Nus GHANI MP BLOG: "Boundary Commission proposals for constituency boundary changes - Fair enough, but we must return Hartfield to Withyham and secure the name SUSSEX WEALD"
The Boundary Commission has made proposals to reorganise parliamentary constituencies so that Parliament becomes fairer by giving each MP a roughly similar number of voters. Despite the inevitable disruption this change will bring about, I support the idea of strengthening our democracy in this way.
Wealden constituency is currently one of the largest in East Sussex and under the proposals, the current seat of Wealden will go from being one of the largest with 83,628 electors, to the smallest seat in the area with just 70,015 electors.
On the whole, these seem to be a balanced and carefully thought out set of suggested proposals which generally achieve the purposes of delivering similar-sized seats across East Sussex.
However, there are two local campaigns in particular that I am joining and taking up as your local MP. First, to return Hartfield and reunite it with Withyham, and second, to secure the name of SUSSEX WEALD for the proposed seat.
There’s no political advantage when it comes round to election time – we’re only talking about an 800-household change. In the context of trimming down a constituency by around fourteen thousand votes these are not meaningful numbers.
I’m taking up these two campaigns because of the huge amount of correspondence I am receiving about it. There is unanimous support for this locally, amongst my constituents, Councillors, businesses and health care providers and community campaigns have already sprung up across the constituency in support of it.
GP/medical practices, village shops, famers shops, tea rooms, cafes and schools have all taken it upon themselves to start campaigning on these things already, and as your MP it is my duty to reflect this in my discussions with the Boundary Commission.
Hartfield and Withyham are one and the same community – reflected not least by the fact that they share a postcode. The places where people eat, study, pray and attend social activities is what forms the fabric of our community, and it would be a terrible shame if the two villages were split.
The village of Hartfield is entwined with the Parish of Withyham, dating back several hundred years. At a very practical level, we have one GP practice and one community shop in Hartfield, serving both villages, and just one community Post Office in Withyham Parish. Local residents have set up a community bus service, ’Wealdlink’, to help elderly residents from Hartfield, Withyham, Blackham and Groombridge to get around and to get to Crowborough where there are more local services.
The only children’s facilities, outdoor sports facilities or sports grounds in the area are located in Hartfield, and primary schools have been set up to cover the needs and catchment areas of both villages of Hartfield and Withyham.
But putting aside these practicalities, Withyham and Hartfield are emotionally interlinked with deep historical ties between our ancient communities. Strong historical farming and cultural links across both Hartfield and Withyham reach across the Sussex Weald. And we all share the heritage of the iconic Ashdown Forest and Winnie the Pooh.
Hartfield is the home of the first POOH-SEUM and the Pooh Tea Room, which are dedicated to the legacy of A.A. Milne and bring hundreds of thousands of visitors from the UK and across the world, boosting the local economy. Hartfield and Withyham are the economic hubs of the Ashdown Forest and they must not be separated from Groombridge, Eridge and the Crowborough area. Our local economies are entwined, and businesses work in partnership to keep the villages vibrant.
As your MP I have worked tirelessly to secure the covid vaccination clinic in Crowborough and to support the Forest, its Conservators and its Rangers and personally secured much-needed funding year on year to keep it going. I am acutely aware of the cultural links that exist across the two communities and I fear that the proposed split may mean it’s harder for a local MP to be as invested in preserving these links and ensuring they thrive for generations to come.
But even then, there’s something in the name of a constituency. The Commission wants to call it Hailsham and Crowborough but the local community (which includes Eridge, Wadhurst, Mayfield and Heathfield) is unanimous in its view that this falls far short of capturing the spirit and character of Wealden, and wants it to be called SUSSEX WEALD.
The origins of “Weald” date back to Anglo-Saxon times and there is precedent for using this name already. The Boundary Commission has proposed that a nearby constituency should be called Weald of Kent. Calling ourselves Sussex Weald will balance out the High Weald area and recognise the Sussex part of the Weald.
It makes no sense NOT to call our patch SUSSEX WEALD when the proposed constituency would be the only one that is wholly made up of Wealden District Council! Moreover, our local farms, businesses, charities and magazines all use the terms “Weald” and “Wealden”, and scrapping this name would bring about needless disruption.
So, if you agree with us and want to return Hartfield and reunite it with Withyham, and if you want to preserve Wealden’s proud and rich heritage by keeping the name SUSSEX WEALD, please share your views with the Boundary Commission by the end of July.
Submissions can be made via their website: www.bcereviews.org.uk.
Or in writing to: Boundary Commission for England, 35 Great Smith Street, London SW1P 3BQ