Boundary changes could split Barnard Castle right down the middle
A BOUNDARY split which would see neighbours represented by different MPs has been branded “ridiculous”.
A parliamentary overhaul will see Barnard Castle divided down the middle with homes and businesses on opposing sides of Market Place, Newgate and Galgate having separate Members of Parliament. It could lead to a situation where two MPs from opposing parties represent the same town.
A proposed new seat of West Durham and Teesdale would encompass the current boundaries of Barnard Castle West – including Eggleston, Bowes, Startforth, the upper dale and the western half of Barnard Castle.
Meanwhile, Staindrop, Gainford, Copley, Woodland, Cockfield, the eastern half of Barnard Castle and the Gaunless Valley would remain in a rejigged Bishop Auckland constituency.
Locals are already up in arms about the proposal.
Anita Worsley lives on the south side of Newgate in the new seat zone.
“I just think it’s crazy and ridiculous,” she said. “I think they should have a bit of a rethink.”
Over the road in the planned Bishop Auckland constituency, Labour supporter Jo Angell was equally scathing about the boundary commission plan. “It’s the most absurd thing I have ever heard,” she said. “Whoever decided it has clearly never been to Barnard Castle.
“I am a Labour voter and I do not think this will be kind to Labour supporters.
“I think these urbanites have not got a clue about people who live remotely to them in rural parts of the country.”
The boundaries commission proposal is set to cut the total number of MPs in the House of Commons from 650 to 600.
Barnard Castle West would make up 8.48 per cent of the population in the new West Durham and Teesdale constituency, which will include Consett, parts of Crook and much of Weardale from the existing North West Durham seat.
Barnard Castle East would hold 8.89 per cent of the population in the reshaped Bishop Auckland Combined Constituency with Evenwood and West Auckland having 17.27 per cent of the seat.
Startforth’s Lisa Lane is a Conservative voter and campaigned in the Gaunless Valley during the last boundary change proposal.
She said: “If Barnard Castle was to be in with Weardale I would say great as we could get a decent MP, however, if it’s going to split Barnard Castle in half that’s just madness.
“I am definitely excited but a bit disappointed – it’s much better than the previous idea of having Teesdale with Morpeth.”
The proposed changes will also mean the home of Teesdale’s Bishop Auckland MP, Helen Goodman, would fall in the new seat of West Durham and Teesdale. If she was to continue to represent Bishop Auckland, she would have to move house to live in that constituency.
She was not enamoured with the changes.
“I’m in Rome discussing Brexit so I haven’t seen the whole map,” said Ms Goodman. “But we told Boundary Commission last time not to link Teesdale with Weardale so I’m surprised they’ve gone back to this idea as I don’t think Teesdale communities will be happy with it.”
The Tory county councillor for Barnard Castle West, Richard Bell, added: “Having the two halves of Barney and Teesdale served by different MPs is a daft idea, and I will be working to submit alternatives to the Boundary Commission.”
Back in the West Durham and Teesdale seat, Newgate’s Andy Moorhouse thought the change may open up the political balance in the dale.
He said: “It will be interesting as there is no question of it being anything other than Labour at the moment.
“No matter what your political affiliation we are always going to be returning a Labour MP – so it may make it possible to have more choice available.
“I suspect Barnard Castle is not Labour in its own right so if it corrects that anomaly then maybe there will be a fairer deal for the citizens of Barnard Castle.”
Newgate’s Angus Forsyth, did not think the boundary change was all that important.
“It’s six and two threes,” he said.
A consultation on the plan is open for the next 11 weeks with a final proposal set to be drawn up in 2018.
To air your views online, go to goo.gl/osD8OL
A CAMPAIGN group to halt the boundary changes has been launched.
Stephen Bainbridge, from Staindrop, has created Keep Teesdale United in protest at the proposals.
He said the boundary redraw was another example of the identity of the dale being eroded.
“It seems like another stab in the heart of Teesdale,” said Mr Bainbridge.
“It irks me when the county council refers to us as the Durham dales and you have all the issues surrounding Startforth School and the attempts to merge Bowes Hutchinson’s and close Forest School.
“It seems like the time where Teesdale as a whole needs to be represented as one. This proposal will dilute the voice of Teesdale.”
With a Facebook page for the group up and running, Mr Bainbridge encouraged people to respond to the consultation and get the word out. “I am keen on getting some letters of support for the campaign from businesses and community groups,” he said.
“I’m going to make a few phone calls to the town council and businesses.”