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Historic Counties, Towns and Villages (Traffic Signs and Mapping)

Volume 456: debated on Wednesday 31 January 2007

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the law so as to require traffic authorities to cause traffic signs to be placed on or near roads for the purpose of indicating the location of historic county, town and village boundaries; to require the Ordnance Survey of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to mark the boundaries of the historic counties, towns and villages on its maps; and for connected purposes.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) who presented a similar Bill and, indeed, inspired the one that I present today. I thank the Association of British Counties, a society dedicated to promoting awareness of the 86 historic counties of Great Britain, which has campaigned tirelessly for their recognition through proper signage denoting historic county boundaries.

My Bill extends the principle of giving visible recognition to historic counties by including towns and villages, whose identity is so often lost when a district, borough or county council ignores the correct name of actual places and instead chooses to impose the name of the administrative authority, causing confusion and removing the sense of local identity that is so important to communities up and down our land.

Restoring identity to counties, towns and villages, along with pride and local patriotism in an historical context, is immensely important. I believe that we must stop the erosion of true local identities and restore the pride that people naturally feel in belonging to a county, town or village that in so many cases has already been lost.

My town of Romford is probably one of the best examples. As an historic Essex market town, there are indications of our historical links with Essex all over Romford—together with the constituencies of Hornchurch and Upminster, which today form the administrative authority of the London borough of Havering. That is a typical construct of the local government reforms of the 1960s. As I travel back after a busy week at Westminster to my home town of Romford, which lies within my home county of Essex, I enter the boundaries of Essex and Romford, but nowhere do I see a road sign welcoming me to either place. They have been written off the map by a dreadful local government culture that seems to recognise only the often made-up and artificial names of administrative boroughs or districts. That cannot be allowed to continue.

I was born in a place called Rush Green, a community within Romford but divided by a nonsensical local government boundary that splits one side of the area from the other, leaving half of it in Havering and the other in Barking and Dagenham. Only recently new signs were erected to welcome people to the area. You have guessed it, Mr. Speaker, down came the signs that indicated that one was entering Rush Green. They were replaced by signs saying, “Welcome to Havering”. I am aware that hon. Members have many such examples of the traditional boundaries of their counties, towns and villages being ignored by blinkered town hall bureaucrats who seem interested in promoting only the name of their administrative authority, even if it is a totally artificial name with no historic meaning.

To see an Essex sign, which should correctly be placed at the River Lea near Stratford in east London, I have to travel many miles, through a host of traditional Essex towns and communities, until I reach the other side of motorway 25, where Essex county council has erected “Essex” signs as one enters Brentwood. I and many of my constituents, who are proud of our Essex heritage and roots, find that deeply offensive. County councils, London boroughs, elected mayors and transport authorities must never be allowed to strip people of their local identities. The law must be changed and that is what my Bill seeks to do.

The importance of historic villages, towns and counties is much greater than just local government. They are sources of identity and objects of affection for many people and I sincerely hope that this significant part of our British identity can be secured for future generations. However, to achieve that, we must mandate local authorities to install signage indicating actual counties, towns and villages and giving their names precedence over the name of the administrative council itself. We must divorce administrative, regional, electoral and ward boundaries from true places that have existed for hundreds of years. I have even seen one local council—a Labour one—erecting a sign that indicates the made-up name of an electoral ward, rather than the actual name of the community, which has existed for centuries. How damaging to our identity such actions can be.

I have lived all my life in the community of Marshalls Park, which is where I went to school. That lies within the town of Romford, situated in the county of Essex, which forms part of a country called England. My home, until a future local government review takes place, may lie within the so-called Pettits ward of the London borough of Havering, in the region of Greater London, but those are names with no meaning, designed for administrative and electoral purposes only. We should never allow them to override or replace the true identities and place names of Britain’s historic counties, towns and villages, but sadly that is what is happening.

Let us conserve our heritage so that future generations understand the distinct and rich identities of a Yorkshireman, a Middlesaxon, a Lancastrian, or, like myself, a proud Essex lad. Let us defend our heritage and the history of these islands. Let us especially defend our historic counties, each with their own character—whether they be Rutland, Flintshire, Perthshire, Antrim, Middlesex or Essex—that form the foundations of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The aim of the Bill is to denote, through true, correct and proper signage, the boundaries of historical villages, towns and counties. Signs would contain the traditional crest of the village, town or county, and not the logo of the local authority, unless it was very small and placed at the bottom of the sign. Such a change in procedure would clearly distinguish the permanent historical patchwork of places that comprise our country from the artificial creations of Whitehall that come and go. The Bill would restore our heritage, inspire local patriotism, and uphold our proud local identities, and I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Andrew Rosindell, Mr. Simon Burns, Derek Conway, Mr. Lindsay Hoyle, Mr. Nigel Dodds, Mr. Mike Hancock, Mr. Mark Lancaster, Peter Luff, Mr. Greg Pope, Mr. John Randall, Bob Russell and Angela Watkinson.

Historic Counties, Towns and Villages (traffic Signs and Mapping)

Andrew Rosindell accordingly presented a Bill to amend the law so as to require traffic authorities to cause traffic signs to be placed on or near roads for the purpose of indicating the location of historic county, town and village boundaries; to require the Ordnance Survey of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to mark the boundaries of the historic counties, towns and villages on its maps; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 29 June, and to be printed [Bill 55].