A single MP for Morecambe, Heysham and Lancaster is looking increasingly likely.
Despite massive objections from residents, boundary chiefs still want to create a new ‘merged’ parliamentary constituency in time for the next general election.
This would mean the current Morecambe and Lunesdale, and Lancaster and Fleetwood 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 Lancaster University – would be created.
The Boundary Commission for England published revised proposals on Tuesday (October 17) which will now go out to a final public consultation.
They also revealed a report 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.
The report said proposals for the Lancaster and Morecambe seat were “amongst the most contentious in the region”.
“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, who is staunchly against the plans to create a combined seat, 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.”
But Cat Smith, MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood, backed the proposals and is also quoted in the report.
“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,” she said.
“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.
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 move to put Lancaster University in a North Lancashire seat – not in the Lancaster and Morecambe seat – has also proven controversial with many residents.
“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 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 new North Lancashire seat would also take in Silverdale, Caton, Carnforth, the Kellets, Galgate, Brookhouse, Hornby and Arkholme.
The public has until December 11 to comment on the proposals. See HERE.
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.