The consultation is now closed. I will keep this page updated with any developments as and when they become available.
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
Boundary Review – Information Pack
Suggested points to include in your representation
- The suggested proposals are balanced and carefully thought-out
- The proposals for the eastern and southern border of the constituency, including Heathfield are logical and welcomed, as they unite the existing district wards that are currently split between two constituencies and merging Mayfield and Five Ashes, Horam and Punnets Town into one constituency
- Local residents are encouraged to include favourable comments regarding this, but ask for Hartfield to be returned
Summary of objectives and supporting evidence
Objective 1: Secure the return of Hartfield to the proposed “Hailsham and Crowborough” seat in order not to sever links with the neighbouring Withyham village
Objection 1 - Local ties and community services are broken from existing constituency
- There is one GP practice in Hartfield which covers the two villages (Hartfield and Withyham), which is closely linked to the Saxonbury House Surgery in Crowborough, which is a key local vaccination hub and the nearest medical centre to both villages, to get their Covid-19 vaccine.
- Existing Primary education provision covers the needs across both villages.
- There is only one community shop, located in Hartfield, serving both communities.
- Hartfield and Withyham share the postal code.
- Hartfield and Withyham church choirs and volunteers live across both villages. All local groups draw their membership from the two communities without formal distinction.
- The places where people eat, study, pray and attend social activities is what forms the fabric of a community, and it would be a terrible shame indeed if the two villages were split.
Objection 2 – Breaking links with local representation and Wealden District Council
- Wealden District Council is the current communal local Government unit across the two villages and this ought to be retained.
- A large part of Withyham Parish lies within Hartfield District Authority Ward. The Commission uses the district authority wards for its purposes, but much of the Withyham Parish boundary lies within the Hartfield District Authority ward.
- Local Parish Councillors work as a team across Hartfield and Withyham and local plans for support and growth encompass both villages as one unit.
- One Member of Parliament currently represents Hartfield and Withyham as well as Crowborough and Hailsham. This continuity ought to be remained as splitting the two villages between two constituencies and across two Members of Parliament would only result in unnecessary difficulties and confusion over representations.
Objection 3 – Breaking away Crowborough as the link town for Hartfield residents for social activities, hospitality services, shopping and health services
- Hartfield already faces towards Crowborough for amenities, and this was highlighted during Covid when vaccinations were delivered at Crowborough.
- Hartfield and Withyham are both in close proximity to Crowborough, and many residents use Crowborough’s shops, businesses, rail network links and other facilities as primary services, as opposed to those available in Uckfield, or further afield.
- The removal of Hartfield results in Crowborough losing the Horder Centre (Health Clinic) from Crowborough and Hailsham seat.
- The community bus service, ’Wealdlink’, is set up to take elderly residents from Hartfield, Withyham, Blackham and Groombridge to Crowborough for their errands. This demonstrates the close ties Hartfield and Withyham possess, and that Crowborough is the natural town most linked to these rural villages.
Objection 4 – Undermining Social, Health and Transport links
- The only children’s facilities, outdoor sports facilities or sports grounds in the area are in located in Hartfield. Withyham have none and are making a great use of the Hartfield facilities. For purposes of representation, maintenance and securing of funding, it would make sense to keep Hartfield and Withyham under one constituency and one authority.
Objection 5 – Threats to financial viability of the Ashdown Forest and Splitting up the Home of Winnie the Pooh
- Withyham and Hartfield are emotionally and financially interlinked through shared heritage of the iconic Ashdown Forest, Winnie the Pooh, and tourism.
- 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. The local economies are entwined, and businesses work in partnership to keep the villages vibrant.
- Securing funding is not always a straightforward matter per se, and it would be further complicated by involving a new authority. It is important for the future of the Forest and the community to keep the two villages together under one Parish Council, one District Council and one Member of Parliament.
- Historically, Withyham Parish Council has provided financial support to Hartfield village and funds for the upkeep of the Ashdown Forest. By moving Hartfield into the “East Grinstead and Uckfield” constituency, the Withyham Parish Council is split.
- Funds for the Ashdown Forest have also been obtained from the Waitrose Community Matters Scheme in Crowborough, further proving the links to Ashdown Forest and the Crowborough area.
- The current MP, Nusrat Ghani has worked tirelessly to support the Forest, its Conservators and its Rangers and personally secured much-needed funding year on year to keep the Forest/Conservators going. We are acutely aware of the cultural links that exist across the two communities with regards to the Forest and fear that the representative of the newly formed constituency may not be as invested into preserving these links and ensuring they thrive for generations to come.
Objection 7 – Ignoring deep historical ties of ancient communities across Hartfield and Withyham
- There are strong historical farming and cultural links across both Hartfield and Withyham reaching across Ashdown Forest and the wider area within the Sussex Weald.
- There are also rich historical links between the two communities and estates that span over the boundaries of Hartfield and Withyham, and link to Crowborough. As these estates are big local employers, farm across Hartfield, Withyham and Crowborough, it is vital that they remain under one local authority and one parliamentary representation.
- Buckhurst estate
- Penns in the Rocks estate
Objective 2: Secure the name of “Sussex Weald” for the proposed “Hailsham and Crowborough” seat
Objection 1 - Focus is currently on two towns rather than the spirit of Wealden
- While the proposed name of “Hailsham and Crowborough” identifies the two of the three larger towns in the constituency, it falls short in capturing the spirit and character of Wealden.
- An alternative name: “Sussex Weald” would be better suited as it encompasses Hailsham, Crowborough, the newly-added Heathfield, a number of rural villages and the Ashdown Forest. Not only would this change to the name retain the character of the current constituency, but by incorporating the term “Weald” - the origins of which date back to Anglo-Saxon times - it would also act as a distinct identifier as to the location of the “Sussex’ Weald”.
- For other Members of Parliament across the country and the general public, the location of the towns is not as well known, but “Sussex Weald” would easily put the seat on the map.
- The Boundary Commission has already named a nearby constituency as “Weald of Kent” and changing “Hailsham and Crowborough” to “Sussex’ Weald” will balance out the High Weald area and recognise the Sussex part of the Weald.
- The proposed constituency is also the only one that would be wholly made up of Wealden District Council, which further supports the claim for retaining the use of the name “Weald” in the title of the seat.
- Additionally, there are many local uses of the terms “Weald” and “Wealden”, ranging from local farms, businesses, charities, magazines and many more services in between. Retaining this for the purposes of identifying the constituency would be a great source of pride for many that feel connected to name alike.
- The area of Wealden, including the Ashdown Forest, is distinct and often recognised worldwide as ‘Winnie-the-Pooh country’, incorporating a character that local people value. To identify the proposed constituency merely by the name of the two largest towns, would lose this character and much-loved identity.
- Wealden has a proud and rich heritage and the proposed constituency should continue to reflect this in the name to ensure some continuity and for the sake of community interest - by capturing a character and heritage that the locals are very proud of, and deserve to be known as such, when being represented in Parliament.
- A constituency of “Sussex Weald” that also included the District Authority Ward of Hartfield would be naturally compatible, in keeping with local community and historical ties. It would ensure that key community links are upheld, and parliamentary representation is given to the community as a whole, while retaining the historical and current character of the area, epitomised by the name “Sussex Weald”.
To ensure that your voice is heard:
1. Please make a representation to Boundary Commission via the following link: www.bcereviews.org.uk/node/add/informed-representation/6488 or in writing to: Boundary Commission for England, 35 Great Smith Street, London SW1P 3BQ.
2. We have a great opportunity as a local community to secure both Hartfield and Sussex Weald – so do join us and contact the Boundary Commission – the Consultation is only open in JULY 2021.
The consultation is now closed.