Saturday, 12 November 2016

My alternative boundaries: Thames Valley

As the public hearings on new parliamentary constituencies go on, I move on to the largest region in this series, the South East, which is in my opinion too large and too incoherent.

The Thames Valley (Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, and Oxfordshire) is really a separate region in its own right, and its connections with Hampshire, Surrey, Sussex (both East and West) and Kent are very limited given their distance from those counties. They also look north and westwards in their transport links, not south and eastwards. I therefore will cover this area separately from the rest of the 'South East England' region.

Buckinghamshire is relatively easy to review in this context if you leave out Milton Keynes (which as I have said earlier in my blog, is no longer really part of Buckinghamshire at all). The large size of the current Aylesbury constituency means it can donate its most southeasterly areas to put Chesham & Amersham in quota, and this has in fact been recommended by the Boundary Commission. As this also leaves Beaconsfield and Wycombe unchanged, and also still allows Buckingham and Aylesbury to be in quota, I accept this and also their proposal to leave Beaconsfield and Wycombe unaltered.

The situation is more complicated in Oxfordshire and Berkshire as there are considerable disparities in size between the smallest and largest constituencies of each of these counties. Banbury (current electorate: 85,535) poses a particular problem in this regard. The BCE's initial proposal ends up leaving out key outer parts of the town of Bicester, something I and others should not be asked to accept. This means in order to keep the town of Bicester whole, it is necessary to use older boundaries of Banbury (Bicester was not in the Banbury constituency until 1974) and move westwards to the Chipping Norton part of Witney, leaving Bicester to be in another constituency with Thame, as it was from 1950-74 when it was part of Henley. This means the southern half of Witney (including Witney itself) needs to expand eastwards to Kidlington, which was in the Witney constituency from 1983-97, and include the two northernmost wards of the city of Oxford. This also means Oxford East's successor constituency, which in my plan is simply called Oxford (it includes 7/8ths of the city's electorate) can include the railway station in its borders as well as the other colleges, and be separated from Abingdon, which was in Berkshire before 1974 (and really should never have been taken out of Berkshire any more than Wantage or Didcot or Wallingford).

The size of the Wantage constituency, and the Abingdon part of the current Oxford West & Abingdon, means that sadly the old Abingdon constituency cannot be exactly recreated (it would be much too large), nor can we avoid putting part of old northern Berkshire into an Oxfordshire constituency; the best compromise here is to place Didcot and Henley into a constituency and Abingdon and Wantage into a constituency.

The main issue in Berkshire is the fact that Reading's official boundaries are out of date and do not reflect the reality of the Reading conurbation, although the current Reading East and Reading West try their best to do so. Reading itself really needs to be split North and South, as it was from 1974-83, as the road connections and railway connections lead mainly east to west, as does the expanded conurbation itself. This also means a 'York solution' (i.e. central and outer) cannot be used to create two sensible Reading constituencies. Meanwhile, Windsor can simply add an outer part of Bracknell, and Wokingham can shift to take a small part of the oversized Newbury and a few villages north of the M4; even though these can be considered to be part of the Reading conurbation, Wokingham does not have enough electors to spare for two larger Reading constituencies no matter how the map is drawn under the current parameters.

My alternative constituencies for the Thames Valley region are therefore:

Witney & Oxford North succeeds Witney.
Bicester & Thame succeeds Henley in practice.
Oxford succeeds Oxford East.
Abingdon & Wantage succeeds Oxford West & Abingdon.
Didcot & Henley succeeds Wantage.
Reading South East succeeds Reading East and is similar in many ways to the 1974-83 constituency of Reading South.
Reading North West succeeds Reading West and shares similarities with the 1974-83 constituency of Reading North.
Beaconsfield, Wycombe, Slough, and Maidenhead are all unchanged.

Next in this series: Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.

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