Way back in July I wrote a piece praising Jeffrey Phillips from the Ashbourne Partnership for attempting to rally support for a Neighbourhood Team http://bit.ly/S55Wo2. He raised it on a fine night for Ashbourne democracy – 200 people attended a Town Council-organised open meeting to discuss what to do about the challenge of building 400 new homes in Ashbourne.
Following on from that members of the Town Council undertook training on Neighbourhood Teams over a weekend and the decision was made to hold an Open Meeting to kick it off in Ashbourne.
In the same timescale the announcement came that Derbyshire Dales District Council are applying for a change of use for some land near the cemetery to turn it into a traveller’s site for five caravans and a date has been set for the next stage for the 400 homes location.
Lucy Green rightly opened the meeting by saying that the gathering could not cover those applications but it was clear that there was some confusion and cantankerousness right form the start amongst the 30 attendees.
The meeting was led by Councillors Lucy Green, Darren Archer, Denise Brown and Sue Bull. Mayor Steve Bull and Councillor Alan Hodkinson were also there to observe. Lucy laid out the purpose and benefits of the Neighbourhood Plan – it is a Government backed initiative to allow neighbourhoods to have a greater say in the development in their area. The DDDC has a Local Plan which currently overrides everything else – with the result we have no say provided Planning Department requirements are met. The Neighbourhood Plan would put our views in writing and refine the DDDC Local Plan. We couldn’t change the DDDC plan but we would apply it to our town. We would still get 400 homes but we could have some say in where they go other than participate in a hit-and-miss consultation process.
The purpose of the meeting was to explain to the room what the Plan was about and to ask if anyone wanted to give some of their time to constructing it. The process will take up to 18 months from start to finish and it is important that a very broad section of the community is involved in its construction. It doesn’t need to be written in legal language or be hugely detailed but it does need to be effective and does need to be approved by Referendum.
It seemed to me a turning point in the meeting came when Lucy asked everyone to fill in a statement:
“In _______ years time, Ashbourne will be a __________ and ___________ area. It will value _____________and _____________ and provide people with a ____________ and ___________ community. It will be a _________ place, where ________________.”
I, like the Councillors, and most of the room, took this to be an invitation to express our hopes for the kind of town we would like to live in. Some, chose to use the opportunity to paint a Doomsday scenario. One gentleman drew a comparison with what the DDDC had done to Matlock (suggesting presumably that Matlock is a wasteland these days).
Unfortunately, for whatever reason, it seemed there were some incredibly negative voices in the room who appeared to think this whole process was irrelevant and ill-timed and in some way the Town Council’s fault. There clearly is a timing issue – the DDDC Local Plan will be in place for early next year whereas the Ashbourne Neighbourhood Plan will be at the end of next year at best. We will miss the major opportunity to shape the Local Plan through it because of the amount of consultation and mandate required. The Neighbourhood Plan, due to timing, will not be able to influence the location of the 400 new homes or the traveller’s camp – but we still have a lesser voice through consultation and the planning process. It would be good if the DDDC listened and realised, that as this is new legislation, most communities will be in the same boat and that therefore they should adjust the timing of the Local Plan if they can; or find some way of working with the Neighbourhood Teams to take into account their “work in progress”
Two voices of reason spoke up – one a gentleman who very eloquently made the point that, even with all it’s flaws, it must be better to have a say of sorts than to have no say at all, the other a young lady who expressed her concern at the negativity in the room.
As someone who went along with my teenage daughter – a person who is already involved in community affairs in the Town – and on behalf of the Ashbourne residents I want to apologise to all the young people in the Town for the events on Wednesday evening. My generation did not have their finest hour in discussing a plan which at its heart is about leaving a Town fit for their generation. I think we should also apologise to Lucy, Darren, Sue and Denise. Anyone who attended thinking they may be interested in becoming a Town Councillor and putting more into the community could easily come away thinking they have better things to do than spend a cold Wednesday evening explaining Government initiatives to a whining, ill-mannered, arrogant audience setting a very poor example to our children. I appreciate the voluntary efforts of the whole Council on my behalf. I am not criticising the views and the right to share them but, unless the objective was to stop the Neighbourhood Plan in its infancy, the approach taken was very ill-judged.
I hope there is a Neighbourhood Plan. I offered to help with it if I can contribute and I encourage you to get in touch with the Town Council too.