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A separate constituency for Lancaster University students living on campus and those living in Lancaster town centre is looking increasingly likely.
Ditching the current Morecambe and Lunesdale, and Lancaster and Fleetwood seats, boundary chiefs plan to merge parliamentary constituencies in time for the next general election.
A report published on 17 October by the Boundary Commission for England proposed a new, merged Lancaster and Morecambe seat and a separate North Lancashire seat, which will controversially include the Lancaster University and Scotforth Rural ward.
The report said the proposed Lancaster and Morecambe seat were “amongst the most contentious in the region”.
The Boundary Commission for England also revealed findings from a public hearing in Lancaster in October 2016, which included correspondence from residents during a 12-week consultation into initial proposals last year.
The report stated: “As well as attracting hundreds of individual representations from residents of both Lancaster and Morecambe, we received several sets of letter writing campaigns submitted by the Member of Parliament for Morecambe and Lunesdale, David Morris, and two further petitions signed by hundreds of residents from Lancaster”.
“The main objection to the Lancaster and Morecambe constituency was that the two towns had distinct and separate identities. During the current review, we also noted the passion with which many respondents, mostly located within Morecambe, expressed their wish to remain in a separate constituency to Lancaster.
“Many residents of Morecambe held the view that sharing Parliamentary representation with Lancaster would lead to Morecambe being neglected”.
SCAN spoke to Cat Smith, MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood, who said: “Lancaster and Morecambe are two different places, as are Fleetwood and Lancaster which I currently represent, so it is entirely possible for an MP to represent a Lancaster and Morecambe constituency”.
“It’s a regret that the University campus cannot fit into the new Lancaster and Morecambe seat and particularly so because it would have been able to fit in had all students been registered to vote in December 2015 when the review was taken”.
By dividing “town” and “university” students, the latter could potentially have a greater say on issues effecting Lancaster University, raising questions of fairness and representation.
The Conservative Party’s counter-proposal, to keep the existing Morecambe and Lunesdale seat whilst incorporating Bulk and Lower Lune Valley and proposing a Lancaster and Wyre constituency that contained the remaining wards from the Lancaster City Council area, and included five wards from Preston Borough, was rejected by the commission.
Cat Smith told SCAN: “Labour stands ready to work with all parties to ensure that a boundary review can go ahead in a way that benefits our democracy, not just the Conservative Party. However, it has been clear from the start that the Tories have only been interested in their own political advantage rather than what is in the best interests of the country.
“To lose 50 MPs at a time we are repatriating powers from Brussels as we leave the European Union risks leaving the UK Government struggling to keep up with the day to day requirements of legislation.
“They need to drop their unfair, undemocratic plans, as well as ensuring the review is based on the most up-to-date register and that there is appropriate flexibility to take into account community ties and geography.
Similarly, Councillor Lucy Atkinson, who was elected in 2015 to the University and Scotforth Ward told SCAN: “If boundary changes go ahead with the current proposals I am very concerned that the university will lack adequate representation.
“Cat Smith is an excellent MP who really cares about students, but I worry that by including the uni on the edge of a majority rural seat, students will be forgotten about. The Lancaster and Morecambe seat makes a lot more sense than Lancaster and Fleetwood, but I wish they had included the university.
“As well as lacking representation, the creation of the seat is based on inaccurate numbers due to lack of student electoral registration. Now we have automatic enrolment at University registration the numbers have risen dramatically and this needs to be taken into account when looking at the seat.
An alternative proposal, to include the university with the Lancaster seat was proposed but overruled.
“Our assistant commissioners recommended to us that the University should be included in the Lancaster and Morecambe constituency, if additionally, the Halton-with-Aughton ward is transferred to it, and the Bolton & Slyne ward is transferred out to the proposed North Lancashire constituency”, says the report.
“They were persuaded of the University’s importance to Lancaster and by representations suggesting that the Bolton & Slyne ward is a logical fit for the North Lancashire constituency.
“While we understand the concerns that many have on the exclusion of the University from the constituency, we agree with the suggestion that student populations are often transient, and note that many students will reside off campus, where they are likely to be electors from the proposed constituency.
“While we recognise that the arguments are finely balanced we do not find the evidence in support of the University being included in a Lancaster constituency, at the expense of the Bolton & Slyne ward, to be sufficiently persuasive.
“While recognising some of the merits of the arguments put to us by the assistant commissioners, we reject their recommendations for this constituency and make no revisions to the initial proposal for Lancaster and Morecambe”.
The report quotes Cat Smith as saying: “I would like to see a proposal which did include the university, although having looked at the numbers myself I can see that there is a challenge unless it was to look seriously at dividing electoral divisions within a ward to pull out the campus itself.
“It is important to recognise that Lancaster University is an out of city campus, that is how it was designed, and the vast majority of students and as far as I am aware all the academics do live in Lancaster itself, so a Lancaster and Morecambe MP would have an interest in being a good representative to the university whether or not it was included in the seat”.
Conversely, David Morris, MP for Morecambe and Lunesdale said: “I do not feel that one Member of Parliament would be able to support the differing needs of a student city and a seaside resort properly or effectively”.
These proposals are now available for final public consultation until the 11 December.
Following this third and final consultation, the eventual proposed changes and recommendations will go to Parliament in September 2018.