Essex to get extra MP

CLACTON and Witham are to have own MPs and Harwich looks set to become a safe Conservative seat under plans being confirmed today by the Boundary Commission.

By Graham Dines

CLACTON and Witham are to have their own MPs and Harwich looks set to become a safe Conservative seat under plans being confirmed todayby the Boundary Commission.

The independent electoral review body has rejected objections from the Labour Party, which was desperate to keep Harwich and Clacton in one seat, and to retain Witham in the Braintree constituency.

Labour calculates it would have won the new Clacton seat with a majority of 100 had it been in place for the 2001 election, but the changes are bad news for the party. Any upsurge in Tory fortunes will make it very difficult for Labour to win a seat north of Basildon.

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North Essex, the constituency represented by leading Conservative Bernard Jenkin, will be abolished and merged into a new Harwich & North Essex seat, which will include Wivenhoe and Manningtree.

West Chelmsford also disappears, losing Tory voting villages to both the redrawn Maldon and Saffron Walden seats, and a Chelmsford seat is created based on the inner urban wards and Galleywood.

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Nearly 400 representations from local authorities, political parties and private individuals were considered at a week long public inquiry in Chelmsford last December.

But today, the Commission will confirm its original decision to give Essex an extra MP based on East Thurrock and Pitsea and change all the other existing constituency boundaries.

The changes to last year's published proposals include calling one of the new seats Harwich & North Essex, adding the name Rochford to Southend East, and including the ward of Galleywood in the Chelmsford constituency.

However, the changes will not be introduced until the first General Election after June 30 2006, in line with the rest of England and Wales. This means they cannot come into effect before the next election, even if Tony Blair carried on for a full five year term.

The new Clacton seats covers the town, St Osyth, Frinton-on-Sea, Walton, and Holland-on-Sea. Colchester loses Stanway to Witham, which will also take in Marks Tey and Tiptree from the current North Essex.

Rivenhall, Coggleshall, Kelvedon, and Hatfield Peverel will be included in Witham from the existing Braintree seat and Tolleshunt D'Arcy and Tollesbury from the current Maldon division.

Braintree will now be based on the town and the northern rural wards of mid Essex while Maldon is redrawn to include Rettendon, the Hanningfields and Stock.

John Evans, the Chairman of Harwich Conservatives, said: "It will be sad to see Harwich split from Clacton, but we do realise that the populations of Frinton, Walton and Clacton and surrounding villages have grown so much that they warrant their own MP.

"It was inevitable that once the Boundary Commission decided to create a new seat in southern Essex around Basildon, the domino effect meant massive changes throughout the rest of the county."

A Labour spokesman said the changes presented new opportunities for the party and insisted the Tories would be unwise to assume the new seats would be a walk-over.

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