Pendle MP slams constituency reform plans as ‘daft’

andrew stephenson mp
andrew stephenson mp

PLANS to split the Pendle parliamentary constituency in two have been slammed from all sides of the political spectrum this week.

The proposals – part of the biggest shake-up in parliamentary boundaries in more than a quarter-of-a-century – were put forward by the Boundary Commission for England on Tuesday.

If adopted, they would see Nelson, Colne, Barrowford, Brierfield and the surrounding villages incorporated with five council wards from Burnley, in a new constituency named Burnley North and Nelson.

West Craven, meanwhile, would be placed in a new Ribble Valley constituency, stretching from the fringe of the Trough of Bowland to Bamber Bridge, on the outskirts of Preston.

Pendle’s Conservative MP Andrew Stephenson described the proposals as “daft”, and said there was no reason for splitting the constituency.

He said an MP for the Ribble Valley would have a “near impossible” task of covering four different local government areas, and criticised the choice of name of the proposed new constituency, saying it “clearly failed” to represent Colne and the surrounding villages.

“This has clearly been drawn up by people with no geographic knowledge of the area, and we will be campaigning strongly for the proposals to be revised,” he said.

Leading local Liberal Democrat Coun. David Whipp said: “It is a pity Pendle cannot be a constituency on its own any more – this has been of great benefit to Pendle. We will be discussing the proposals with Liberal Democrats from neighbouring seats, and across the North West, to see what alternative proposals we may want to make as a party.”

Vice-chairman of Pendle Labour Party Azhar Ali said: “The Boundary Commission should not split Pendle up.

“It could lead to a knock-on effect with local authority boundaries having to be redrawn next.

“It is particularly bad for West Craven being put into a large Ribble Valley constituency, stretching as far as Bamber Bridge.”

Former Pendle MP Gordon Prentice, defeated by Mr Stephenson at last year’s General Election, predicted the changes would lead to Labour winning the new seat at the next election.

He said: “In Pendle, the overwhelmingly white West Craven will be bolted on to the very conservative Ribble Valley.

“The substantial Lib Dem vote in Barnoldswick, painstakingly built up over decades, will be submerged in a sea of blue.

“The small working class town of Earby – which, to me, will always be the Tory Town – goes into Ribble Valley.

“Mysteriously, the town turns out in great numbers for Conservative candidates. Always has done.

“Pendle’s remaining wards will be fused with part of neighbouring Burnley to become Burnley North and Nelson. There will be a very substantial British Asian vote up for grabs. On paper, the new constituency looks like a three-way marginal, but it is very likely to go Labour at the next election.”

The proposals will now be the subject of public consultation until the end of the year.

This time next year, the Commission will make a revised set of proposals, and the whole process will be completed in October, 2013, with the new constituencies used for the first time at the next General Election, probably in 2015.

Statistics produced by The Guardian showed that if the 2010 General Election had been fought on the proposed boundaries, Mr Stephenson’s majority of 3,585 would have been reduced to 901. The addition of West Craven to Ribble Valley, meanwhile, would have resulted in its MP, Nigel Evans, being returned with a majority of 11,000.