THE CASE FOR
by: David Robins and Nick Xylas
Material: Jim Gunter, Martin Jones
by: Wessex Constitutional
1, Edingworth Mansions
Atlantic Road South
Wessex Constitutional Convention 2002
report contends that the regional geography of southern England is not
adequately reflected in the boundaries of the official Government Office
regions, and that this is partially responsible for the relatively low levels
of support for regional government. It
proposes an alternative model of geographically and culturally cohesive
regions which could, given government support, provide a solution to this
changes are summarised as follows: Buckinghamshire to be transferred to the
East of England region; Cornwall to be given its own assembly, as demanded by
its people; Hampshire, Berkshire and Oxfordshire to be transferred to the
South West region, which should then be renamed Wessex.
The rest of this study focuses upon the new Wessex region.
1 gives a statistical and geographical overview of the new region.
2 focuses on planning issues, and the difficulties which are caused by the
present boundary between the South West and South East regions.
3 concentrates on economic arguments for the redrawing of the boundaries.
4 provides evidence of latent popular identity with Wessex and shows the
essential cultural unity of the Wessex region.
5 illustrates the preference for a Wessex region among the region’s
Appendices review the different regional boundaries that have already existed
within southern England, including examples of many organisations with Wessex
years ago, there was no such region as the North East.
It was, and had been for nearly half a century, part of something else:
the Northern region. That
grouping of five counties, including Cumbria, was so well-entrenched that it
seemed to be taken for granted among regional enthusiasts that any future
assembly would cover the whole of the Northern region.
as the White Paper, Your Region, Your
Choice, is quick to acknowledge, the North East is at the head of the
queue for an elected regional assembly.
dramatic reversals of fortune can be expected elsewhere.
Already, there is a growing realisation that the special requirements
of Cornwall cannot be accommodated within the South West region as the White
Paper envisages it. The history
of administrative regionalism should certainly act as a warning against
placing the current map beyond criticism.
The south of England has been divided into regions that are neither
popular nor practical. Among
Ministers in particular there is recognition that the existing arrangements
present many problems.
is the purpose of this report to spell out what those problems are and to
propose an alternative: a Wessex region stretching from Devon to Berkshire,
neighbouring Cornwall to the west and the true ‘South-Eastern’ counties to
is a name from the past but it is very much a name with a future.
The oldest of the three organisations presenting this joint response
has for over a quarter of a century sought the establishment of a Wessex
regional government. All are
pleased at the growth in public consciousness of Wessex that has taken place
over that period and which continues apace.
The process is not one that politicians in power have led.
It is not one that they can hinder.
But it is very much one that they can assist.
Wessex Constitutional Convention
Chairman, Wessex Society
“The Bishop of Exeter speaking on the Today
programme last Thursday about the forthcoming conference on a Regional
Assembly for the south west drew attention to the total lack of democracy in
the present arrangements for regional government.
There is an even greater lack of democracy in the way the present
regions were devised. Here in
Hampshire we have always been part of South West England (or Wessex).
Before the 1939/45 war BBC West Region had a station in Southampton.
We were part of the Post Office South West Region and the Western Legal
Circuit. During the war Hampshire
soldiers formed part of the 43rd Wessex Division.
After the war our health services were provided first by the Wessex
Regional Health Authority then by the South and West Regional Health
Authority. Now arbitrarily Hampshire has been put in a South East Region
where we have no historic or cultural affinity and progressively the Health
Authority, English Heritage, NFU, the National Trust, the Territorial Army are
all adjusting their boundaries to come into line. If the Prime Minister now wants the issue discussed perhaps
we could go back to the first principles – what regions?”
- Letter from Jack Sturgess of Lyndhurst,
Hants. to The Times, May 2001
This report represents the joint response of the
three organisations which comprise the Wessex movement to the White Paper on
regional governance, Your Region, Your
Choice: Revitalising the English Regions, which was published on 9th
Whilst we welcome the general thrust of the
White Paper, we have for some time been critical of the boundaries of the
regions, and note with dismay the White Paper’s inflexible
attachment to them. The
boundaries of these regions are unimaginative, driven more by a desire for
regions of equal size – something that is actually quite untypical of
European practice – than by a desire for regions that are economically,
culturally, or even geographically, cohesive.
We note with particular concern the partition of Wessex between the
South West and South East regions, and it is the boundary between these
regions that we propose to address in this report.
The three organisations sponsoring this report
are as follows:
Regionalists, founded in 1974 by Alexander Thynne (now Lord Bath), are the
oldest regionalist political party in England, and were advocating regional
devolution for Wessex long before English regionalism entered mainstream
political consciousness. Their
discussion document, The Statute of
Wessex (1982) suggested a Wessex region comprising historic Berkshire,
Devon, Dorset, Hampshire, Somerset and Wiltshire, with provision for adjacent
territories to join.
Wessex Society is a cultural society set up
in 1999 to promote regional identity. It
is officially neutral on the issue of regional self-government, but has noted
the extent to which unsympathetic, centrally-imposed boundaries have hampered
its work, particularly through the creation of the Regional Cultural
Consortia. Its main contribution
to this work is towards Chapter 4, The
Cultural Dimension. The
society’s definition of Wessex is more explicit than the Wessex Regionalist
definition, extending northwards to include Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and
Oxfordshire. This definition
reflects its specialist interests in history and dialect matters.
Constitutional Convention was launched on 19th May 2001, and is
an all-party pressure group seeking to achieve the broadest consensus on the
form of self-government appropriate for Wessex. Its region, though smaller than the Wessex Society
definition, as it excludes Herefordshire (though with the proviso that all
regional boundaries should be subject to popular will), is the one that enjoys
the widest measure of support within the Wessex movement.
Except as otherwise indicated, the Wessex Constitutional Convention’s
definition is the one used in this report.
As will be seen from the foregoing, and from the
maps at Appendix A, many different definitions of Wessex are in use.
While at face value this might seem a weakness, compared with the
precision of the existing official boundaries, it is in fact a strength.
A variety of boundaries is a consequence of the varying needs of the
organisations that use them. What
is significant is that a choice has been made to use the name of Wessex. It is also clearly evident that, however deep the zones of
transition may be, there is a substantial Wessex heartland that is of regional
scale. Wessex should never be
abused as simply an alternative name for Dorset.
The definition adopted for this report is one
that is widely respected. At its
core are Dorset and Wiltshire, common to every county-based definition of
Wessex in Appendix A. Many other
definitions then add either Somerset or Hampshire.
The Wessex Tourism Association recognises the validity of drawing in
both. To these four shires, Devon
and Berkshire are added, making the Wessex of Thomas Hardy’s novels and –
in terms of its core network – the area proposed for the Wessex Trains
passenger rail franchise. The
Cotswold shires – Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire – have more ambiguous
loyalties but an affinity with Wessex is manifested in many ways described
below. The eight shires thus
encompassed – including the modern administrative counties of Bristol and
the Isle of Wight – are the Wessex of this report.
While it would certainly be possible to argue
for a smaller, or indeed a larger, Wessex region, there are reasons of
cohesion that point to the eight-shire region as a sensible area.
The nucleus of an administrative Wessex already exists in the form of
the South West region, whose fatal flaw however, in terms of popular
acceptance, is its inclusion of Cornwall.
In losing Cornwall, the South West can move one county-width eastwards
to include those shires which, even during the 20th century, were
still regarded as south-western but which are now grouped with the South East.
The resultant region should then be renamed Wessex.
As the case for a separate Cornish assembly has
been well documented elsewhere
, The Case for Wessex
will focus on the South West/South East boundary, which is another way of
saying that the key problems lie with the definition of the South East. Not only Wessex will benefit from the redrawing of boundaries
proposed here. So will the South
East: the ‘real South East’ of Surrey, Sussex and Kent. In the shires of eastern Wessex there is much resentment at
inclusion in a South East region. Views
in the real South East are likely to echo this: the inclusion of the Wessex
shires serves only to dilute an otherwise geographically-coherent region,
generating confusion and hostility.
We also argue for the
transfer of Buckingham-shire to the East of England region, recognising that
the present boundaries disadvantage its largest settlement, the growing new
town of Milton Keynes. In a
recent BBC poll
, the South East was the only English region not to register a
majority in favour of an elected regional assembly.
It takes only a glance at its shape on the map to understand why.
“In recent years a trend towards regionalism,
as a reaction to overmuch centralisation, has revived the concept of Wessex.
While some of the suggested new regions have had little logical basis
in either history or geography Wessex, based on its historical extent, would
have an immense potential and would be at least as homogenous as Wales or
Ralph Whitlock, Whitlock’s Wessex,
Wessex, as defined in this report, is an area comprising the traditional shires of Berkshire  , Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire (including Bristol), Hampshire (including the Isle of Wight), Oxfordshire, Somerset and Wiltshire. This area covers 10,926 square miles (28,296 sq.km.) and has a population of 7,343,000. At its greatest extent, it measures roughly 160 miles (260 km.) from east to west and 130 miles (210 km.) from north to south (excluding the Isle of Wight). For other regions broadly comparable in terms of area and population, see Table 1 below.
Table 1: Selected regions
(sq. mile/sq. km.)
NUTS-2 region, part of Este (East) NUTS-1 region; former local
government & regions minister Alan Whitehead described in Roth’s Parliamentary
Profiles as believing in “Catalonia-style regionalism”.
Combines NUTS-1 and NUTS-2 status.
This is fairly common in the EU: 7 regions – Åland, Attica,
Azores, Brussels, Hamburg, Madeira and Madrid – combine NUTS-1,2 and 3
status, much as Cornwall seeks to do.
Luxembourg combines NUTS-0,1,2 and 3 status.
The capital, Annapolis, has roughly the same population as Winchester,
historic capital of Wessex.
The regional capital, Hannover, is twinned with Bristol, Wessex’s
In passing, it can be noted that all of these
regions have a historical/cultural identity and are not defined simply for
administrative or economic convenience.
Wessex is larger than Wales but only one-third
the size of Scotland. At 28,296
sq.km., Wessex is also larger than the South West (23,289 sq.km.) but is
appreciably more compact. From
west to east, it measures 260 km., while the South West mainland, from west
Cornwall to north-east Gloucestershire, measures 350 km., greater than the
distance from Gloucestershire to the Scottish border.
The difference becomes even more marked when it is borne in mind that
the South West also includes the Isles of Scilly, 40 km. west of Land’s End.
In fact, Cornwall, with the Isles of Scilly, accounts for over a third
of the South West’s total length. Wessex
is only two-thirds as long as the South West, notwithstanding the addition of
Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Hampshire. It
strikes a balance between treating as one region the corridors of movement
west of London and forming a region where internal distances are short enough
to enable that region to function effectively as a political unit.
Wessex is administered by 7 county councils with
a total of 28 district, 13 borough and 4 city councils; 16 unitary district
authorities (including 7 boroughs and 4 cities); one unitary county (Isle of
Wight) and 2,244 parish councils.
Wessex has 77 parliamentary constituencies.
It has 38 Conservative MP’s, 22 Labour and 17 Liberal Democrats.
At the 2001 General Election, the Conservatives lost two seats to the
Liberal Democrats and one to Labour whilst the Lib Dems lost two seats to the
Conservatives. The overall
parliamentary make-up of Wessex therefore remains unchanged apart from the
Labour gain of Dorset South from the Conservatives.
The division of Wessex between the South West
and South East means that it is not possible to identify Wessex MEP’s as
such. The combined representation
of these two regions in the European Parliament is – Conservatives: 9,
Greens: 1, Labour: 3, Liberal Democrats: 3, UK Independence: 2.
Gross Domestic Product in 1998 was £98,327,000,000, giving a per
head GDP of £13,390, compared to £13,731 for the South East Government
Office region and £11,447 for the South West.
A smaller South East region comprising Kent, Surrey and Sussex would
have a total GDP of £51,870,000,000 and a per head GDP of £12,409.
UK GDP per head for the same year was £12,548. This means that the GDP per head index for Wessex (where UK
figure=100) equals 108, compared to 109 for the South East region and 91 for
the South West, the latter being the poorest English region south of the
Humber. The GDP per head index
for the Kent/Surrey/Sussex region would be 99.
The significance of these figures is that if GDP per head is taken as an indicator of economic health and taxation capacity, then Wessex is much more capable of fiscal self-sufficiency than the South West, while the reduced South East would still be closer to the national average than the existing South West region.
“Only in a few regions do boundaries
satisfactorily reflect organic regions, and it is on the cards that some
referenda could be lost not because people do not want regionalism but because
they do not want the region they are offered.
The likelihood of success in the South East or the South West, for
example, must be seen as low by this criterion.”
Dr. Alan Whitehead MP, The New Regional
Regional planning in central southern England is
divided between the South West and South East.
The two regions have their own regional planning bodies: the South West
Regional Assembly (SWRA) and the South East England Regional Assembly (SEERA).
Two separate regional planning documents result: Regional Planning
Guidance for the South West (RPG10) and Regional Planning Guidance for the
South East (RPG9).
The boundary between these regions reflects
early post-war administrative arrangements.
It is becoming increasingly problematic as the economy of central
southern England grows in scale and complexity. The ‘Spatial Strategy Diagram’ of RPG10 shows five key
inter-regional linkages: three are with the South East.
This chapter discusses some of the principal cross-boundary issues.
The Cotswolds is England’s largest Area of
Outstanding Natural Beauty (2,038 sq.km.).
The AONB is divided by the Government’s preferred regional boundary,
whereas it would be almost wholly enclosed within Wessex, overlapping slightly
into Warwickshire and Worcestershire in the West Midlands region.
Regional planning arrangements in
Gloucestershire are uniquely complex. The
county shares a boundary with only two other South West strategic planning
authorities: Wiltshire and the unitary district of South Gloucestershire.
Its other boundaries are with Wales and the English West Midlands and
South East regions. A Wessex
planning region would simplify these arrangements.
Information on the M4 corridor between London
and Bristol is not difficult to come by, as the area is studied as part of the
GCSE Geography syllabus. The
Guardian newspaper’s educational website
summarises the advantages of the M4 as a business location as
office and factory space is cheaper than in
the availability of labour in the M4 corridor
a skilled labour force due to the proximity of
universities and research institutes
space for building on ‘greenfield’ sites and
attractively-planned business parks
easy access to the whole country via the
good rail access along the M4 corridor
good access to Heathrow airport and the ports of
Bristol and Southampton
a high quality of life and attractive
countryside that helps to recruit and retain staff
easy access to banks and financial organisations
Figure 2.1: Map of the
M4 corridor, from www.learn.co.uk
It may seem odd that “attractive countryside”
should feature so prominently as a selling point of the M4 corridor, but it
shows that even those working in hi-tech industries are not immune to Wessex’s
more traditional charms. After
all, the stereotype of people who drink real ale and listen to folk music is
that they work as computer programmers. This
fusion of old and new lies at the heart of Wessex’s identity.
The North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding
Natural Beauty, designated in 1972, is England’s third largest (1,730
sq.km.), and one of the most complex administratively, being in four counties.
It is bisected by the Government’s line that partitions Wessex but
would be united within a Wessex planning region.
Swindon, located between the Cotswolds and the
Marlborough Downs, is as likely to view itself as part of the South East as of
the South West, being closer to Oxford than to Gloucester and the same
distance from Reading as from Bristol. The
town is generally included with the Thames Valley by recruitment consultants
and in the Reward Group’s series of regional salary surveys. It
also forms part of the Environment Agency’s Thames region.
The South Coast Metropole is the name given to a
cluster of southern local authority areas stretching from Poole to Portsmouth.
The South Coast Metropole Partnership was formed in 1993 between the
local authorities of Poole, Bournemouth, Southampton and Portsmouth to promote
their common interests. The Isle
of Wight joined in 1996.
In March 1997, the Partnership published a
report prepared by Bournemouth University entitled The Case for a Central Southern Region. The report argued that the present regional boundaries do not
reflect the economic realities of the M27/A31 corridor and pressed for a South
Central region along the lines of the Wessex region proposed in C.B. Fawcett’s
The Provinces of England (1919),
possibly as a sub-region of the South East.
Whilst their conclusions differ somewhat from ours, the authors of the
report have undertaken some valuable work in questioning representatives of 65
organisations within the region. The
interviews, 15 of which were in-depth, found a general consensus of opinion
that, if regional government were to become a reality,
“any urban complex which straddles regional government borders will be
at a disadvantage and unable to take advantage of its synergy in attracting
internal investment and new business”
this being due to duplication of efforts in
dealing with two regional governments and the dilution of effective
Dorset is represented along with the South East
at EU level and was listed on the South East group of TEC’s
in the South Coast Metropole report.
Road and rail communications with south-east Dorset run predominantly
east-west, emphasising its links to the Solent area, while other parts of
Dorset have greater affinity with the South West.
The dilemma of where
to place the Bournemouth/Poole conurbation is nothing new.
The designers of boundaries for civil service use have never known what
to make of it, as Appendix C reveals. Today,
the growth of this sub-region places huge pressures on the environment of the
adjoining rural areas:
“Without net in-migration, there would be no need to provide additional
housing in Dorset. This is
because of our relatively elderly age structure, which means that more houses
are released through the death of elderly people than are required through
indigenous population growth. However,
Dorset is a very popular place in which to live, and many more people move
into the County each year than move out.
The vast majority of these people come from the South East. At the same time, in terms of the extent of international and
national nature conservation and landscape designations, Dorset comes second
in the national league. So
accommodating development pressures while conserving the environment is very
Moreover, concerning the relationship of
Bournemouth/Poole to south Hampshire:
“There is a considerable amount of economic and social linkage between
the two areas. Further,
monitoring of the Bournemouth, Dorset and Poole Structure Plan suggested that
Dorset was rapidly becoming a dormitory for commuters working outside the
County. We assume that a
significant amount of commuting is to south Hampshire.
Recognising these inter-linkages, the South West Regional Planning
Conference proposed in draft RPG10 (Regional Planning Guidance for the South
West) that there should be a separate study covering this sub-region.
This suggestion was strongly opposed by the Government Office for the
South West, and deleted from the final version of RPG10.
Nor did it appear in RPG9 (Regional Planning Guidance for the South
East). Nevertheless, the study is proceeding, since the Dorset
authorities recognise the significance of the linkages, and the additional
pressures that are being put on the County.”
The South West Hampshire/South East Dorset Green Belt was
recently revised in order to exclude the New Forest, due to the latter’s
impending upgrade to National Park status.
The Hampshire portion of the Green Belt now extends from Ringwood to
surround the New Forest. Planning
decisions are the responsibility of East Dorset and New Forest district
councils, within the context of the Dorset and Hampshire structure plans and,
ultimately, of the two separate Regional Planning Guidance documents.
The issue of affordable housing is a very
significant one for Dorset, made worse by its position in relation to the
“House prices are well above the national average, not least because of
the pressure of demand from migrants from the South East.
Wage levels, however, are well below national average.
This makes it increasingly difficult for local people to enter the
housing market. The Deputy Prime
Minister’s latest announcements on measures to alleviate the affordable
housing problem focus on London and the South East.
Once again, therefore, Dorset is a casualty of regional boundaries.”
Criticism of regional boundaries surfaced during
the Public Examination into draft RPG9. The
Panel Report (known as the Crow Report, after the chairman, Professor Stephen
Crow) noted, in its discussion of south Hampshire and the Solent cities, the
main arguments for change:
“We are attracted to the view that the area is an economic and social
entity in its own right, has a distinctive identity and alone within the South
East does not look to London for its city functions. It has its own economy and relates to other UK regions as
much as to RoSE
– especially to the South
West region through the Bournemouth/Poole area. The importance of north-south links via the M3/A34 corridor
to Newbury, Oxford and the Midlands, avoiding London, can be strongly
emphasised as can the less direct north-south rail connection following a
roughly similar route. We have
some sympathy also with the view that the regional boundary somewhat
arbitrarily and artificially divides a city region extending from Portsmouth
in the east in a westward arc to Bournemouth and Poole – albeit with a
substantial gap in the New Forest. This
was a point echoed in a slightly different way by the area’s local
authorities who see it being at the centre of a distinctive ‘Central South’
region which has national importance in its own right.”
The Government’s current proposals for reform
of the planning system
envisage the replacement of Regional Planning Guidance and county
structure plans by Regional Spatial Strategies.
Given the added importance now being placed on the regional tier, it is
more important than ever that regional boundaries should make sense.
The Government has argued for the abolition of structure plans on the
grounds that county boundaries no longer make sensible areas for strategic
planning purposes. In southern England, the same criticism can currently be
levelled at the regional boundaries.
Regional planning arrangements throughout
southern England are heavily influenced by the economic and social pull of
London. It might therefore seem
that all areas within London’s orbit should be planned as a whole.
Indeed, the boundaries of the 1965-1994 South East region did ensure
that Greater London and all counties bordering it were placed in the same
region. That principle has now
been abandoned: Greater London is an administrative region in its own right,
while the remainder of the old South East has been divided between the new
South East and East of England regions. Further
division, separating eastern Wessex from the South East, would appear to
exacerbate this process of fragmentation.
The reality is more complex.
Once the planning of the ‘greater South East’ is divided between
three regional planning bodies, as now, arrangements for joint working become
essential. The need for those
arrangements is not altered by increasing the number of regions to four.
Indeed, in some respects, arrangements are thereby simplified, for the
Firstly, a Wessex planning region would be
responsible for all regional planning matters in the area broadly to the west
of London, whereas today an artificial divide is imposed corresponding to the
eastern boundaries of Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Dorset.
Clearly, commuter flows do not respect these boundaries, and the
discussion above highlights the need for a corridor approach.
The next chapter expands on the transport aspects of this.
The eastern fringes of the South West have long been, de facto, part of the planning of the South East, whether or not the
boundaries at the time have recognised this. A Wessex planning region would provide a lasting solution to
the recurrent dilemma of whether the growth of Swindon and south-east Dorset,
to give just the most pressing examples, should be planned as part of a region
including Bristol and Salisbury or one including Reading and Southampton.
Secondly, as a consequence, a Wessex planning
region would recognise that London’s influence does not end abruptly but
diminishes with distance. The
decisive factor is not actual distance but the distance that people are
willing to travel, something that is a complex and shifting relationship of
house prices, job opportunities and journey times.
Journey times in turn are influenced by investment in road and rail
infrastructure and these are matters at the very heart of regional planning.
The question of ‘how to spread prosperity westwards’ is a difficult
one to answer if the shires of eastern Wessex are in a different region to the
western ones. An effective
planning region must be one that is capable of delivering the regional
strategy through its influence on public expenditure priorities and an element
of regionally-based taxation. ‘Hot
spots’ and ‘cool spots’ need to be under the same roof if they are to
assist in relieving each other’s problems.
Hampshire’s Assistant County Planning Officer
has advised this report’s authors that:
“when deciding boundaries for a regional authority to serve the 21st
century it must be right to consider the existing and likely future social and
economic geography of a wider area. The
scale and nature of the movements and activities across the SE/SW boundary
might indicate that the present boundary is wrong. But then no boundary is perfect.”
This last challenge is accepted to be an
important issue. It may indeed be
argued that a regional boundary drawn further east would create as many, if
not more, anomalies than the existing one.
However, there are good grounds to disagree.
Mid-Wessex is growing, and growing fast.
It needs a co-ordinated approach, which it will not get so long as
Wessex remains partitioned. In contrast, much of the length of the eastern boundaries of
Berkshire and Hampshire passes through or along the edge of the Metropolitan
Green Belt, which is protected from major development.
Responsibility for this at the regional level of planning is already
divided, as is responsibility for the South West Hampshire/South East Dorset
Green Belt, but a Wessex planning region at least has the advantage of uniting
The existing boundary divides one Community
Forest project – Great Western, around Swindon. The proposed boundary divides none.
The creation of a Wessex region would also unite
the proposed New Forest National Park, whose draft boundaries extend from
Hampshire into both Wiltshire and Dorset, but it would at the same time
require a regional boundary to be drawn through the proposed South Downs
National Park. This, we argue, is
the lesser evil, since the pressures on the New Forest from the conurbations
that flank it require greater consistency of policy than the more rural area
through which the Hampshire/Sussex boundary runs.
Moreover, the proposed South Downs National Park is not, geologically
or geographically, a natural entity. Its
area is presently divided between the East Hampshire AONB, which forms part of
the Hampshire Basin, and the Sussex Downs AONB, which forms part of the
Wealden massif. It is a matter of
concern that the distinction, hitherto carefully respected, is under this
Government being ignored.
The South Coast Metropole
Partnership’s report (see above) demonstrates that Sussex functions very
much as a whole, with comparatively weak links between West Sussex and
Hampshire and a much stronger Brighton-Crawley-Gatwick axis.
This corridor was cited as one of the main reasons why the local TEC is
located at Haywards Heath.
The existing regional boundary divides three
Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (Cotswolds, North Wessex Downs and
Cranborne Chase & West Wiltshire Downs).
The boundary proposed in this report would, leaving aside the AONB’s
to be superseded by the proposed South Downs National Park, divide two:
Chichester Harbour (the third smallest) and the Chilterns. But the Chilterns is already divided between the South East
and the East of England. Our
proposals would not alter the fact of division but they would make for a
simpler line of division – along the Oxfordshire-Buckinghamshire boundary
– rather than, as now, two quite separate lines of division as the Chilterns
cross the Tring salient of Hertfordshire into Buckinghamshire.
Buckinghamshire currently forms part of the
Thames Valley NUTS-2 region alongside Berkshire and Oxfordshire, although this
identification only really applies to the South Bucks District Council area
associated with the M40. Under
our proposals, Buckinghamshire would be separated from the other shires.
We believe that the county’s links are with the East of England
rather than with Wessex (for example, it is served by BBC East, not BBC
South). The largest town in
Buckinghamshire is Milton Keynes, developed from 1967 onwards as part of a
that continues to grow rapidly:
“The sub-region, which the new city dominates, extends across regional
and county boundaries into Northamptonshire
, to Northampton and into
, to Bedford…
The plan [for
further growth] should not be
constrained by administrative boundaries but it should encompass the
sub-region… What is important
at this stage is for the three counties, their constituent district councils
and the three Government Offices to work together…”
Milton Keynes also lies astride the key lines of
communication from London to the Midlands – the M1, the A5, the West Coast
Main Line and the Grand Union Canal. It
forms part of a communications corridor as significant in its own context as
the M4/A4/Great Western corridor within Wessex; both need to be looked at in a
less disjointed way than current regional boundaries permit.
The location of what is now Milton Keynes –
equidistant from Oxford and Cambridge – was crucial to the choice of
Bletchley Park as a base for wartime cryptography work.
It would be a strange twist of fate if the area’s good government
were now to be thwarted by regional boundaries laid down in that very same
is a name that is widely known and one that conjures up strong positive
images. It is used by companies
and organisations in many fields.”
Wessex Tourism Association, Business
Plan 2002 to 2005, 2002
there is no definitive analysis of ‘the Wessex economy’ does not mean that
such a dynamic does not exist. Thirty
years ago it was still being argued, and with much greater justification, that
no such thing as the Welsh economy existed either.
As an economic region Wessex is much more coherent than Wales, its
transport infrastructure tending to unite rather than divide.
Already, there is a Wessex Association of Chambers of Commerce
based in Trowbridge, with members in 11 mid-Wessex towns.
There are now over 400 businesses and other organisations using the
name ‘Wessex’, as Table 2 demonstrates.
Over 90% of these are based within Wessex, as defined in this report.
2: ‘Wessex’ subscribers listed in telephone directories (derived from the
BT phone disc)
(including Isle of Wight)
remains the principal land use and, while it employs few people, it underpins
many more jobs in food processing. The
annual Bath & West Show at Shepton Mallet is organised by the Royal Bath
& West of England Society, whose former name in full, the Royal Bath &
West of England & Southern Counties Agricultural Society, illustrates the
long-standing regional unity of Wessex as far as agricultural interests are
concerned. Tourism is also a
vital industry, contributing
an estimated £4 billion per year to the economy, and now one of increasing
importance to rural areas as well as to the traditional resorts.
geopolitical location of Wessex has for centuries ensured that defence
spending is a key influence on the economy. The growth, and recent decline, of aerospace in Wessex owes
much to military trends as, to a perhaps surprising extent, does the region’s
leading role in environmental science. Both
the Hydrographic Office (in Taunton) and the Ordnance Survey (in Southampton)
are based in Wessex, along with the Met. Office (currently re-locating from
Bracknell to Exeter). All three
have their origins in the needs of the armed services.
Other hi-tech businesses have flourished in Wessex, particularly
electronics and telecommunications, and the region has an important stake in
the motor industry, Colt at Cirencester, Honda at Swindon and MG at Oxford
being among the companies with a presence.
The ports of Bristol and Southampton are also major car-importers.
has 11 universities, ranging in age from mediaeval Oxford to former
polytechnics upgraded in 1992. Those
in between include Bristol, which as far back as 1908 – even before it was
chartered – was being described as the university for “the great Province
and Southampton, home to the Wessex International Summer School and a student
magazine called Wessex Scene. The Wessex Summer School theme has also been taken up by
Bournemouth University. The
universities make an important contribution to the regional economy, in terms
of training and research, and have no regard to the partition of Wessex
between the South West and South East: Oxford Brookes University has a campus
in Swindon while Bournemouth University has one on the Isle of Wight.
policy already recognises Wessex as a reality.
The Government’s recently published SWARMMS (South West Area
Multi-Modal Study) focuses on four main corridors: M3/M25-Exeter;
M4/M25-Bristol; Bristol-Exeter and Exeter-Penzance, the first two of which
cross the South East/South West divide (the area within the M25 is covered by
a separate London multi-modal study). The
steering committee for the report included representatives from the Government
Office for the South East, Government Office for the South West, South East
England Development Agency, South West of England Regional Development Agency,
South East England Regional Assembly and South West Regional Assembly.
This gives some indication of the amount of doubling-up involved in
planning a coherent transport strategy for a unified region which is cut in
half by ill-considered boundaries.
can be seen as the ‘brand’ of a linear economy, strung out along its spine
routes such as the M4/M5, the M3/A303 and the Great Western and South Western
main lines. But it would be a
mistake to see the Wessex transport system solely as a series of routes
leading to London. The M5 north
of Bristol and the A34 corridor are transport axes quite independent of
London, while connections between Bristol and Southampton are also vitally
important; the rail route linking these cities is actually referred to as the
Wessex main line.
Meanwhile, the winning entry in a competition to find a suitable name
for the Bristol to Weymouth railway line resulted in it being called the Heart
of Wessex Line.
on the railways, a Wessex passenger franchise has recently been created,
resulting in the appearance of the ‘Wessex Trains’ brand.
The original plans included the transfer of Reading-Brighton and
Exeter-Waterloo services to the new franchise, enabling valuable operational
economies. These plans – and
the future of the franchise itself – have been placed in jeopardy by the
Strategic Rail Authority in a further planned re-organisation designed,
allegedly, to improve operational flexibility at Waterloo, notwithstanding the
effects on intra-regional travel within Wessex.
The retention of the Wessex franchise is supported almost unanimously
by county and district councils in the South West. The extension of the franchise area as originally planned
would undoubtedly help to consolidate the emergence of Wessex as a transport
provides many examples of expanded ‘south west’ regional divisions that
ignore the Government Office/RDA definitions of ‘South West’ and ‘South
East’. The Government’s own
Western Traffic Area – the office responsible for road transport licensing
– corresponds broadly to Wessex plus Cornwall, though there are plans to
re-organise on Government Office/RDA boundaries.
Moving the other way is the national Traveline public transport
which earlier this year added Hampshire to its South West region, reflecting
the economic and social reality of the South Coast Metropole.
The South West region of the Transport & General Workers Union
takes in Berkshire and Hampshire. The
South West Region of distribution chain the Co-operative Group also includes
Hampshire and extends into Berkshire.
Kennet & Avon Canal, aptly described as the ‘Wessex waterway’
is wholly contained within Wessex but is divided between the Government’s
South West and South East.
travel too, is affected by the partition of Wessex:
“Bournemouth (Hurn) Airport is in the South West Region in the recently
published DoT consultation document on the Future Development of Air Transport
in the United Kingdom although it is quite clear that its main links are
eastwards towards Southampton and London.
Indeed, in the series of airport studies that Hampshire has
commissioned over the years, Bournemouth has always featured in the surveys
The region’s tourism industry is also keen on
promoting Wessex as a ‘brand’. The
Wessex Tourism Association was formed in December 2001.
Although its area
only encompasses Somerset, Wiltshire, Dorset and parts of Hampshire and
Berkshire, the final form that the association takes is still under debate.
Its aims include working with partners to:
“rebuild the Wessex identity and pride in the area and its way of life”.
The research report underpinning its work, Wessex
– building a heritage destination
“Wessex is widely used within Britain and abroad as a brand name for
promoting products and services. As
is evident from a glance in phone directories, it is very widely used within
Wessex itself. Yet it is little
used for promoting travel… to
succeed overseas, the area needs an identity, a brand of its own. It needs to make itself a destination that is known widely,
as widely, for instance, as the Lake District or Cornwall…
Based on the responses, it does seem that the industry agrees that
Wessex can be marketed and that this needs to be done to help seasonality and
business levels. There is,
however, concern that efforts to market Wessex could prove difficult, unless
co-operation throughout the region was better.”
the key weaknesses to be addressed the report identifies the following:
The number of overseas visitors is below the UK
average and well below what the attractions of Wessex suggest should be
The South West region’s image and promotion is
that of a seaside holiday destination for the domestic market.
Tourism development is hampered by boundary
divisions and under-funding.
There is also an Association of Wessex Tourist
Guides, formed as long ago as the early 1970’s.
English Heritage, whilst following the
Government Office regions for its internal organisation, has produced
promotional material advertising Wessex as a heritage destination,
as does the National Trust. The
Wessex Top Ten (a consortium of major attractions) also markets the region.
“I find that the name Wessex is getting taken up everywhere and it would be a pity for us
to lose the right to it for want of asserting it.”
We make no apologies for the fact that this
chapter is more subjective and less analytical in tone than the rest of this
report. Culture, after all,
consists precisely of those things which cannot be analysed, quantified or
tabulated. As Brian Eno (quoted
in the South West Cultural Consortium’s strategy document, the
bizarrely-titled In Search of Chunky
Dunsters) puts it,
“Culture is everything you don’t have to do.”
But there is a reason why even the most
hard-headed of politicians should take notice.
Wessex’s regional identity is a sleeping giant which, if aroused,
could prove to be the secret weapon in delivering a winnable referendum on
regional government. Moreover, a
region with an identity provides a stronger basis for continuing interest in
future regional elections. This
chapter will demonstrate that Wessex has a cultural vibrancy that the official
regions lack. This is
particularly true of the South East. Even
the South East Cultural Consortium appears to have given up trying to locate
the genius loci of that sprawling L-shaped region.
Its strategy document, The Cultural Cornerstone, frankly admits that:
“The Consortium has been set a major challenge by the nature of the
region it serves. Of all of the
English regions it appears to be the one most explicitly born of
aims to do for Wessex what the Celtic revivalists of the 18th
and 19th centuries did for the nations of the Celtic fringe –
promote the history and folklore of their areas and revive ancient traditions,
using their own imagination to fill in gaps where the historical record is
sketchy. It is surely no coincidence that the first parts of mainland
Britain to obtain devolved government were Scotland and Wales, whose strong
cultural identity owes much to the revival (and invention) of tradition by
such Romantics as Sir Walter Scott and Iolo Morgannwg.
Since the purpose of this report is to emphasise
future potential rather than to dwell upon past achievements, it might be
thought that the history of Wessex is not relevant.
Not so! A consciousness of
Wessex as a region with a distinctive history is evidence of that region’s
contemporary vitality and self-awareness.
What matters in this context is not so much how the raw material of
history is edited – which is always a matter of selection – but that so
many choose to use Wessex as a timeless ‘window’ through which to view
their own history.
There is indeed a Wessex tradition of
historiography, associated in recent decades with Bristol University’s Dr.
J.H. Bettey. His books, Rural Life in Wessex 1500-1900 (1977) and Wessex from AD 1000 (1986), take for granted that Wessex is a
geographical region with a story that is better told in regional terms than in
any other way. Such books display
no reticence at the supposed anachronism of describing post-Conquest events as
occurring in Wessex. The longer
books associated with academic scholarship have since been joined by a range
of short, popular histories, such as Wessex
– A journey through Two Thousand Years.
Wessex has seen a
succession of small publishers devoted to the production of books about
Wessex, from Moonraker Press in the 1970’s to Wessex Books
‘Wessex’, a creation of the centuries
between the departure of the Roman legions and the arrival of the Norman
conquerors, has proven to be a highly flexible concept that is by no means
limited in time. It is as
applicable to the prehistoric ‘Wessex culture’ centred on the chalk
downlands as it is to the 19th century world of Hardy’s novels
and the modern identity to whose creation they have in turn contributed.
Archaeologists appear comfortable with the concept: viewers of Channel
4’s Time Team will be familiar
with Wessex Archaeology, one of whose field archaeologists, Phil Harding, is a
regular on the programme, and known to refer to “my beloved Wessex”.
is the name of the kingdom that arose in central southern England in the 6th
century AD. According to the Anglo-Saxon
Chronicle, the first king of Wessex was named Cerdic and arrived with his
son Cynric, landing at Southampton in 495AD with five ships and defeating a
native British king at Portchester. This
account (fictionalised by Alfred Duggan in his recently re-issued novel, The
Conscience of the King) is now widely disputed.
Modern academics have noted the striking similarities to other Germanic
origin myths in which a pair of kinsmen arrive with a few ships and take the
It is now more generally accepted that Wessex was
created by the royal house of the Gewisse, over the initial area of Saxon
settlement and influence in the Upper Thames valley centred on
Dorchester-on-Thames, around 570-600 AD.
The first West Saxon bishopric was established at Dorchester-on-Thames
in 635 on the conversion of the people to Christianity.
It was the military conquests of the Gewissan kings which brought
political unity and a common institutional framework to Wessex as it expanded
southwards and westwards in the 7th century, the royal house itself
adopting the epithet West Saxon in 686. It
was this kingdom which alone survived the onslaught of the Vikings in the 9th
century and which, despite arising to become the focus of revival and the
dominant force in the unification of England in 973, retained a certain
distinctiveness because of its unique administrative organisation and the
patronage of the royal house.
However, when Canute
became king in 1016, he revived the names of the former English kingdoms and
applied them to the newly-created office of Earl. Canute originally kept the Earldom of Wessex for himself, but
later awarded it to Godwin, a relative by marriage, who as a result became the
most powerful private citizen in England.
He was succeeded by his son, Harold Godwinson, later to become King
Harold II of England. When the
Normans invaded in 1066, one of their first acts was to abolish the Earldoms
in favour of the more manageable shires as the largest units of sub-national
government, fearful of the threat that powerful regional government posed to
their centralising authority. The
office of Earl of Wessex remained dormant until our own time.
It is virtually impossible to say whether,
during the centuries after the Norman Conquest, Wessex remained in the region’s
folk memory, and if so, for how long. This
is not the kind of information with which records of that period are
concerned. What is certain is
that when antiquarians began to reconstruct a regional identity there was a
wealth of folk material from which to do so.
The Saxon-minded poet and philologist William Barnes (1801-1886) was
partly responsible for reviving Wessex in the public mind.
He wrote poetry in, and two grammars of, the Dorset dialect, which he
regarded as a direct descendant of the West Saxon dialect of Old English.
But it was Barnes’s protege, Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), who really
popularised Wessex, beginning with his 1874 novel Far
from the Madding Crowd. In
the Preface to the 1902 edition of his novel, Hardy wrote that:
“the appellation which I had thought to reserve to the horizons and
landscapes of a partly real, partly dream-country, has become more and more
popular as a practical provincial definition; and the dream-country has, by
degrees, solidified into a utilitarian region which people can go to, take a
house in, and write to the papers from.”
This solidification continued in 1908 when the
army formed the 43rd Wessex Brigade (“the Fighting Wessex Wyverns”), which
was expanded to Divisional status for both World Wars, and which is still
operating today. A Wessex
Regiment was also founded in 1967. Other
military organisations that have used the name include the Royal Wessex
Yeomanry and the 1st to 4th Wessex Brigades, Royal Field
In 1974, 100 years after Far from the Madding Crowd was published, Alexander Thynne (now Lord
Bath) founded the Wessex Regionalist Party. It has contested seats in five Westminster general elections
and two European elections. The
party’s influence has had an effect which extends far beyond its admittedly
small voter base. When the party
first started campaigning, there were virtually no businesses with the word
‘Wessex’ in their name; now there are nearly 400 in the Wessex region,
spread throughout its area (see Table 2), whilst a search on Amazon books
revealed 267 books featuring the word ‘Wessex’.
Several national bodies have, or had, Wessex
regions. Some have been
dismantled very recently as the Modernising
Government White Paper seeks to impose the standard NUTS-1 regions on all
public bodies by 2005, but Appendix A shows a selection of those Wessex regions that
still exist, plus some from the days when organisations were allowed to choose
the regional boundaries that suited them.
The wyvern flag of Wessex is one of the oldest
flags in Europe, possibly originating in cavalry standards used by the Roman
army. Henry of Huntingdon,
writing in the 12th century, mentions it twice, as having been
flown at the battles of Burford (752) and Ashingdon (1016), and it also
appears in the depiction of the Battle of Hastings on the Bayeux tapestry.
For a time, it became the flag of England, until the returning
Crusaders decided to appropriate the flag of Jerusalem, the cross of St.
George, for themselves. The
wyvern appears in various forms in the emblems of several Wessex counties and
districts, and of the Wessex Regiment and Brigade.
In the early 1970’s, William Crampton of the Flag Institute proposed
a standardised design, reproduced on the front cover of this report, which is
the basis of the Wessex flags currently available for sale, and which is also
starting to appear on T-shirts, car stickers, etc.
As the recent outbreak of English flags that
appeared on shops, houses, and even painted on people’s faces, at the time
of the World Cup shows, there are few things more guaranteed to bring people
together than a shared flag.
As any anthropologist or philologist knows,
language is the foundation-stone of culture and while experts may argue over
what is a language and what is a dialect, there is no disputing the
distinctive sound of western speech. The
most distinguishing feature of Wessex English is its rhotic ‘r’ sound,
that is, the pronunciation of the letter ‘r’ in such words as ‘arm’.
As good a definition of a Wessaxen as any is someone who doesn’t
regard the words ‘source’ and ‘sauce’ as homophones!
Wessex dialect has been the subject of a
specific study by Norman Rogers
, while Peter Trudgill’s book The
Dialects of England identifies a South West dialect region that is fairly
congruent with our definition of Wessex.
Wessex dialect is normally heard coming from the
mouths of humorous performers such as The Wurzels, Benny Hill or Pam Ayres, or
from ignorant country bumpkins in comedy routines. (One comedian, mocking the trip-hop star Tricky’s accent,
recently described Bristol as “the only place where even the black people
don’t sound cool”.) The roots
of this can be traced back to the Norman Conquest, the invaders regarding
their conquered subjects as “rudes et idiotes”, and the English language
as the grunting of ignorant savages. Given
that the West Saxon form of English was that of the dispossessed rulers of
England, it stands to reason that speakers of this, the purest form of
English, would be regarded with particular contempt.
As Fr. Andrew Phillips put it in his book, The
Rebirth of England and English: The Vision of William Barnes:
“BBC English, the English of the upper class, is merely a Norman
accent, that of invaders who could not speak English properly and then,
ironically, passed on their accent to succeeding generations as a status
symbol, the sign of their superiority and prestige of the English peasantry.”
is not, of course, unique to the Wessex region, but it is strongly associated
with it. Both the ‘big two’
UK cider manufacturers are located in Wessex Society’s ‘wider Wessex’
region (Matthew Clark in Bristol and Bulmers in Hereford), as are a host of
smaller cider makers and the National Cider Museum.
Books of local recipes show that cider also features heavily as an
ingredient in Wessex cookery. The
potential for regionally-based marketing of food and drink has yet to be fully
Bristol’s West Indian community – whose
roots go back to the city’s 18th century involvement with the
slave trade – is one of Britain’s longest-established and it continues to
have a huge impact on cultural life. The
so-called Bristol Sound is the result of the strong degree of integration
between black and white Bristolians, with influences being pulled in from a
variety of sources, including Jamaican dub reggae, American hip-hop, southern
African jazz and home-grown punk rock. Nor
is this sound confined to Bristol. The
Dub Out West series of albums
features acts from all over Wessex, from Newbury to Gloucester to Devon.
The sound is generally a more ‘purist’ Jamaican form of dub reggae
– not having had the violent upheaval of the St. Paul’s riots as a
catalyst for ultimately bringing communities together – but there is enough
evidence of other influences to suggest that the Bristol Sound could well be
re-named the Wessex Sound.
The Monarchy has adapted to devolution by giving
younger members of the Royal Family geographical areas within which they can
act, in effect, as regional figureheads.
The role of the heir to the throne as Prince of Wales and Duke of
Cornwall has established a long-standing relationship with the Principality
and the Duchy. The Princess Royal
is now seen to be developing a similar role in relation to Scotland, as is the
Duke of York in relation to Northern Ireland and the north of England.
The division of responsibility for the Millennium celebrations is an
illustration of this.
A similar role for the Earl and Countess of
Wessex in relation to Wessex has already been established.
One of the couple’s earliest public engagements was the Millennium
Service at Winchester Cathedral on 2nd January 2000.
It is difficult to envisage this role being seen as equally fitting
with regard to ‘the South West’, especially if Cornwall is included.
The history and culture of Wessex provide a
sound basis for the development of regional ceremonial that has no equal among
purely administrative regions, whose identity is necessarily synthetic.
“Wessex has grown into England, England into
the United Kingdom, the United Kingdom into the British Empire.
Every prince who has ruled England before and since the eleventh
century has had the blood of Cerdic the West-Saxon in his veins.”
E. A. Freeman, History of the Norman
Support for Wessex among the region’s MP’s
is well-evidenced. A survey
carried out by the Wessex Regionalists in March 2001 (and published jointly
with the Wessex Constitutional Convention and Wessex Society)
invited views from 262 prospective Parliamentary candidates,
representing the Conservatives, Greens, Labour and Liberal Democrats. The survey posed the question:
of your views on regional government in principle, do you favour a Wessex
region (however defined) in preference to ‘The South-West’ and ‘The
The responses include those of 15 out of the 77
MP’s returned in June 2001. Relevant
extracts from their replies are given in Table 3. Not one of the respondents (45 in total) defended the
existing regional boundaries.
Table 3: Views of Members
PARTY AND CONSTITUENCY
(Lib. Dem., Dorset Mid &
just read through your material very quickly and it occurs to me that
one of my long standing positions has a degree of compatibility with
your objectives. Along with
many Lib Dem Poole Councillors I am in favour of a South Central Region.
We have the Metropole grouping which includes Poole, Bournemouth,
Southampton and Portsmouth. Poole
does not relate well to much of the south west region.
In addition I think the boundaries have no real meaning which
divide the SE and the SW. Poole
Councillors have participated in the present regional arrangements
because we believe in regional government (preferably elected!) and we
must do what is best for Poole at the time. However, we constantly argue that the definition of the
regions should be examined, something the Labour Government has not been
prepared to do.
I have always argued that Bournemouth University (largely located in
Poole) should have been named Wessex University.
I do not
favour regional government but I am absolutely opposed to the present
ludicrous boundaries which make an artificial distinction between the
South East and the South West thereby creating peripherality to my own
constituency of Christchurch. The
demise of the Wessex Regional Health Authority is the latest blow that
we have suffered with immediate adverse consequences for our Health
support the principle of regional government and I do not personally
have very fixed views about the precise regional boundaries.
I am certainly sympathetic to the idea that there could be a
when the government’s agenda fore regional government advances I would
want to see the views of people across the various parts of the UK
reflected in the final settlement.
It should not be for government to impose “neat” solutions
such as the South West or South East as the only model for regionalism.
(Lab., Bristol West)
firmly committed to regional govt. having served on the Assoc. of
European Regions, but am not a Wessex Regionalist.
(Lab., Swindon South)
appreciate the historical connections of Wessex and was interested in
your proposals. I have to
say that this issue is rarely raised with me by my constituents.
I can’t recall anyone suggesting Wessex as a regional name or
identity but I would certainly be keen to talk to constituents who felt
strongly about this issue.
I do feel
the priority is to get Government and our existing regional structures
working for the people I represent.
So whilst wanting to be kept informed of your work I would not at
this stage say I supported Wessex over the South West.
However whether or not we are in the same region I think it is
important to have good relations with all out neighbouring counties. And there may be a number of issues where we could work
more effectively with the Wessex Counties e.g. on Paddington/Swindon/M4
corridor issues and I would be keen to support this.
This could in time develop into a stronger Wessex identity.
(Lib. Dem., Romsey)
Hampshire MP who feels we do not instinctively belong in the South East
Region I am broadly in support of your aims.
I might perhaps question the inclusion of Devon – but even so I
believe this is preferable to the existing set-up.
answer your question simply and directly.
I strongly favour a Wessex region (however defined) in preference
to ‘The South-West’ and ‘The South-East’.
The latter are wholly artificial creations, designed to pave the
way for regional government within a European super state.
The entity of Wessex, however, can be justified geographically,
economically and – to a lesser extent – socially, quite apart from
its proud history.
most Members of Parliament and candidates, I am extremely fortunate to
represent my genuine home. I
was born in Plymouth in 1945 – and my parents moved to Salisbury in
1947. Since then I have
spent the majority of my life in Salisbury – or the villages outside
it. I went to school in Salisbury and then in Sherborne.
my life Wessex has been a reality as far as I am concerned. I count myself a man of Wessex. I think the old, socialist, economic planning regions are
arbitrary. What on earth do
the Forest of Dean and the Isles of Scilly and Salisbury have in common?
Yet we are all within the boundaries of the Government Office of
the South West. If the
Labour Party imposes regional government, Wessex will be split up in
different and meaningless ways.
to your question is easy. Of
course I favour a Wessex region in preference to ‘the South West’
and ‘the South East’.
I do not
favour regional government – frankly England is too small for that.
However, historically and culturally Cornwall is quite distinct,
as is the territory I am proud to call Wessex.
(Con., Dorset West)
I am in
principle opposed to regional government in England.
As I say, and to make matters absolutely clear, I do not
favour any form of regional government whatsoever.
However, if we were forced at any time to accede to regional
government due to an Act of Parliament, I would certainly prefer to see
a Wessex region rather than a meaningless “south west” region.
agree with you that traditional names, such as Wessex, are preferable
for an established region to such modern constructs as ‘The South West’.
clear that the boundaries of the South-West Region currently on offer
from the EU, via the LibDems and Labour, bears little relation to
(Lib. Dem., Newbury)
Democrats have an old and strong commitment to regional self-government.
The principle of democratic self-government demands that
jurisdictional boundaries reflect people’s identification with and
understanding of where they live.
that these boundaries should be drawn up only in close consultation with
the communities involved. I
do not believe that it is appropriate for politicians to advocate
precise boundaries for any region.
As a Liberal, I do not believe that politicians can or should
legislate to define people’s identities.
the principle of regional self-government and of local determination of
(Con., Isle of Wight)
If we were
to have regional government (and I am against it) I would prefer Wessex
to either South East or South West.
personal view is that Gosport and Hampshire fit more naturally into the
Wessex area than the South East of England which is where we have been
allocated by the present Government.
I wish you
well in promoting the interests of Wessex, though I have to say my own
views fall well short of the proposed structure for Wessex which you are
(Con., Dorset North)
the South West Region and more particularly in the South East are
totally artificial. My
constituents have nothing in common with the citizens of either Truro or
(Con., Hampshire NW)
I see real
difficulties in seeking to promote a Wessex Region that includes Devon,
which is very much part of the South West.
Putting Devon in your Wessex Region leaves Cornwall very much on
was delighted that Prince Edward choose Wessex for his title, I have to
say that I am not in favour of regional self government for Wessex, or
indeed for any other region in England.
With Parishs, Districts, Counties, Westminster and Europe, my
view is that there are already enough layers of Government.
Wessex has also been the subject of three
speeches made by the present Lord Bath in the House of Lords, between 1997 and
Wessex was also mentioned in a series of
Parliamentary questions tabled by Andrew Turner, MP for the Isle of Wight, in
July 2001. The following are of
 To ask the Secretary of
State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what requests he has
received that Wessex should not be partitioned between the South-East and
The Government’s response stated “We have no record of any formal representations to the effect that Wessex should not be ‘partitioned’ between the South-East and South-West regions.” (This should be no surprise, given that no opportunity to make formal representations had been offered. A number of representations have been made since, both before and after the publication of the White Paper.)
·  To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what considerations he has given to the creation of a Wessex (a) region and (b) regional assembly?
The response given was non-committal pending the publication of the White Paper.
 To ask the Secretary of
State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions if he will list the
Government purposes for which, at 31st May 1997, Hampshire and the
Isle of Wight were included with (a) Dorset and Wiltshire, (b) Sussex and
Surrey and (c) Berkshire, with or without other counties in each case.
The response given was that at 31st May 1997, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight were part of the South West and Wessex Regional Health Authority, which also included the counties of Dorset and Wiltshire. This changed in April 1999, when Hampshire and the Isle of Wight were aligned with the South East Regional Health Authority. On 31st May 1997, the Environment Agency’s South and West region, based largely on the GO South West region, included a small part of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight; this was stated to remain the case. For all other Government purposes, as far as could be ascertained, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight were, on 31st May 1997, included in the GO South East region.
think the single most important thing is to get across that politics is a
process whereby if you start campaigning about something you can deliver a
Charles Clarke MP, Labour Party Chairman and Minister without Portfolio, 2002
existing pattern of regions in southern England is neither popular nor
practical. The problems
identified are real and no amount of money spent on promoting these regions
will make them any more loved or effective.
On the contrary, it is likely to generate hostility towards the
Government’s plans even among those who are well-disposed in principle to
25 of the Regional Development Agencies Act 1998 gives the Secretary of State
the power to alter regional boundaries by means of Statutory Instrument,
subject to consultation with the regional and local government bodies affected
by the change, though bizarrely the power does not allow the number of regions
to be increased or reduced. The
White Paper rejects immediate changes but leaves open the possibility of
change in the longer term.
urge that changes be made, and made at the earliest opportunity.
Our recommendations are as follows:
1. That the power to alter boundaries should be extended to allow additional regions to be created.
2. That Cornwall (with the Isles of Scilly) forms a separate region, as advocated by the Cornish Constitutional Convention and supported by the 50,000 signatories of its petition calling for the same.
3. That the South East region be divided three ways: Buckinghamshire to the East of England; Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight to the South West; the remaining counties to form a continuing South East region.
That the enlarged South West be renamed Wessex.
That, if these
boundary changes are delayed, enabling legislation on the establishment of
regional assemblies is drafted in such a way as to maintain the maximum
flexibility on boundaries until such time as a referendum is held in the areas
4: Regional comparisons within the United Kingdom
proposed to be superseded are in italic;
proposed to be created are in bold
& the Humber
East of England [with Bucks.]
South East [Kent/Surrey/Sussex]
Wessex Trains network
Wessex Water operating region (showing sewerage and water undertakings)
A3: Federation of Small Businesses regional map (Wessex region highlighted in red)
A4: Map of bioregions produced by ECO, the Campaign for Political Ecology
A5: Map of regions based upon C.B. Fawcett's The Provinces of England (1919)
A6: Region currently covered by 43rd Wessex Brigade
A7: Countryside Alliance Wessex
A8: Territorial Army Wessex region
A9: Former MAFF Wessex Region
A10: National Trust Wessex Region
A11: Environment Agency North Wessex / South Wessex areas
A12: Tenant Farmers Association
A13: Former Wessex NHS authority
A14: Area covered by former Wessex Regiment
(note: Somerset was covered by the Somerset and Cornwall Light
A15: Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors Wessex region
A16: Railtrack Wessex region
A17: Pagan Federation Wessex district
B1: Western Traffic Area
B2: Traveline South West
B3: Transport & General Workers Union Region 2 – South West
England and the Channel Islands
An argument occasionally deployed against Wessex
is that the concept is one from the past, unsuited to modern conditions.
In fact, this argument is much more appropriately directed at the
existing regional boundaries, whose origins lie in 1930’s civil defence
From 1938, Great Britain was divided into
regions, each with a divisional commander (later Regional Commissioner)
assisted by regional officers of the main Government departments.
These were the first fully operative multi-purpose
regional administrations. (Individual
services, notably the Post Office, had regions of their own before this, but
links at regional level between different services were limited.) In the event of invasion,
the Commissioner was expected to assume all civil authority in his region.
The south coast was divided between three
regions: Cornwall and Devon to the South West; Dorset, Hampshire and the Isle
of Wight to the South; Sussex and Kent to the South East. These three regions ran well inland to regional capitals –
Bristol, Reading and Tunbridge Wells – that were, so far as possible, clear
of any immediate threat of being overrun, yet with good transport links to
The influence of this era continues today.
The Government Office for the South West is still based in Bristol, at
the north end of its region. It
is only since the formation of the South West RDA and its accompanying
Regional Chamber (now the South West Regional Assembly) in 1998 that Exeter
has come into its own as a putative regional ‘capital’.
The continuation of wartime controls post-1945
necessitated retention of a regional structure and in 1946 a standard map of
regions was issued by the Treasury. This
was heavily influenced by wartime boundaries, the biggest change being to
merge the South East with London.
Wessex therefore entered the 1950’s as part of
two regions: the South West covering Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, Wiltshire and
Gloucestershire; the Southern region covering Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire,
Berkshire, Hampshire, the Isle of Wight and Dorset. The last-named of these was transferred to the South West in
1958, minus the municipal borough of Poole, which, for regional purposes only,
remained in the Southern region.
When the regional boundaries were re-drawn in
1965, the Southern region vanished, merged into a greater South East
encompassing all the counties around London and a few – such as Hampshire
and Oxfordshire – that lie further afield.
Poole was included in the South East along with Bournemouth, which at
that date was classed as a Hampshire county borough, and Christchurch, a
Hampshire municipal borough.
The regional map of southern England needed just
one adjustment as a result of the 1972 Local Government Act.
Poole, Bournemouth and Christchurch moved west in April 1974 as part of
the expanded Dorset. The South West then took on the shape it has today.
The South East did not obtain its present
boundaries until 1994, when the Government Offices for the Regions were
created by William Waldegrave. The
greater South East was divided into three – the present South East, Greater
London and the East of England (which also incorporates the former East Anglia
All these regions were intended as technical
divisions; none was designed for the explicit purpose of reflecting or
becoming a political community. They
take their shape from what is expedient from the perspective of the centre,
not necessarily from where people on the ground feel they belong, or would
want to belong if regions were democratic entities.
Uniformity of scale has resulted from the need to fit regions into
administrative hierarchies, with comparable career opportunities, pay
structures and caseload responsibilities.
Once regions are defined in terms of structures accountable to
autonomous assemblies pursuing innovative and divergent priorities, this need
for uniformity of scale will disappear.
In Scotland and Wales, identity shaped the
administrative units. Given a
blank map, they might not have been obvious as administrative areas.
In England, massive efforts are underway to make the administrative
structures shape identity. The introduction of elected regional assemblies will actually
be made much easier if this project is now abandoned and the identities are
allowed to shape the structures instead.
The United Kingdom has already changed its administrative boundaries
more often than any other EU member state.
One more time will not hurt if it proves to be the means of achieving
boundaries that will actually last.
Throughout the 20th century, official
regionalism in England has also been supremely anglo-centric, revolving around
the question, ‘How do we best organise England?’, not ‘How does our
geography fit into the emerging Europe of the 21st century?’
The great advantage of a name like Wessex over ‘the South West Region
of England’ is that it sits there as an equal alongside Wales, Brittany,
Picardy, Tuscany, Flanders and all the rest.
It is a region in its own right, not just an arbitrary piece of
This report argues that the
boundaries of the Government Office regions which are the basis of the
proposals for regional devolution set out in the government’s White Paper Your
Region, Your Choice do not adequately reflect the real regional geography
of Southern England. It
illustrates the effects of this on different groups of stakeholders in the
region and argues for a Wessex region which would be both geographically
cohesive and historically rooted, unlike the present South West and South East
regions, which are neither popular nor practical.
 Nomenclature of Units for Territorial Statistics, the standard EU hierarchy of administrative units, with NUTS-0 being member states. In the UK, NUTS-1 equates to Government Office regions, NUTS-2 to sub-regions, NUTS-3 to counties, NUTS-4 to districts or boroughs and NUTS-5 to electoral wards. Unitary authorities combine NUTS-3 and 4 status.
 The National Trust Members’ Handbook prefers to use the term ‘South & South East England’ to describe the Government Office region, while the new regional arts council for the area is named ‘Southern & South East Arts’.
 This report recognises the value of traditional shire loyalties and so in excluding Buckinghamshire from its definition of Wessex it also excludes Slough, which was removed for all administrative purposes from Buckinghamshire to Berkshire by the 1972 Local Government Act.
 Because GDP figures are not available below NUTS-3 (county) level, the Wessex total incorporates a figure for Berkshire that includes Slough
 See .learn.co.uk
 Training and Enterprise Councils
 For example, the county is partitioned for tourist board purposes between South West Tourism and the Southern Tourist Board
 Letter from Don Gobbett, County, Regional & European Strategy Manager, Dorset County Council, 9th August 2002
 Letter from Don Gobbett, County, Regional & European Strategy Manager, Dorset County Council, 9th August 2002
 Letter from Don Gobbett, County, Regional & European Strategy Manager, Dorset County Council, 9th August 2002
 ‘Rest of South East’ – the parts of the former, wider South East region other than Greater London
 Regional Planning Guidance for the South East of England: Public Examination May-June 1999: Report of the Panel, 1999, paras. 12.37-12.38
 Sustainable Communities – Delivering through Planning, July 2002
 Letter from Roger Lawes, Assistant County Planning Officer, Hampshire County Council, 2nd August 2002
 First proposed in the South East Economic Planning Council’s Strategy for the South East, 1967
 In the East Midlands region
 In the East of England region
 Regional Planning Guidance for the South East of England: Public Examination May-June 1999: Report of the Panel, 1999, paras. 12.3, 12.13
 See Appendix C
 Post-1974 boundaries; the former Avon is divided between Gloucestershire and Somerset
 Basil Cottle and J.W. Sherborne, The Life of a University, 1951
 Rail Passengers’ Committee Western England, Starting from here…, 2002
 Kenneth R. Clew, Wessex Waterway, Moonraker Press, 1978
 Letter from Roger Lawes, Assistant County Planning Officer, Hampshire County Council, 2nd August 2002
 Part of the ‘Co-operation in the field of heritage tourism’ project undertaken by Somerset County Council and the Comité Régional du Tourisme des Pays de la Loire
 For example, its current leaflet, Historic Wessex: Ancient peoples & magical settings
 Roger Crisp, Wessex Books, 1999
 The main sources for this account are Barbara Yorke’s Wessex in the Early Middle Ages, Leicester University Press, 1995 and John Blair’s Anglo Saxon Oxfordshire, Sutton Publishing, 1994
 Norman Rogers, Wessex Dialect, Moonraker Press, 1979
 Views of Wessex, May 2001
 Including Slough
 Including Isles of Scilly