially including the University and Scotforth Rural ward – would be created.

Speaking after the proposals were published, Mr Morris said: “The decision by the Boundary Commission not to change their initial proposals against a huge outcry goes against the democratic will of the people of Morecambe and Lunesdale who overwhelmingly opposed these proposals.”

He said that 96.1 per cent of the 6,194 people who took part in the first and second stage of the public consultation were against a combined seat and against parts of the area going into the new North Lancashire seat.

Mr Morris said this was “a record number of submissions ever in these kinds of consultations”.

“For this proposal to go through it has to go through a vote in the House,” he said.

“This vote is looking less and less likely that it will go through but I am today pledging to my constituents that as their democratically elected representative I will not ignore their voice and ensure I vote against these proposals when they come to the House to preserve our community.”

Ms Smith said after the report was published: “Although this better reflects community ties than Lancaster and Fleetwood I cannot vote to support these changes which are based on out-of-date data with hundreds of thousands of people not counted across the country.

“In addition, to lose 50 MPs when we plan to also lose 73 MEPs risks us not having enough representatives to scrutinise government.

“These plans are unfair and undemocratic. If there are to be changes they should be based on the most up-to-date electoral register with appropriate flexibility to take into account community ties and geography.”

A report was also revealed this week into findings from a public hearing held in Lancaster in October 2016 and correspondence received from residents during a 12-week consultation into initial proposals last year.

“As well as attracting hundreds of individual representations from residents of both Lancaster and Morecambe, we received several sets of letter writing campaigns submitted by the Member of Parliament for Morecambe and Lunesdale, David Morris, and two further petitions signed by hundreds of residents from Lancaster,” says the report.

“The main objection to the Lancaster and Morecambe constituency was that the two towns had distinct and separate identities. During the current review, we also noted the passion with which many respondents, mostly located within Morecambe, expressed their wish to remain in a separate constituency to Lancaster.

“Many residents of Morecambe held the view that sharing Parliamentary representation with Lancaster would lead to Morecambe being neglected.”

Mr Morris is quoted in the report.

“There is still a lot of bad blood following the merger of the councils of Morecambe and Lancaster,” he said.

“I do not feel that one Member of Parliament would be able to support the differing needs of a student city and a seaside resort properly or effectively.”

Ms Smith is also quoted in the report.

She said: “The people in Lancaster, Morecambe and Heysham they all use the same public services, that is the Royal Lancaster Infirmary, which is the main hospital for accident and emergency and maternity services.

“Post-16 education outside school provision is delivered at the Lancashire and Morecambe College. Public transport links across this constituency are strong with regular bus services covering Heysham, Morecambe and Lancaster, as well as a railway service linking the two populations.

“Whilst Heysham, Morecambe and Lancaster all have very different and distinct identities, and I do not dispute that, they share far more in common with each other than they do with anywhere else in the area.”

The Conservative Party’s counter-proposal, to keep the existing Morecambe and Lunesdale constituency adding Bulk and Lower Lune Valley, and proposing a Lancaster and Wyre constituency that contained the remaining wards from the Lancaster City Council area, and included five wards from Preston Borough, was rejected by the commission.

The Tories argued that their configuration represented “the least worst” option, and noted “that the ward does have links with the Skerton wards which are already in the Morecambe and Lunesdale constituency.”

But there was opposition to this, with Lancaster residents worried that Bulk should not be divided from the rest of the city.

Another counter-proposal, by Morecambe Town Council, to recreate the pre-1983 Morecambe and Lonsdale constituency, was also rejected.

The move to put Lancaster University in a North Lancashire seat – not in the Lancaster and Morecambe seat – has proven controversial with many residents.

An alternative was given serious consideration but in the end, overruled by commission chiefs.

“Our assistant commissioners recommended to us that the University should be included in the Lancaster and Morecambe constituency, if additionally the Halton-with-Aughton ward is transferred to it, and the Bolton & Slyne ward is transferred out to the proposed North Lancashire constituency,” says the report.

“They were persuaded of the University’s importance to Lancaster and by representations suggesting that the Bolton & Slyne ward is a logical fit for the North Lancashire constituency.

“While we understand the concerns that many have on the exclusion of the University from the constituency, we agree with the suggestion that student populations are often transient, and note that many students will reside off campus, where they are likely to be electors from the proposed constituency.

“While we recognise that the arguments are finely balanced we do not find the evidence in support of the University being included in a Lancaster constituency, at the expense of the Bolton & Slyne ward, to be sufficiently persuasive.

“While recognising some of the merits of the arguments put to us by the assistant commissioners, we reject their recommendations for this constituency and make no revisions to the initial proposal for Lancaster and Morecambe.”

The report quotes Cat Smith as saying: “I would like to see a proposal which did include the university, although having looked at the numbers myself I can see that there is a challenge unless it was to look seriously at dividing electoral divisions within a ward to pull out the campus itself.

“It is important to recognise that Lancaster University is an out of city campus, that is how it was designed, and the vast majority of students and as far as I am aware all the academics do live in Lancaster itself, so a Lancaster and Morecambe MP would have an interest in being a good representative to the university whether or not it was included in the seat.”

Some people objected to the proposed North Lancashire constituency, with residents from Carnforth and Silverdale worried about its size.

Chris Heath said at the public hearing: “There is very little commonality of interest between people on the north Preston border area or even off up along the Ribble Valley to people on the Morecambe Bay coast.”

But the Labour Party is quoted in the report as saying: “We do not accept that the acreage of the proposed North Lancashire CC is by itself a significant objection to it.”

The new North Lancashire seat would also take in Silverdale, Caton, Carnforth, Quernmore, the Kellets, Galgate, Brookhouse, Hornby and Arkholme.

Under the proposals, Fleetwood would go into a seat with Blackpool North.

Appleby, Orton, Brough and Kirkby Stephen would be transferred into an extended Westmorland and Lonsdale constituency, which also includes the southern lakes.

The public has until December 11 to comment on the proposals. See HERE for all the information.

Following this third and final consultation, final recommendations will go to Parliament in September 2018.

The Boundary Commission for England is an independent and impartial non‑departmental public body, which is responsible for reviewing Parliamentary constituency boundaries in England.

They have been tasked with reducing the number of constituencies in England from 533 to 501, resulting in the number of constituencies in the North West reducing by seven, to 68. Every constituency – apart from two specified exceptions – must have an electorate that is no smaller than 71,031 and no larger than 78,507.