DROITWICH could be left vulnerable to unsuitable development without a neighbourhood plan, the defunct document’s management group has claimed.
And members have written a lengthy letter to the town council, outlining their fears and calling on the authority to start the process back up again, following its suspension in September.
The group criticised both the decision to halt the plan and to hold the meeting which led the move ‘behind closed doors’.
And they say not only would Droitwich be unprotected, it would also be open to development as so many surrounding towns and villages in South Worcestershire either had neighbourhood plans in place or in the pipeline.
The members said volunteers had put significant time and their own money into the project which would protect the town and its residents.
They also claim the council’s suggestion of having a ‘Town Plan’ in the future was pointless as it did not offer the same legal protection as a neighbourhood plan when it came to planning applications.
The management group said: “We were reaching the vital stage where we could inform and consult the whole community as part of the legal process and cannot understand why the council wanted to stop the process and prevent residents having their say on their future environment.
“As this is the Conservative Government’s policy to give legal rights and greater democracy to communities, we expected the council, with its political make-up, to support this policy.”
The group had examined a multitude of issues affecting Droitwich now and in the future, from land use, development and highways to new employment opportunity, leisure facilities and green space.
They also worked on potential schemes they felt the town needed, including crossing points on the A38 from the Westlands estate, and upgraded pedestrian and cycle links.
“If we don’t highlight the schemes the town needs, it’s possible no one else will or, worse still, someone else with no accountability to the local community will,” added the statement.
A spokesperson for Droitwich Town Council said the authority’s position was the same as it was when the decision to suspend the plan was taken and it had no further comment to make.
The Neighbourhood Management Group’s full letter to the town council
AN OPEN letter to Droitwich Town Council regarding the decision to suspend work on the Droitwich Spa Neighbourhood Plan, which was proceeding under the Localism Act 2011.
We would like some explanation and the opportunity to respond to the reasons given.
This suspension was ordered without warning or consultation at a Town Council meeting at which members of this group, all other town residents and the press were excluded.
Will the Town Council confirm that ‘suspension’ mentioned in the closed part of the September 24 (but for which there are no published minutes as yet) can only suspend activity by the Town Council on the subject and has no jurisdiction over other members of the community?
We were previously assured the Town Council supported the 2011 Localism Act, letting residents exercise their rights to have their say.
As recently as the June 2018 Town Council meeting, as recorded in the minutes, further support and assistance was promised.
This legislation remains a cornerstone of the Conservative Government’s policy to give legal rights and greater democracy to communities. We would have expected the council, with its political make-up, to support its own party’s policy.
With a Neighbourhood Plan the townspeople could have a voice as powerful locally as the South Worcestershire Development Plan. Why would you not want to represent the people in having a greater say over their future and that of our town?
It would be a terrible waste to stop now and deny residents their rights, particularly at a time when the SWDP is under review with the Government wanting more housing and development in this area.
Neighbourhood Plans are being produced around the country and within Wychavon District so why are Droitwich people being singled out and denied their rights?
A quick web search shows parishes and towns up and down the country, some larger than us, preparing their plans.
They involve more than 10million residents planning for their future but sadly this will not include residents from Droitwich Spa.
This is a great disappointment to us all and appears contrary to the aims of the Act.
Over the last three years, volunteers have put in a significant amount of time and effort into the Neighbourhood Plan.
Many participants, to save the council costs, have spent their own money on printing and design.
They have hosted meetings, consulted local interest groups and spent time at Management and Steering Group meetings, preparing and seeking views.
We were reaching the vital stage where we could inform and consult the whole community as part of the legal process.
So why stop us now unless you want to stop residents knowing their rights and having a say on their future environment?
Would you please confirm the available Government grant funding has apparently not been applied for, as promised, even though the Government is giving even more support from our taxes?
We recognise you may feel a Town Plan is instead the way forward but this has no legal bearing on planning decisions.
We believe it is important the concept and draft Neighbourhood Plan, with its issues and options, be brought to the attention of the people of Droitwich Spa.
We became involved in this process, wanting residents to have more control over developments in our town, not less.
Currently the Town Council is only a consultee on planning matters within the town with Wychavon District Council as the planning authority, making the final decisions.
Droitwich Spa has had a lot of development over the last few years.
Some of it has been excellent and much-needed and some of it has not been so welcome.
We wanted the community to have better control over future land use, developments, design, conservation, green space, leisure facilities, ecology, new jobs, highways, flood risk and drainage plus being able to express their views on the infrastructure needed to support the growing population.
We have worked on potential schemes we feel the town urgently needs, such as crossing points for people trying to cross the A38 from Westlands, upgraded pedestrian and cycle links, new and upgraded sports pitches and facilities, protection of parks and green space and ideas to improve the quality of the town’s architecture.
If we don’t highlight the schemes the town needs, it’s possible no one else will or, worse still, someone else with no accountability to the local community will.
We urgently request you to reconsider and not let us fall behind other ‘can do areas’ of the country.
Please explain to us and the community why our Town Council is not capable of supporting our legal rights when locally North Claines, Drakes Broughton, Wadborough and Pirton already have plans with legal effect and Malvern, Pebworth, Cleeve Prior and Harvington have all made
substantial progress with theirs?
We always thought Droitwich Spa wanted to lead the way within Wychavon.
It is clear through the local press and social media that all too often town councillors get unfairly criticised about planning decisions, despite the fact you have no direct control over them.
Having a Neighbourhood Plan would address this in your favour, as well as allowing residents to have their say as afforded by the law.
The (suspended) Neighbourhood Plan Management Group