Polling cards dropping through letter boxes across March for a referendum that is set to cost around £15,000 have caused massive confusion for voters unsure what they are voting for when they go to the polls on September 7.
Fenland District Council issued the cards for a vote on the March Neighbourhood Plan - a move prompted by the town council’s desire to take back more control over future planning applications in the parish.
But voters receiving the cards last week were puzzled by exactly what they are being asked to decide and what a neighbourhood plan means.
Some took to social media to query the vote with one publishing a picture of his polling card and asking “have I missed something”.
Many more flooded Fenland District Council’s call centre with phone calls on Thursday - when the cards were delivered by Royal Mail - and also on Friday, prompting the council to quickly publish a brief explanation on its website.
And today (Monday) March Town Council also issued a press release explaining exactly what the referendum is about and the lengthy process it has taken to get to this point.
In its press statement the council explains: “March Town Council was anxious to ensure the process was community led from start to finish and have adhered to the project strapline of ‘March Town Plany by March Town People’.”
But voters may be forgiven for not realising the referendum was about to happen as the the original survey asking people what they wanted included in the plan was sent out in November 2013, consultation exhibitions were held in October 2014 and again in March 2015. Out of all the town’s potential voters only 600 people attended the various consultation meetings.
The town council says: “The final plan is an extremely focused document, addressing only six priority issues covering the period up to 2030.”
The six are: housing allocations, proper control of windfall development, the right mix of houses to meet local need, to strengthen the town centre shopping provision, identifies areas in need of investment/regeneration, and lastly recognises the severe shortage of open space in the town, it safeguards the loss of such space.
The statement adds: “March Town Council is very proud of this plan, and firmly believe that it will help to address the main planning concerns experienced in the town and help improve the quality of life for those who live, work and visit March.”
If the town’s voters support the plan in the referendum next month it will give the town councillors a stronger voice in the planning process. The neighbourhood plan will form part of the statutory development plan, carrying significant material weight in the determination of planning applications in March.
Town Clerk Clive Lemmon added: “Basically it allows the town council to take back a bit more control over what is decided in planning terms for March - it give us as much bigger say.”
Wisbech Town Council have never discussed the issued of a nieghbourhood plan and town clerk Terry Jordan said: “I think the general feeling is that there really is little value and it has never been considerd formally.”
To find our more about the March Neighbourhood Plan visit:
http://www.fenland.gov.uk/CHttpHandler.ashx?id=13522&p=0 or http://www.marchtowncouncil.gov.uk/