Tuesday, 23 October 2012

'Walthamstow off the map'? - Points to raise with the Boundary Commission

'Walthamstow off the map'? was this week's headline in the Waltham Forest Guardian newspaper. The online story is here.

The Boundary Commission has recently published its revised proposals for parliamentary boundaries. Under these the constituency of Walthamstow would cease to exist. Four of its local authority wards - Wood Street, Chapel End, William Morris, and Higham Hill - would be part of a new Chingford constituency  the other four - Hoe Street, High Street, Markhouse, and Lea Bridge - would be part of a new Leyton constituency. You can see a map showing this here.

The Commission has to ensure the new boundaries reflect local communities of interest and clearly defined areas and you may wish to respond to this proposal. If so you may find it helpful to quote the information below as well as explaining to them directly your own sense of the local community in which you live and how important this is to how you are represented in parliament and the laws it makes.

In this second stage of their work there will be NO public meetings and only written responses to these plans will be considered. Above all it is vital that as many residents in Walthamstow speak up  so this is our only chance to fight this proposal. It is crucial as many local residents as possible respond to the Commission before the deadline of Monday 10 December 2012:
either by email using reviews@bcommengland.x.gsi.gov.uk   
or via their website here
or by letter to - The Boundary Commission for England, 35 Great Smith Street, London SW1P 3BQ.

Points to raise with the Boundary Commission

The Sense of Place
This new proposal splits a long established community that is referenced in the Domesday book and has a well known and celebrated identity. Political engagement in the UK has been declining for many years as citizens repeatedly highlight their sense of alienation from the political process. So too, research consistently shows it is local ties and a ‘sense of place’ that are crucial to constituent engagement in the democratic process. In Walthamstow, this sense of place can be seen in activities such as the E17 art trail,  the E17 Film Festival, the Stow Music Festival, as well as the multitude of local sports and community organisations which proudly define themselves as Stow or Walthamstow based. Indeed, the level of concern about these proposals being expressed is a microcosm of the strong sense of place residents in Walthamstow feel about the area.

The North Circular 
This proposal explicitly contradicts the Boundary Commissions own concerns not to see the north circular split up a community – as their report states ‘We are in no doubt that the North Circular Road divides, rather than links, the communities on either side of it’. However under this proposal residents living either side of the North Circular would be expected to engage in the political process as mutual Chingford Residents, whether they live near the William Morris Gallery or Blackhorse Road station or near Epping Forest and Gilwell Park.

Leyton and Walthamstow Town Centre
Further failing to reflect the way in which local residents live in this area, the report states the name Leyton, ‘describes the main population centre adequately’. This overlooks the distinctive, larger and vibrant town centre of Walthamstow. The status of Walthamstow as the dominant area of the borough is reflected in the name Waltham Forest. However under these proposals residents who live near the Coppermill lane and Walthamstow Marsh area would be expected to share civic concerns with those living in Cathall and Leytonstone, despite no direct transport links between these areas.

Public and Civic Life Access
Whether our work to restore our cinema, fight for school places or health care services it is clear Walthamstow has distinctive needs which reflect the geography of the area as well as the differing communities that live within the area.  Indeed, responding to these challenges residents in Walthamstow find it easier to access services in Hackney or Redbridge – visiting South Woodford to go to the cinema or indeed central London for women’s health services- further reflecting the lack of ties and difficulties in reaching either Chingford or Leyton for Walthamstow based citizens.

Process Concerns
This proposal was not in any previous plan the Boundary Commission produced for constituencies for the North East London area. Indeed, all prior plans explicitly stated that a constituency for Walthamstow should be created.  It is therefore not reasonable for the Commission to expect Walthamstow residents to have previously participated in their consultation process, as they have had no prior warning such a change was under consideration. Walthamstow residents should therefore not be penalised by the lack of public meeting at which to express their view on this matter by having their political representation diluted.

Alternative proposals
Just as residents in Walthamstow feel strongly about their own representation, so too we recognise the identities of Chingford, Leyton and Ilford. We therefore encourage the Boundary Commission to reject these proposals and instead reconfigure North East London to reflect these local ties.

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