Shard End is not Meriden!
Earlier this evening I attended the public hearing on the Boundary Commission’s proposals for new parliamentary constituencies in Birmingham and the West Midlands.
The review is part of the Government’s plans to reduce the number of MPs in the House of Commons and means that many constituencies will get merged, chopped about and changed. Here in Birmingham, there could be some major changes, not least in our part of the world. Shard End is currently part of the Birmingham Hodge Hill constituency, along with the Wards of Hodge Hill, Washwood Heath and Bordesley Green. It’s a constituency that’s been in existence for 60 years in one form or another.
However, the Commission are now planning to tear up the map. They propose to dismantle the Hodge Hill constituency completely, with the other wards going into the Birmingham Ladywood and Birmingham Yardley constituencies. But Shard End will be moved out of a Birmingham constituency altogether and become part of a Meriden constituency. If the plans are approved, this would mean that Shard End Ward residents will continue to pay their Council Tax to Birmingham and elect Councillors to represent them on Birmingham City Council, but they would share an MP with Coleshill, Meriden and other parts of Solihull and North Warwickshire. You can see the full plans – and make your own comments about them – on the Boundary Commission website here.
I was able to give evidence at the public hearing and put the case against these plans. I also put the case for an alternative plan. This is what I had to say:
“I am one of the three Councillors for Birmingham’s Shard End Ward and my comments this evening will be focused upon the impact of the Boundary Commission’s proposals – and the alternative options – upon Shard End.
In doing so, I speak on behalf of my two colleagues and a considerable number of concerned local residents.
The Boundary Commission’s proposal to remove Shard End from a Birmingham-based constituency and incorporate it as the sole Birmingham ward in the envisaged Meriden Constituency has caused real concern. It has been the subject of discussion at a well attended meeting of our Ward Committee; at local residents groups and in the local media. And it is clear from those discussions, that the overwhelming majority of residents believe that the Commission’s proposals will not serve the best interests of the Shard End Ward.
They believe that these current proposals:
- Sever our long-standing, deeply held links with the City of Birmingham and fail to acknowledge Shard End’s position as an integral part of eastern Birmingham.
- Fail to respect existing neighbourhood and community boundaries.
- Ignore the local geography and the shape of the local transport infrastructure.
- And they create a parliamentary constituency that lacks geographical coherence or a common community of interest.
Shard End Ward covers several neighbourhoods – Shard End itself, Tile Cross, Lea Village, Kitts Green and the Glebe. Each of these have been part of the City of Birmingham since residential development started in the area some eighty years ago.
Residents have a strong sense of their Birmingham identity and an intense pride in being part of the city. They are fully integrated into Birmingham.
I would like the Commissioners to understand that there is a lack of clear geographical boundaries between communities and neighbourhoods in this part of the city. Shard End, Stechford, Kitts Green, Hodge Hill all tend to flow into one another and they are tied together by a complex web of connections – and not just geographical ones. Families live close by. Residents use the same community facilities. They use the same shops. They go to the same churches. These are powerful, long established and nurtured community links.
Separating Shard End Ward from a relationship with the neighbouring Birmingham wards and making residents look elsewhere for their parliamentary representation fails to respect these long standing links. The proposal to move the Ward into the Meriden Constituency is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the geography – both physical and social – of the locality.
This error is compounded when we look at the detailed composition of the proposed Meriden Constituency. This is a complex and unwieldy creation.
It incorporates no less than three separate local authority areas (four, if you include Warwickshire County Council).
It is made up of several extremely diverse communities, widely dispersed by geography and sharing few common facilities or interests. There is little, for example, to unite the communities of Tile Cross with the Town of Coleshill. Someone living on Kitts Green Road will have a wealth of connections – through family, friends, job, use of local services – to Stechford. I would suggest it is unlikely that a similar community of interest would be found between that resident and his or her counterpart in the centre of Meriden.
Many of my constituents have rightly pointed out that the needs and concerns of an urban community like Shard End Ward are vastly different to those that occupy residents of rural or semi-rural communities like Meriden. We have some real challenges to address – too many of our neighbourhoods are scarred by deprivation, worklessness and the complex mass of social and economic issues that accompany them. The difficulties of properly representing those interests would try even the most assiduous of Members of Parliament. Divorcing our ward from neighbouring areas of the same City that share similar problems will make that task even harder. There is a real danger that these complex issues may not receive the same level of attention than would be the case if Shard End Ward were allowed to remain within a wholly urban seat.
This is something that really matters to residents. They have a clear sense that the needs of their neighbourhood differ greatly from other parts of the proposed Meriden Constituency and need to be represented in the House of Commons accordingly.
The geography of the proposed Meriden seat is also extremely unwieldy and the local transport infrastructure does not aid its coherence. By way of illustration, I would encourage the Commissioners to try and travel around the proposed new Constituency using public transport.
Imagine a resident wants to get from the northern part of Shard End Ward to the centre of Meriden. They have a bit of a jaunt on their hands. It requires at best, two bus journeys – one of which takes you on a tour of the proposed Birmingham Yardley Constituency along the way. Other variations throw in a train journey via Birmingham International.
This is not some academic argument. This is a journey that some of my constituents might have to make if they wanted to urgently see their local MP. It is a far cry from the relatively easy access to other parts of the Constituency that residents of, for example, your proposed Birmingham Ladywood or Yardley constituencies would still enjoy.
Now there are, I freely accept, some significant connections between Shard End and the immediately adjoining Solihull Wards – Chelmsley Wood, Kingshurst & Fordbridge, Smiths Wood. Indeed, the border that runs along the back of Tile Cross Road is rather confused and in no way a substantial dividing line. There is also a significant shared community of interest – in the same way I have alluded to between Stechford and the Shard End Ward. Residents use the same shops, the same schools, the same community facilities. The social and economic profiles of the areas are also very similar. They share Birmingham postcodes and parts consider themselves to be part of Birmingham.
I accept that if the Boundary Commission is to have any chance of meeting the criteria laid down for this review, they will need to cross authority boundaries somewhere along the line. And here is a point where they could do so without arbitrarily dividing a community. That part of the plan is fine. It’s the divorcing the ward from Birmingham completely and then including areas that have no connection to each other that residents are opposed to.
It is for that reason that I would urge the Commission to consider the alternative proposal for a Chelmsley Wood and Stechford Constituency, as set out in the submission from the Birmingham Labour Party.
This proposal respects the historic – and current – links between the Shard End Ward and Eastern Birmingham, by incorporating the Birmingham Wards of Shard End and Stechford & Yardley North, which are closely connected for the reasons I have already alluded to.
It acknowledges that there is a substantial community of interest between some of the North of Solihill and the eastern part of the Shard End Ward.
It brings together an area that shares a common identity and interest, united by a wealth of family, social, economic and community factors.
It makes sense as a political unit and enables the Boundary Commission to meet the criteria laid down for this current redistribution of seats.
I believe that the proposals for a Meriden Constituency do not reflect the realities of geography or community in Eastern Birmingham. The alternative proposal does. On behalf of my constituents in Shard End Ward, I urge you to reconsider your plans.”