Published: March 5, 2013
Row erupts as council axes proposed Burnham Neighbourhood Plan

Burnham and Highbridge councillors last night (Monday) voted to scrap controversial plans to create a Neighbourhood Plan amid claims that the project would 'waste' up to £100,000 of tax payers' money.

Bitter words were exchanged during a heated debate at Monday's Town Council meeting where members considered whether to proceed with work to compile a Neighbourhood Plan.

If approved, it would provide residents with powers under the 2011 Localism Act to decide the future shape of the two towns, from choosing where new homes and shops are built, to having a say on housing types and what buildings should look like.

But Deputy Mayor Cllr Martin Cox hit out at the proposals, saying: "This is a huge a black hole of project and rate payers could be expected to pay up to £100,000 for very minimal benefit."

"There is little spare land in Burnham left to develop over the coming few years and only a few sites in Highbridge after the Brue Farm and Clyce boatyard developments, so I just don't see a need for it."

Cllr Bill Hancock agreed: "These proposals are so vague with lots of 'ifs and buts' and few benefits. No-one knows what the final cost of creating the Plan would be - it would be a complete waste of time and money."

The Town Council formed a working party last year to start work on the new Plan after securing £20,000 for the work - which includes £10,000 for a local referendum to ask residents whether the plan is wanted.

But Cllr Helen Groves - who proposed that £25,000 be set aside over two years to continue the work - said the cost of £100,000 was hugely inaccurate.

She added: "The Plan would cost £45-£50,000 at most and would be a huge step forward, providing residents with the power to influence the type of developments going ahead in Burnham and Highbridge."

"It would let them determine the quality of homes being built, the locations, and have a say in shaping our community in a real positive way for years to come."

Cllr Phil Harvey, who leads the Lib Dems on the Town Council, added that it was "strange that Conservative councillors are not supportive given that neighbourhood planning is a flagship policy of David Cameron."

He added: "Sadly, the views of many councillors being expressed here are from the standpoints of middle-aged people who don't want to 'rock the boat' and are happy to turn their backs on residents. We should be grasping the opportunity to move this forward and give residents control of shaping their community."

But Cllr Neville Jones questioned the value of the scheme and say it should be delayed: "Hold it back until the next local elections in 2015 and let Cllr Groves and her party put it to the electorate, explaining know how much it will cost and invite opinions at the polls."

However, Mayor Ken Smout stressed that the matter is not a party political one and also said the council is not turning its back on residents. "We are not turning out backs on residents at all or we would not debating it here - we do care and are considering the rate payers' money," he said.

A vote of councillors took place and Cllr Martin Cox's proposal to axe the Plan, but investigate other options such as Supplementary Planning Documents, was carried by seven votes to four.

Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Groves told she was "very disappointed" at the decision. "Now the Town Council has decided not to proceed, the £20,000 Pathfinder funding we secured for the Plan will stay in the hands of Sedgemoor District Council and may be lost to the people of Burnham and Highbridge. If a group of at least 20 residents wants to take this forward, they can but the cost of the work could now fall on the tax payer. All we would have spent was £1 a year per resident over the two years to give our community a say for the next 20 years."

The Neighbourhood Plan is part of the 2011 Localism Act to enable local people to make their views known about the future of their areas and to have these opinions taken into account when future planning decisions are taken by Parish and Borough Councils.


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