Review of Parliamentary boundaries in London – complications ahead for planning and engagement?

Last month the Boundary Commission for England made public its initial review of Parliamentary constituency boundaries in England.

This forms part of the Sixth Periodic Review of Westminster constituencies, implemented by the coalition government with the aim of reducing the total number of MPs to 600 (from 650) – or to 501 (from 533) in England. Most would agree that the boundaries were in need of review, with massive moves in population since the last review, which has left English constituencies ranging from 55,000 electors to 95,000 electors – the 2018 proposals would ensure that each constituency had between 71,000 and 78,000 electors. Much of the debate that has followed has looked at the potential electoral impact of these proposed changes, and whether or not the figures used by the commission are fair. However, in this blog, we are going to take a look at another, more tangential potential outcome of these changes: the relationship between Members of Parliament and their local authority.

A lot of an MP’s work representing their constituent’s interests involves liaising with the relevant local authority: on issues from housing benefit to car parking; education to waste collection, an MP needs to know how a local authority operates and the ins and outs of its different departments, including making personal contacts with key officers, in order to effectively direct constituents’ queries and press the council to act swiftly. Similarly, councils must work with MPs to ensure they are kept abreast of the goings on in the borough, and respond to MPs’ concerns on local issues. As we discussed in a previous blog, planning applications or other schemes can often be delayed when they become a political football.

Looking at Greater London, the proposed boundary changes are likely to exacerbate this issue. In reducing the number of constituencies in London from 73 to 68, the Boundary Commission has had to draw more constituencies that sit across two local authorities. Currently, 50 constituencies are contained entirely in one borough, and 23 cross over into another. After the review, only 23 constituencies would be in only one borough, with 43 across two, and a further two new constituencies that would spread into three different boroughs. This means there will be twice as many MPs as previously who have to deal with two or three different local authorities, which may have different policies on housing, planning, green spaces and many other issues.

South London has been particularly redrawn.

South London before review
South London after review

If you are interested in a more detailed briefing of what the boundary changes mean, contact:

T: +44 (0)20 8819 0555
D: +44 (0)20 3637 5963
E: david@nudgefactory.co.uk

The current boundaries are mostly neatly aligned with local authorities, with only four that are split across two councils: Richmond Park, Dulwich and West Norwood, Lewisham West and Penge, and Erith and Thamesmead. This will rise to thirteen different constituencies if the proposed boundary changes are implemented, and the proposed Streatham and Mitcham constituency will sit uncomfortably across Lambeth, Merton and Croydon.

Streatham before review
Streatham and Mitcham after review

From Councils’ perspective, they will see an increase in the number of MPs that they have to work with too. Currently, of the 33 local authorities in Greater London, 17 contain three different constituencies, 4 contain four, and two contain five. After the review, 11 will have three, 8 will have four, 6 will have 5, and now Lambeth will have six different MPs with an interest in the borough.

Lambeth before review
Lambeth after review

The proposed new boundaries are just that – proposals – and the Boundary Commission is currently taking feedback from members of the public and stakeholders, and will revise the boundaries towards the end of 2017 based on responses they receive. However, with the Boundary Commission given little leeway over constituency sizes, it seems inevitable that we shall see greater complication of the political process across London in the final reckoning.  If the aim of the reduced number of Members of Parliament is to decrease the cost of politics and increase the efficiency of the system, then – in London at least – the boundary changes could lead to increased and more complicated casework for MPs, more duplication of communicating with and briefing MPs for local authorities, and more chance of local issues being politicised.

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