Burnham-On-Sea and Highbridge residents are going to the polls today (Thursday) to vote in a landmark referendum that will help shape the future of the area for generations to come.

Polling stations are open across the two towns until 10pm this evening, with the count set to take place at Highbridge Community Hall and results due to be announced here on Burnham-On-Sea.com just before midnight.

The vote will decide whether the towns adopt a resident-written Neighbourhood Plan, which has been created to benefit the community.

Cllr Phil Harvey, who chaired the group of residents who drew up the Plan and is a spokesperson for Burnham-On-Sea and Highbridge Town Council, said: “Our referendum for the Neighbourhood Plan represents a significant milestone in the development of the area and if more than half the registered, eligible voters in the area vote ‘yes’ it will have a massive positive impact on how our community lives, works and plays for the next 14 years at least. It will also give us a much greater say on what happens here in our two towns.”

“We’re expecting a good turn-out as there has been considerable public interest in the Neighbourhood Plan in the build-up to the vote. We, Burnham-On-Sea and Highbridge Town Council and Burnham Without Parish Council, understand around 60% of eligible voters have submitted their ballot papers by post, but we still expect to see a good turn out at the various polling stations in the area today too.”

Cllr Harvey added: “Thousands of people have viewed the Plan online or as a hardcopy at the Town Council offices, Burnham Library, Highbridge Library, Highbridge Community Hall, BiARS and the Community Centre in Berrow Road and it will still be possible to look at these today too.”

The Plan is designed to give residents some control over their two town centres and allow them to have a say on what new buildings and homes would look like.

Burnham and Highbridge’s Mayor Cllr Bill Hancock, pictured above, is urging voters to get out and vote.

The Plan will also allow them to influence what infrastructure should be provided and Sedgemoor District Council would be obliged to use the Plan when determining future planning applications for both towns.

Cllr Harvey added: “If more than 50% of residents’ vote ‘yes’ to the Plan it will empower us collectively to create somewhere marvellous for people to live, for businesses to thrive and provide employment and for locals and visitors to enjoy in their leisure time. It’s also about protecting our towns’ finest attributes and conserving and preserving our green spaces and the aspects of our natural and built environment that are wonderful already.”

“If the majority vote ‘no’ in the referendum, however, then we won’t be allowed to adopt the Plan and only Sedgemoor policies will apply, as they currently do now.”

“Our Plan is all about bringing real benefits to the whole community. It includes protection of our area’s important open spaces from inappropriate development by designating them as ‘local green spaces’. This will give extra protection to Apex Park, Burnham Road playing fields and Southwell Gardens in Highbridge and Marine Cove, Manor Gardens, Crosses Pen and South Esplanade Lawns in Burnham, (pictured below) so they can be used and enjoyed, as they should be, for generations to come.”

“The Plan will be good for business and employment too by supporting the retention of retail and work opportunities in Highbridge town centre. There’s support as well for ‘green’ policies in the new Isleport Business Park and with any new housing being built. For example, there is encouragement for the provision of points for charging electric cars.”

In Burnham, the Plan covers, in any redevelopment proposed, the retention of the best aspects of the High Street area and provides details on possibilities for establishing a ‘Town Square’ in Princess Street. There are also strategies to ensure that, in any redevelopment of Pier Street car park, the whole car park is covered by a comprehensive over-arching scheme.

Cllr Harvey continued: “Our Neighbourhood Plan also aims to enhance the environment for local residents with policies to ensure that new housing is built to high design standards with priority given to pedestrians and cyclists, and the creation of networks of streets, paths and accesses, which are pleasant and safe to use. In addition, flood mitigation measures would be put in place to protect new homes and businesses.”

“It’s very important we all have our say in the future of our two towns and the area we live, work and play in, how they are shaped and grow. This referendum is all about our environment and how it is protected and enhanced. It’s also about helping businesses that provide employment for locals and boost our local economy to help them thrive here. Plus, it’s how our community remains safe for the benefit of all and enables our children and grandchildren to flourish.”

For more information about the Neighbourhood Plan, call 01278 238168 or visit www.burnhamandhighbridgeneighbourhoodplan.org.

Results are expected at around midnight tonight and will be available here on Burnham-On-Sea.com.