Articles

2018 Review: Birmingham & Black Country – full submission

In Birmingham, boundary changes, Dudley, redistricting, Sandwell, Walsall, West Midlands, Wolverhampton on December 12, 2017 by dadge

This counterproposal covers the 26 seats of Birmingham (excluding Sutton Coldfield) and the Black Country (excluding Wolverhampton). The Commission’s proposals for Sutton Coldfield and Wolverhampton proposals are acceptable, although I’m submitting separately a possible improvement to the latter.

The Commission’s revised proposals for the West Midlands region are generally good. When it comes to the West Midlands county itself (excluding Coventry) several serious problems remain. This counterproposal addresses those problems seat by seat. It would be better if the Commission respected metropolitan borough boundaries more, but this counterproposal, whilst not accepting the argument that the flexibility afforded by the Commission’s policy of amorphous blobbism (i.e. treating regions as single units with little respect for the local authority boundaries within them) is necessary, does go along with it: it includes six cross-border seats, only one fewer than in the Commission’s proposals. It also keeps the number of split wards to a minimum: there are four to the Commission’s three.

Here is a summary map of my counterproposals, taken from the interactive Google map at https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/viewer?mid=1uqlgR6_V01Q023524AzUZWA2EijxAoSK

bce bbc0


1. Aldridge 76,572
18. Walsall 73,255
4. Erdington 73,557
6. Hodge Hill 77,643
3. Birmingham Central 77,926
9. Small Heath 77,267
5. Hall Green 72,658
7. Kings Norton 71,831
8. Northfield 75,118
11. Edgbaston & Warley South 76,863
19. Warley North 71,590
12. Halesowen & Cradley Heath 78,132
16. Stourbridge 72,591
10. Dudley 78,270
20. Wednesbury 72,803
14. Sandwell Valley 76,523

Aldridge, Brownhills & Bloxwich (1)

As per the Commission’s proposals. The name is a bit of a mouthful; I’m just calling it Aldridge. “Walsall Wood” might be a clever name for this seat.

Walsall & Oscott (18)

Problems: (1) the seat excludes Pleck, which is a central part of the town, and (2) it includes the orphan Oscott ward of Birmingham, thereby splitting the Kingstanding/Perry Beeches part of the city between seats.

Solutions: (1) put Pleck back in the seat, and (2) add the Great Barr & Yew Tree ward from West Bromwich. Still an orphan ward, but with better defined margins. Yew Tree and the Delves have always been closely connected. (3) Rename the seat to Walsall Town (rather than simply “Walsall”, in order to distinguish it from the borough).

Erdington & Perry Barr (4)

Problem: inclusion of the Perry Barr ward. In Birmingham terms, the Walsall Road (the heart of the Perry Barr ward) is geographically distant from the communities that make up Erdington. If the Perry Barr ward didn’t have its Witton tail, the idea of joining Perry Barr to Erdington would be out of the question.

(According to the Commission’s report (p 33) no-one proposed adding Perry Barr to Erdington except John Bryant, a member of the public from Kent whom the Commission like to quote because he’s a fundamentalist dissectologist like they are, i.e. he treats the country like a jigsaw and refuses to split wards even when local circumstances and local people suggest otherwise.)

Solutions: (1) Include Oscott ward instead of Perry Barr. Oscott and Kingstanding wards are the two wards that cover the Kingstanding area of north Birmingham – it’d be good not to have them split between seats. (2) Put Castle Vale in the Hodge Hill seat. The Vale is part of Erdington, but it is a self-contained community, with two shopping centres and a clear boundary with the Pype Hayes area. (3) Rename the seat Erdington.

(Note: my preferred option** is still to split the Oscott ward, with the part of Perry Beeches north of the M6 going into the constituency on the other side of the motorway. However, I’m not recommending that here because it doesn’t work as a solution in the context of the Commission’s revised proposals.)

Hodge Hill (6)

Problem: the inclusion of the Stechford ward means that the Yardley area will be split between constituencies. However, retaining the existing constituency boundary would create difficult knock-on effects on other seats. So the southern boundary of the seat is accepted.

Proposal: to add Castle Vale to the seat, in order to bring the size of the Erdington seat within quota. Although the Vale is separated from the rest of the Hodge Hill seat by the M6, the two parts are strongly linked by the A452, and people from Hodge Hill and Washwood Heath shop at the Fort and Castle Vale retail parks.

Ladywood (3)

Problem: Inclusion of the Soho & Victoria ward, an orphan Sandwell ward. This ward is an integral part of the town of Smethwick; therefore the Commission is splitting that town.

Solution: Include the Nechells ward instead. This ward is part of the existing Ladywood constituency, so including it will significantly reduce the amount of change. In order to do this, four polling districts (CTH CTI CTJ CTK) will need to be included in the Small Heath seat. This would actually be a good thing, since it would bring all parts of Bordesley Green and Small Heath together in the same seat.

I suggest renaming the seat to Birmingham Central. There has been a Central seat before, and the name seems appropriate for a seat that includes the Aston area as well as Ladywood.

Yardley (9)

Problems: (1) the name: the centre of Yardley isn’t in the seat; (2) the proposed seat stretches from Sheldon to Aston, a “bacon strip” of wards obviously put together because of the numbers game the Commission is playing.

Solutions: (1) name the seat Small Heath – this name is more appropriate and has a long pedigree. (2) Remove the Nechells ward and replace with Acocks Green, thereby reducing the amount of change to the seat. Add polling districts CTH CTI CTJ CTK from Nechells ward in order to unite the Wyndcliffe and Holy Trinity areas with the rest of Bordesley Green and Small Heath and bring the electorates of this and the Central seat into the permitted range.

Hall Green (5)

Proposals: (1) Remove Acocks Green ward and add Moseley ward, thereby reverting the seat to its current boundaries. (2) Transfer polling district DEG (Swanshurst Park) from Springfield ward to the Kings Norton seat in order to bring that seat up to quota.

Brandwood (7)

Proposals: (1) remove Moseley ward and add Kings Norton ward. This will unite the Bournville-Cotteridge-Kings Norton area along the A441 in one seat. (2) Add polling district DEG (Swanshurst Park) in order to bring the electorate of the seat up to quota. (3) Rename the seat to Kings Norton – a name with pedigree.

Northfield (8)

Problem: the inclusion of Bromsgrove district wards, making up just 7% of the electorate of the seat. My original proposal** respected the county boundary. It isn’t necessary to include Worcestershire wards in a Birmingham seat, and it’s bad practice to do so, but in order to reduce the amount of upheaval in this counter-proposal I’ve left the Rubery wards in the Northfield seat.

Proposal: remove Kings Norton ward and add Bartley Green ward. This reverts the seat largely to its pre-1997 boundaries and unites the areas either side of Shenley Lane.

Edgbaston & Selly Oak (11)

Proposals: (1) Transfer Bartley Green to the Northfield seat, where it used to be. (2) Add the Abbey and Old Warley wards from Sandwell to this seat. These two wards are more suitable for a cross-border seat than the Soho & Victoria ward that the Commission is proposing to add to the Ladywood seat. Brandhall and Bearwood face Quinton and Harborne across the Hagley Road. (3) Rename the seat Edgbaston & Warley South.

Warley (19)

Problems: (1) Includes orphan Dudley ward (St Thomas) which splits Dudley town between seats. (2) Includes only part of Smethwick – Smethwick is split between three seats.

Solutions: (1) Return St Thomas ward to a Dudley seat. (2) Include all three Smethwick wards (Smethwick, Soho/Victoria and St Pauls) in this seat. (3) Add Rowley ward to this seat. It’s not ideal to split the Rowley Regis area, but the Rowley ward does have good links with Tividale and Oldbury. (4) Rename the seat Warley North.

Halesowen & Rowley Regis (12)

Problem: the Netherton ward, which is part of Dudley town, has been included in this seat to make the numbers up.

Solution: Transfer the Netherton ward to the Dudley town seat. In order to facilitate this, transfer the Wollescote/Cradley and Dudley Wood wards from the Stourbridge seat and remove the Rowley ward. On balance, having Wollescote in the Halesowen seat is preferable to having Woodside in the Halesowen seat. (2) Rename the seat Halesowen & Cradley Heath.

Stourbridge (16)

Proposal: move Brierley Hill town centre into this seat. (A lot of the town is in the proposed seat already.) Transfer Cradley/Wollescote and Quarry Bank/Dudley Wood wards to Halesowen seat. Include Wordsley ward, all of Brierley Hill ward, and Brockmoor part of Brockmoor/Pensnett ward in this seat. Possibly rename the seat Stourbridge & Brierley Hill.

Dudley (10)

Problems: This seat includes only half of Dudley town, and half of Brierley Hill.

Solutions: Add the St Thomas and Netherton/Woodside/St Andrew wards to this seat to unite the main parts of the town in one seat. Include Wordsley ward, all of Brierley Hill ward, and the Brockmoor part of Brockmoor/Pensnett ward in the Stourbridge seat. Possibly change the name of the seat to Dudley Castle to distinguish it from the borough.

Darlaston & Tipton (20)

Problems: (1) The Pleck ward from the centre of Walsall has been included in this seat; (2) Friar Park ward (mostly Wednesbury) has been omitted from the seat; (3) the name of the seat omits Wednesbury, which is the main town in the seat.

Solutions: (1) Remove Pleck; (2) add Friar Park ward. Now all the wards that make up Darlaston, Wednesbury and Tipton are in the seat. (3) Rename the seat, either simply to Wednesbury, or possibly to “Wednesbury, Tipton & Darlaston”.

West Bromwich (14)

Problems: (1) Greets Green & Lyng ward has been split; (2) The seat includes part of Smethwick (via a second split ward); (3) the seat includes a Wednesbury ward (Friar Park); (4) the seat includes an orphan Birmingham ward, Handsworth Wood.

Solutions: (1) Keep all of the Greets Green/Lyng ward in the seat, and (2) put all of the St Pauls ward in the Smethwick (“Warley North”) seat; (3) transfer Friar Park ward to the Wednesbury seat.

(4) My original plan** kept Handsworth Wood in a Birmingham seat. In order to base this counter-proposal as closely as possible on the Commission’s revised proposals, I’ve kept the Handsworth Wood ward in the West Bromwich seat. It’s not a very good ward to use for this purpose, since it’s really one of a pair with its neighbouring Lozells/East Handsworth ward, and it’s separated from West Bromwich by Sandwell Valley. However, perhaps a virtue can be made out of this unfortunate choice. If the Perry Barr ward is added to the new seat instead of to the Erdington seat, Handsworth Wood is no longer an orphan, and the seat can be named Sandwell Valley because the seat surrounds it. Perry Barr ward is a reasonable fit: it merges into Sandwell’s Newton ward at Hamstead.

The Commission’s splitting of wards in Sandwell seems somewhat bizarre. The borough really is the poor relation of their redistricting process – not only has the Commission breached its border six times (see map below), it’s unnecessarily split wards in the borough, going against its own policy. The Commission’s policy, as I understand it, is that wards may be split in extremis if the knock-on effects of not doing so would be unacceptable seats elsewhere. In this case the Commission has done the opposite: it’s avoided splitting wards in Birmingham at all costs, leaving loose ends to be tied in Sandwell. What it should have done – and what I have done – is split wards in Birmingham in order to mitigate problems elsewhere.

bce sandwell nos

In the end I split three wards in Birmingham in order to construct better seats both in the city and throughout the sub-region. I submit that that’s a reasonable compromise, and certainly better than the two splits in Sandwell, one of which divides West Bromwich between seats, and the other one of which divides Smethwick between seats.

Summary of improvements:

  1. Pleck is in the Walsall seat.

  2. Oscott is in a Birmingham seat.

  3. There’s no Sandwell ward in the Ladywood seat.

  4. Nechells ward is in the Ladywood seat instead of the Yardley seat.

  5. Hall Green almost unchanged from the existing seat.

  6. Smethwick is united in one seat instead of being split between three seats.

  7. Woodside is in the Dudley seat instead of in the Halesowen seat.

  8. There’s no Dudley ward in a Warley seat.

  9. Dudley town is united in one seat instead of being split between three seats.

  10. Friar Park is in the Wednesbury seat.

  11. No split wards in Sandwell.

Of course, eradicating these faults in the Commission’s revised proposals has required a few compromises to made, but I commend those compromises to you as necessary in order to improve the overall picture of constituencies in Birmingham and the Black Country. Also, the two split wards in Sandwell have been replaced with three split wards in Birmingham, although I hope you’ll agree that the splits are reasonable.

***

A note on wards. The Commission has a policy of not splitting wards. In general terms this a sensible policy, since it reduces the permutations from an infinite number to something more manageable. However, when the law was changed to reduce the permitted leeway in seat size from +/-10% to +/-5% this made the policy unworkable. It reduced the number of possible arrangements in authorities with large wards like Birmingham and Dudley to zero, or close to zero, and blindly pursuing the policy has led the Commission to propose ludicrous “bacon strip” seats and multiple cross-border seats and orphan wards, leeching neighbouring authorities to make up the numbers. The irony of this situation is not lost on psephologists who clearly remember how the Commission insisted for so long that the process was not a numbers game – a position with which the courts agreed.

To see how futile the task is of forming seats in Birmingham on the basis of whole wards, consider the following: the electorate of Birmingham (excluding Sutton Coldfield) is 616,632. Therefore the 36 wards have an average electorate of 17,045. Four whole wards have an average electorate of 68,180 and five whole wards have an average electorate of 85,225. Given that the permitted range is 71,031 to 78,507, it can be seen that it’s impossible to form whole-ward seats in the city, except where through luck there’s the odd ward or two considerably above or below the average size. Hopefully this gives a flavour of how crass the unwillingness to deviate from the whole-ward policy had become.

As a footnote to the footnote, it should also be noticed that (a) the Birmingham wards that the Commission is using as its building blocks are obsolete, having been replaced by new wards last year, and (b) the electorates being used by the Commission are also out of date, having been considerably affected by the registration drives before the EU referendum and the 2017 general election.

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2 Responses to “2018 Review: Birmingham & Black Country – full submission”

  1. Totally and utterly agree with this. Splitting Sandwell up is ridiculous especially West Brom and Smethwick and splitting wards even worse. Rowley Regis does have ties with Oldbury and Smethwick anyway which makes sense. Splitting Dudley is also terrible is better to make sensible adjustments to Birmingham areas

  2. Brandhall is a part of Oldbury town and Bearwood a part of Smethwick town historically so. So that one is complicated ideally all of Oldbury and Smethwick should be one area. Harborne and Smethwick historically were once one parish.

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