BOUNDARY COMMISSION RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE CURRENT BATTERSEA CONSTITUENCY
1 The Boundary Commission recommends:-
- moving Fairfield ward from Battersea into a new Putney constituency numbering 80,073 as of 1st December 2010;
- moving Balham and Northcote wards into a new Clapham Common constituency of 79,354 as of 1st December 2010;
- and making the remaining four wards of Latchmere, Queenstown, St. Mary’s Park and Shaftesbury the majority element of a Battersea and Vauxhall constituency of 78,199.
All three of these proposed constituencies are larger than the UK electoral quota of 76,641 and yet population growth in Wandsworth in particular and in south west London in general is expected to be one of the fastest growing in the country. It is therefore probable that all three proposed constituencies will be larger than the target maximum electorate of 80,473 by the time the new boundaries actually come into effect. These proposals, therefore, build an even greater instability and democratic unfairness into the system than is in any case inherent.
2 We have taken the Greater London Authority’s 2010 Round, Demographic Projections for the London Borough of Wandsworth, to illustrate this point. It shows that the Borough’s population is estimated to have grown by 11% between the years 2001 and 2011 and is expected to grow by a further 11% in the ten years 2011-2021. There are actually three projections, known as scenario one and scenario two and the Strategic Housing Availability Assessment (SHLAA). The following figures are largely based on the SHLAA figures, which are close to scenario one. The figures in scenario two have been excluded for these purposes, but it is worth noting that they predict an even greater rate of population growth for Wandsworth.
3 Two of the fastest growing ward populations, namely in Thamesfield and Southfields, are in the Putney constituency, which even on 2010 figures is only 400 people short of the maximum number. It is almost guaranteed to exceed it by May, 2015.
4 However, by far the largest growth rates in the period 2001-21 are expected in Queenstown ward with an estimated 96% growth rate and St. Mary’s Park with an estimated 50% growth rate. These two wards alone represent 30.9% of Wandsworth’s estimated population growth and both of them are proposed to be in the Battersea and Vauxhall constituency. By way of confirmation of these trends, they actually supplied 30.9% of the growth in the decade 2001/11 as well as being expected to provide 30.9% of the growth in the coming decade. The neighbouring wards in Lambeth, with which they are coupled in the proposals, are also likely to have high growth rates thanks to major developments in Vauxhall and Nine Elms.
5 Currently the proposed Battersea and Vauxhall constituency already has a population larger than the electoral quota although below the maximum allowed. Its growth rate is, however, so high that it will, like Putney, almost certainly exceed the maximum by May, 2015.
6 The five wards proposed to be moved into the Clapham Common constituency, that is Balham, Earlsfield, Nightingale, Northcote and Wandsworth Common, have much lower growth rates with an average of approximately 16% but they are all likely to be growing at a faster rate than the London and certainly the national average rate.
7 Ironically the slower growing wards of Bedford, Furzedown, Graveney and Tooting, averaging about 15.5% growth rates, are proposed to be moved into the new Streatham and Tooting constituency – the only one of the proposed “Wandsworth” constituencies with an estimated population smaller than the quota figure, 464 smaller to be precise.
8 In the interest of greater stability of boundaries and of fairer democratic representation we urge the Boundary Commissioners to reconsider the proposals on the basis that fast growing areas should, if anything, have proposed populations smaller than the average electoral quota and that slow growing or declining areas should have the larger populations.
9 Unless the Boundary Commission proposals are amended in this way, and given the narrow parameters that have been set, this would result in Shaftesbury ward and possibly even Latchmere ward being moved out of Battersea and Vauxhall by 2020. It is difficult to model what the ripple effect would be of that, but it might suggest that Balham ward would have to go into Streatham and Tooting, and Wimbledon Park into a Wimbledon seat. The effect is constant instability.
10 The Boundary Commission is required to respect natural geographic boundaries, but it has defined that in a fairly narrow sense without regard to the nature of place and geography. As a result the place of Battersea comes out of these proposals extremely badly. Despite the name, Battersea and Vauxhall, much of the traditional area of Battersea would under these proposals be in either Clapham Common or Putney constituency. The station, Clapham Junction, which is at the heart of Battersea, will be in Clapham Common and whilst the old Town Hall and the main library are in the proposed Battersea and Vauxhall constituency, they are only just so. Indeed the main shopping and commercial centre of Battersea is almost exactly where the three constituencies meet.
11 Given the current need for extra attention to this (at least in part) troubled town centre, it is inflammatory to divide the area so arbitrarily, taking no account of the unifying and centralising role of Clapham Junction station and town centre in the social and communal life of Battersea.
12 Moreover, the proposed new Clapham Common constituency has no coherent geographic centre, divided as it is into three almost equal parts by the large open spaces of Clapham and Wandsworth Commons.
13 Given the level of instability inherently built into the system and with three of the four proposed “Wandsworth” constituencies both larger than the electoral quota AND fast growing, a question must arise about the closeness of the links between the MP and his/her constituency. The probability is that at the next review, due for the 2020 election, several wards including probably Shaftesbury, Balham and Wimbledon Park will have to be moved from their constituencies as they would otherwise be too large. It must therefore be questionable whether the relevant electors will be able to expect a good service from their MP given the transient nature of the boundaries.
14 Because of the prescriptive nature of the legislation, it is likely that significant constituency boundary changes will be required at every review. Currently these are scheduled for every 5 yearly parliamentary elections. This can only result in unstable constituency boundaries which will be destabilising for electors. It is also worth noting that the local party organisations (of all parties) will be forced continually to form and then re-form, destabilising the bedrock of community politics. Boundary Changes should therefore revert to the customary 10 year cycle.
15 The current legislation mandates a reduction in constituencies from 650 to 600. We believe this is short sighted and ill-advised, especially with reference to inner city constituencies. They generate high demand for MP’s services and currently benefit from co-ordinated attention from MPs and local authorities, working within co-terminous boundaries.
16 An extra feature of the Wandsworth and Lambeth constituencies, which the Boundary Commission should take into account, is the considerable discrepancy between their electoral populations and the actual populations. This is largely accounted for by the very large numbers of European and other immigrants, who live in these parts of London, but who do not have the vote. This population often imposes a large workload on both the MP and local councillors.
17 Furthermore, whilst recognising that the Boundary Commission has not taken into account local authority boundaries, the results of this review are perverse. For many years, the Boundary Commission, local authorities, the Metropolitan Police Service and the NHS have been working towards co-terminosity. Clearly that has had many advantages, eliminating the duplication of roles and number of communication links to the extent that Wandsworth Council now has to deal with only three MPs, each of whom has to deal with only one local authority and one police division. If the current proposals proceed as proposed then Wandsworth will have to deal with four MPs, each of whom will have to deal with at least 2 local authorities and 2 police divisions.
18 With the proposed Battersea and Vauxhall constituency having 4 Wandsworth wards and 4 Lambeth wards, and the proposed Clapham Common constituency having 5 Wandsworth constituencies and 3 Lambeth wards it appears obvious that the boundaries could be drawn with far greater respect to local authority boundaries. That would respect both the historical and geographical expectations of the relevant population.
19 In conclusion we believe that the Commissioners proposals for Wandsworth are flawed. They should be revised taking into account:-
- the growth rates and trends in population estimates;
- greater concern and attention to historic as well as natural boundaries;
- the workload on MPs and the real population as well as the electoral suffrage;
- co-terminosity with other authority boundaries.
Tony Belton and Penelope Corfield on behalf of the Battersea Labour Party
31st October 2011.