Revised proposals for changes to parliamentary constituency boundaries have been published for a final consultation before they come into force in late 2023.
Significant changes are being introduced across the UK with the intention of making Parliament more representative by reducing wide variations in voter numbers between seats.
The changes will reduce the Exeter constituency’s size, moving its current eastern boundary westwards, meaning that many voters who are currently represented by a Labour MP will be moved to a new constituency with a footprint framed by the historically safe East Devon Conservative seat.
At the moment all Exeter City Council’s local electoral wards form the parliamentary constituency except parts of Priory, St Loye’s and Topsham. These are divided by the current parliamentary boundary, although few people live in the section of Priory that is over the border, much of which consists of Ludwell Valley Park.
Changes which were initially proposed would have involved moving the remainder of these three wards out of Exeter to repair the current ward split and reduce the Exeter constituency electorate of 80,676 to 71,713, firmly into the desired range.
Voters in Wonford and St Loye’s and the areas round Burnthouse Lane, Thornpark Rise and Countess Wear would have been added to the 11,512 Exeter electors who already live in what is currently the East Devon constituency.
The Ordnance Survey’s election maps site shows the current arrangements in detail.
However these changes would have seen the Exeter parliamentary constituency lose the lion’s share of Priory ward, which the Labour Party dominates in local elections.
In July last year Exeter City Council decided to put an alternative proposal to the boundary commission which relied on a simplification of voter numbers to propose keeping all of Priory in Exeter and jettisoning Pinhoe instead.
Pinhoe’s history as a two-way Labour-Conservative marginal was not mentioned.
The boundary commission took on the suggestion, held a second consultation with public hearings earlier this year, and has now published the revised constituency changes for a final consultation that runs until 5 December.
The changes in East Devon will entail nearly 9,000 Exeter voters joining a new constituency called Exeter East and Exmouth.
They will also involve the current East Devon constituency ceding a large chunk of territory on its eastern flank to a new Honiton and Sidmouth constituency.
This will be comprised partly of the southern half of the current Tiverton and Honiton constituency that the Liberal Democrats won in a by-election in June following the resignation of Conservative Neil Parish.
The new Honiton and Sidmouth constituency will also include Sidmouth, a key Conservative stronghold, and Ottery St Mary, the geographic centre of support for Independent Claire Wright’s prominent campaign to unseat previous East Devon incumbent Hugo Swire at the 2015 and 2017 general elections.
Her 2019 general election campaign in the seat attracted national media attention when an MRP YouGov poll found she was the most likely Independent to be elected in Britain.
How well current East Devon Conservative MP Simon Jupp might fare in the new Exeter East and Exmouth constituency remains to be seen, although it seems he will not face Claire Wright at the ballot box again following her decision to stand down from her county council seat last year.
The Boundary Commission for England is due to publish its final report on the current review and submit its recommendations to parliament by July next year.
More than 45,000 comments were submitted during the first and second stages of consultation on its proposals, nearly half of which have been changed as a result.
The proposals which are currently out for the review’s final consultation would increase the number of constituencies in England from 533 to 543.
Parallel reviews taking place in Scotland and Wales are set to decrease the number of constituencies from 59 to 57 and 40 to 32 respectively, with no changes in Northern Island leaving the UK with a total of 650 parliamentary constituencies, the same number it has now.