County's MPs face seats shake-up

By Graham DinesPolitical EditorCLACTON and Witham would get their own MPs, while the North Essex constituency of shadow defence secretary Bernard Jenkin would disappear under a proposed shake-up of parliamentary constituencies.

By Graham Dines

Political Editor

CLACTON and Witham would get their own MPs, while the North Essex constituency of shadow defence secretary Bernard Jenkin would disappear under a proposed shake-up of parliamentary constituencies.

If Parliament gives the go-ahead, the changes compiled by the Boundary Commission would give Essex an extra MP and carve up Mr Jenkin's division between the new Clacton seat and a redrawn Harwich - ending a centuries-old link between the two towns.

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Harwich would include the town of that name plus Wivenhoe, Dedham, Great Tey, West Bergholt, Eight Ash Green, West Mersea, Brightlingsea and Alresford from North Essex.

Maldon and Chelmsford East would be redrawn, renamed Maldon, and would include Rettendon and South Hanningfield from Rayleigh and Stock and Margaretting and West Chelmsford.

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It would be a major blow to the Conservative MP Simon Burns. Not only would his West Chelmsford seat lose the solid Conservative territory of Stock and Margaretting, the rural areas of Boreham and Writtle would go into Saffron Walden, creating a Chelmsford seat vulnerable to the Liberal Democrats.

Braintree and Witham would be divided between two MPs. The Witham seat would take in Stanway from Colchester, Marks Tey from North Essex, Tolleshunt D'Arcy and Great Totham from Maldon, and Hatfield Peverel, Black Notley, Kelvedon, Silver End, Rivenhall as well as Witham town from the current Braintree seat.

To compensate, Braintree would be redrawn to include chunks of Saffron Walden including Yeldham, Halstead, and Bumpstead.

Braintree's Labour agent and secretary Peter Long doubted if the changes would go through unaltered.

“We will be consulting the other Labour constituency parties and seeking to alter what the Boundary Commission has proposed,” he said.

John Whittingdale, the Conservative MP for Maldon and Chelmsford East, anticipated many objections from constituents at the Boundary Commission's plan to divide the Maldon district between two MPs for the first time.

The Liberal Democrats believe the changes would give them a great chance of snatching the new Chelmsford seat.

West Chelmsford Conservative MP Simon Burns's only comment was he would study “very carefully” the plans.

Although the changes would not come into force until the General Election after next - which might not be until June 2011 if both this and the next parliaments run their full five-year courses - the Boundary Commission has allowed just six weeks for public consultation. A public inquiry is expected to open in Chelmsford later in the year,

The wholesale redrawing of the Essex political map has been made necessary because of the population explosion in the county.

Colchester Liberal Democrat MP Bob Russell said his seat would now match exactly the boundaries of the borough of Colchester which existed before local government reform in 1974.

“The loss of Stanway will hurt the Liberal Democrats more than Labour and the Tories, but I do not think it will affect the overall ability of the Lib Dems to win,” said Mr Russell, who has been Colchester's MP since the last boundary change created the seat in 1997.

In Suffolk, the Boundary Commission has already announced it wants both Great and Little Whelnetham, near Bury St Edmunds, out of the Bury constituency - which is represented by Conservative MP David Ruffley.

It wants the villages to become part of the West Suffolk seat, which is centred around Newmarket, Mildenhall and Brandon and is represented by fellow Conservative MP Richard Spring.

The two communities are linked with neighbouring Horringer, part of the West Suffolk constituency, as a single ward in the borough of St Edmundsbury.

The Boundary Commission has proposed the changes because it dislikes the idea of wards being divided between constituencies.

But dozens of angry villagers have joined forces with politicians of various colours to voice their concerns at the “ludicrous” proposals, and the Boundary Commission will this summer hold a public inquiry into the plans in Ipswich.

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