submission to the boundary commission for england

Rory’s submission of today to the Boundary Commission for England’s ongoing consultation into their proposed boundary changes to the county of Cumbria appears below:

“I support the Commission’s proposed allocation of five seats for Cumbria, and I support the Commission’s proposals in their entirety for the Carlisle CC seat.

But I have major reservations about the other four proposed seats for Cumbria (Barrow-in-Furness CC, Copeland and Windermere CC, Kendal and Penrith CC, Workington and Keswick CC).

The proposed boundaries for these seats ignore the topography, geology, history and economy of Cumbria.

Topographical logic divides Cumbria into three zones: the West Cumbrian coast, Cumberland, and Westmorland, with Scafell in the middle. Wordsworth compared the geography of the lakes to a wheel: Scafell is the hub from which stretch valleys and watersheds in every direction like spokes.

The Commission’s proposed seats break these natural boundaries. They combine Morecambe Bay on the edge of Lancashire with Nenthead high in the Pennines on the Northumbrian border. They combine Whitehaven with Windermere over the Hardknott Pass.

The geology of Cumbria also reflects these natural boundaries. The West Coast is defined by its carboniferous areas from which coal was extracted around the edge of the sandstone. In the east, iron ore was extracted from the edge of the limestone. The Windermere ridge (which cuts the proposed Copeland and Windermere CC in half) defines the Lakeland valleys and their upland farms. The Cumberland plain, towards Wampool, has the rich soil which forms the great milk field of England, defined by a sandstone landscape that stretches from the Eden valley to the Solway Plain.

The geology of Cumbria has oriented the history and socio-economic divisions of Cumbria. Traditional Cumbrian livelihoods have depended upon these geological differences: upon what Cumbrians planted in the earth or extracted from the ground. The West Coast has been an industrial area from a very early period: it produced coal, it had potteries, it made glass, it built ships. Maryport, Egremont, Whitehaven, and Workington look to the Atlantic. The coast has more in common with Scotland than the Lakeland fells: Kirkcudbright is closer than Keswick.

This industrial legacy means that West Cumbria faces specific challenges: social deprivation, unemployment, urban regeneration, low inward migration, low life expectancy. The contrast between West and East is dramatic. In the East, there is no unemployment problem. Instead, the challenges are connected with isolation, agriculture, and affordable housing.

What is more, many of these problems are under-represented in Westminster: whether it is the nuclear industry in the West or upland farming in the East. By combining Workington with Ullswater or Whitehaven with Windermere –as the Commission proposes to do – the Commission would leave Cumbrians with a much reduced voice in Westminster for these important issues.

I urge the Commission to recommend instead one urban-based West Coast seat serving the homogenous industrial areas of Whitehaven, Workington, Egremont and Maryport; a Barrow seat with its rural hinterland restored; and two rural constituencies to represent the unique Cumbrian interests connected with sparse populations: Westmorland and Lonsdale and Penrith and Solway.

This alternative proposal – which mirrors counter-proposals made by many Cumbrians and the three main political parties – would take account of Cumbrian geography, history and economy and give Cumbrians a stronger voice in Parliament.”

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