Major shake-up for Essex seats

By GRAHAM DINESPolitical EditorCLACTON and Witham are to get their own MPs and the North Essex constituency of shadow defence secretary Bernard Jenkin disappears under a major shake-up of parliamentary constituencies proposed yesterday.

By Graham Dines

By GRAHAM DINES

Political Editor

CLACTON and Witham are to get their own MPs and the North Essex constituency of shadow defence secretary Bernard Jenkin disappears under a major shake-up of parliamentary constituencies proposed yesterday.


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If Parliament gives the go-ahead, changes compiled by the Boundary Commission will 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.

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

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

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

Braintree and Witham are to be divided between two MPs. The Witham seat will 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 will 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."

John Whittingdale, Tory MP for Maldon & Chelmsford East, anticipated many objections from constituents at the Commission's plans to divide the tiny Maldon district between two MPs for the first time.

The Liberal Democrats believe the changes give them a great chance of snatching the new Chelmsford seat, and West Chelmsford Tory MP Simon Burns's only comment was that he would study "very carefully" the plans.

Although the changes will not come into force until the General Election after next – which may 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 made necessary because of the explosion in the county. Colchester 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.

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