Political news

Boundary Commission scales back changes to constituencies ahead of fresh consultation

It is proposed to include parts of Lecale in the Strangford constituency
John Manley

THE Boundary Commission has reversed proposals to remove Downpatrick from the South Down parliamentary constituency, but recommended that wards to the north and east of the county town become part of Strangford.

The proposal to move Dungannon from Fermanagh and South Tyrone to Mid Ulster has also been overturned, ahead of a third consultation period, while plans to create a new constituency called Strangford and Quoile, which would have encompassed swathes of what is presently South Down, have too been shelved.

However, the commissioners are to push ahead with the proposal to change the name of the south Belfast to Belfast South and Mid Down.

When first unveiled last year, the commission recommended significant changes to the boundaries of the north's 18 electoral constituencies in what was seen by many as the biggest shake-up for decades.

It is the first major boundary change since 2008 and if adopted will become law this time next year.

Plans unveiled in 2018 that would have seen the number of constituencies in the north reduced to 17, as part of a wider move to reduce MPs at Westminster from 650 to 600, were abandoned in 2020.

The latest changes, which will apply to the constituencies used in both Westminster and Stormont elections, are necessary due to population shifts.

Each constituency should have an average of 73,393 voters in each but because this is impractical, the Boundary Commission is permitted leeway of five per cent either way, which means a constituency can have as many as 77,062 or as few as 69,724.

Under the current arrangements, only seven of the north's 18 constituencies fall within this range. Upper Bann, for example, currently has a total electorate of 83,028, while West Tyrone's is 66,339 – a disparity of 16,689.

Last year's initial proposals included redrawing and renaming two constituencies, while others were set to lose and gain entire wards. Only one of these proposals has been retained.

The new constituency of south Belfast and Mid Down will include parts of what is currently Strangford, while the latter's boundaries will be extended to include northern parts of Lecale, including the village of Strangford, but not Downpatrick.

Fermanagh and South Tyrone, Mid Ulster and Lagan Valley were also set to undergo major modifications, but these have been scaled back.

The Boundary Commission unveiled its revised proposals yesterday as it launched a fresh four-week consultation that concludes on December 15.

Its deputy chairman, High Court judge Mr Justice Michael Humphreys, said: "Following two previous periods of consultation, the commission has considered the representations made to it, and revised its initial proposals.

"The commission is grateful to all those who made representations during the initial and secondary consultation periods.

"We encourage everyone with an interest to consider the revised proposals and share their views, whether to support the proposals, or to suggest alternatives which also take into account the requirements of the legislation."