As polling day in the Romsey by-election hurtles towards us, controversy has broken out about the proposed changes to Romsey’s boundaries. The Lib Dems have accused Labour of supporting “proposals that would rip apart the strong Romsey community”, while Labour have hit back, accusing the Lib Dems of hypocrisy after they put forward their own amendments to the proposed boundaries. Here’s an attempt at a summary of the situation, with what I understand to be the positions of both sides. As regular readers will know, I’ve been involved in the Lib Dem campaign – but I am not speaking on their behalf here; I’m just trying to set out the facts as I understand them.
Here are the current boundaries of Romsey ward, courtesy of the handy Election Maps website:
As you can see, it covers the area between Mill Road and Coldham’s Lane, and a little way to either side, on the eastern side of the railway line. It’s a fairly compact ward, thanks to the high-density terraced housing in a lot of it.
As I’ve previously discussed, there is a review underway of the County Council’s division boundaries, which is expected to reduce the number of County Councillors representing Cambridge from 14 to 12. This is likely to have knock-on effects for the City Council as well, since it’s generally agreed that it would be a bad thing for the County Council divisions to have different boundaries from the City Council wards – at the moment the two coincide, making things a lot easier for everyone. Some time ago, the Labour party put forward detailed proposals for how the boundaries in Cambridge should be redrawn. As I understand it, the bulk of Labour’s proposal was put together by former city councillor Ben Bradnack, and Ashley Walsh, leader of Labour’s group on the County Council and historian of the Cambridge Labour party. Here’s what Labour proposed for Romsey:
My apologies for the poor quality of this picture; this is the best I could find on the Boundary Commission’s website. Essentially, what Labour proposed is that Romsey’s northern and southern boundaries should both shift some way to the south, losing the area around Coldham’s Lane, and gaining an area to the south down as far as Cherry Hinton Road, which is currently part of Coleridge. The proposed new boundaries look rather like a shouty cartoon head; the pointy nose is the Burnside area at the end of Mill Road, and the mouth contains Langham Road and Perne Avenue, which would be in the neighbouring Cherry Hinton division. The rather jagged haircut follows the line of the traffic barriers which stop wider vehicles from travelling between Coldham’s Lane and Mill Road through Romsey Town. The area to the north of this line currently in Romsey would be shifted into Abbey.
The Boundary Commission adopted Labour’s proposal for Romsey almost unchanged in their draft recommendations:
The main difference from Labour’s proposal is that the upper lip of the head moves west a bit, to shift some houses on Perne Road into the Cherry Hinton division, but this affects only a small number of voters – the Boundary Commission’s plans are otherwise identical to Labour’s.
Last time similar boundary changes were proposed in Romsey, there was considerable local opposition, and the Lib Dems have sought to make the most of the issue in the by-election campaign. Here is the front page of their newspaper distributed last weekend:
It features candidate Nichola Martin and Lib Dem campaigner Donald Adey in fine “glum councillors” form, standing by the Romsey Town & District Allotment Society sign, which under Labour’s proposals would no longer be in Romsey.
Despite the proposals being put forward by the Labour group, an article appeared on the Romsey Labour website saying that Labour councillors, and their by-election candidate Zoe Moghadas, were “fighting to maintain the boundaries of Romsey as an independent and discrete ward in the City”. As already discussed, after I posted a comment pointing out that the proposals originated from Labour, the article disappeared from the Romsey Labour site, though (at time of writing at least) it has reappeared again, complete with my comment.
The latest development in the story came yesterday, with the publication of this document on the City Council’s website, which contains Lib Dem amendments to the Boundary Commission’s proposals. This provoked a flurry of outraged tweets from Labour activists, swiftly retweeted by their comrades:
The Lib Dem amendments will be discussed at the City Council’s Civic Affairs committee meeting at 5pm on Friday – the day after polling day in Romsey. It should be an exciting meeting. But what exactly are the Lib Dems proposing for Romsey? And does it really justify Labour’s charge of hypocrisy? Unfortunately, the Lib Dem document doesn’t include a map, but I have done my best to make one, based on its description of the boundaries. Here it is:
The Lib Dem amendment would leave the western edge of Romsey at the railway line, where it is now; the eastern edge, where it borders Cherry Hinton, would stay where the Boundary Commission proposes. The northern border would move back north to where it is now – with one exception, which I will come back to. The southern boundary would also shift northwards, though not all the way back to where it is now; part of the extra area of Coleridge would be retained.
So what is the basis of Labour’s charge of hypocrisy? Doesn’t the Lib Dem amendment retain all of the current Romsey ward, adding a little bit of Coleridge too? Well, not quite. Look back at the first map up above, and on the eastern (right-hand) edge, you’ll see one area that the Lib Dem amendment doesn’t restore. Here’s a closer look:
This little peninsula of Romsey consists of Nuttings Road and Uphall Road (which is the straight bit at the north end of Nuttings Road, not marked on the map). It’s on the left just after the railway bridge as you head out of town past Sainsbury’s on Coldham’s Lane. It currently contains 85 voters, though according to the Boundary Commission’s demographic projections, by 2020 it may have as many as 88. Labour’s boundary changes, adopted by the Boundary Commission, move these voters, plus 1,576 other north Romsey voters, out of Romsey and into Abbey. The Lib Dem amendment moves the 1,576 other voters back into Romsey, but not these 85. And that, as far as I can see, forms the entire basis for Labour’s charge of hypocrisy.
I’ll leave you to decide for yourself whether you think that’s reasonable or not.