Public inquiry for boundary changes

PROPOSALS to carve up the parliamentary map of Essex to create an extra MP have run into a barrage of criticism from Labour and the Tories, parish councils and hundreds of ordinary voters.

PROPOSALS to carve up the parliamentary map of Essex to create an extra MP have run into a barrage of criticism from Labour and the Tories, parish councils and hundreds of ordinary voters.

There is such hostility to the plans drawn up by the independent Boundary Commission for England that an unprecedented six days have been set aside before Christmas for a public inquiry to be held.

The Commission wants to give Clacton and Witham their own MPs, which means scrapping the current constituency of North Essex, held by Shadow Defence Secretary Bernard Jenkin, and redrawing the boundaries of nearly all the other 15 seats right through the county.

The plans generally favour the Conservative party, with a totally new Harwich seat taking in much of Mr Jenkin's constituency, and radically altering Braintree, Chelmsford, Maldon and Saffron Walden.


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The towns of Basildon and Billericay would be joined, while Ongar would be cut off from Brentwood and swallowed in a redrawn Epping Forest division.

Hundreds of voters in Ongar have objected and residents of villages situated in the borough of Chelmsford resent being moved into the Saffron Walden constituency.

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West Chelmsford's Tory MP Simon Burns called the Commission's proposals illogical, breaking the natural tie which villages have with Chelmsford.

Harwich's Labour MP Ivan Henderson objects to the splitting of Harwich and Clacton.

"We have two coastal communities which have much history in common. "They are united by new educational and health initiatives and work well with me as MP - it would be wrong to make them work with two MPs," he said.

The Labour Party will put forward a countywide alternative to the plans at the inquiry and the Tories will also object to key elements of the Commission's proposals. Both parties recognise, however, that the number of MPs in Essex must increase by one to 18.

The Liberal Democrats are largely in favour of the plans. Colchester MP Bob Russell says the Commission has recognised the need to keep the historic borough in one constituency, rather than spitting it between two MPs as it was between 1983 and 1997.

A spokesman for the Commission said: "Changes are necessary because the number of electors in Essex has grown by 70,000. As they are not all in the same location, existing boundaries have to be amended to accommodate them."

The inquiry will be held at county hall in Chelmsford from Monday December 15 until the 22nd. If the QC in charge of the hearing, Anthony Seys Llewellyn, orders changes to the Commission's proposals, it is unlikely another inquiry will be held, even if there are objectors to the new plans.

The revised boundaries will not come into force until July 2006, after the date of the next election.

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