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Meeting ‘is not in developer’s favour’
1:00pm Friday 13th September 2013 in News
LEDBURY’S mayor Terry Widdows has concerns a public meeting on Lawnside could be viewed as part of a developer’s public consultation process.
Philip King of PLK Properties wants to demolish community buildings and put a 30,000sq-ft superstore on Lawnside, and he will attend the meeting.
Fears are growing the meeting could be used by Mr King as an example of public consultation despite the town council stopping further talks – at least until they have the chance to consider new legal advice.
However, Coun Widdows will attend the meeting, which is being organised by the Neighbourhood Plan Group, because he sees it as useful way for the public to have its say.
Coun Widdows said: “I have reservations – yes.
Mr King, the developer, could then claim to have consulted.
“People could just see it as Mr King consulting the public, and not what it is – a way to look at the bigger picture.”
Whatever the outcome, Coun Widdows is determined the future of Lawnside will not be decided by the town council, but by the residents of Ledbury through a referendum.
Lawnside is currently home to a clutch of community buildings including the youth centre, community centre, swimming pool and the recreation ground.
Coun Widdows successfully moved a motion that the town council should have no further meetings with Mr King until more legal advice had been obtained.
But he pointed out the Lawnside meeting was being called by the Neighbourhood Plan Group.
He said: “This is not consultation by the back door.
It is for people who were not at the last meeting with Mr King.”
Coun Widdows also pointed out other Lawnside stakeholders, including Halo Leisure, which runs the swimming pool, and the fire brigade have also been invited to attend the meeting.
Mr King will attend as a ‘major stakeholder’ and said: “This is being organised in consultation with me as part of my community engagement.”
But Peter Watts, a Herefordshire councillor for Ledbury said that, while Mr King could speak at the meeting, as any other member of the public, he should not be given a larger platform for his ideas.
One aim of the meeting is to gauge public opinion on whether there might be community support for a ‘right to build’ option on Lawnside, which could lead to a rival plan for Lawnside – providing it is in the public interest and is backed by a referendum.
THE meeting is not being called by Ledbury Town Council but by the Neighbourhood Plan Group, which is drawing up a plan for Ledbury’s future to complement the town plan and Herefordshire’s Council’s Core Strategy, its planning blueprint for the next 25 years.
Any planning application on Lawnside would require the approval of Herefordshire Council.
Ledbury Town Council would be able to make a recommendation for or against. But the town council is also a stakeholder at Lawnside, because it owns the recreation ground, a designated war memorial site. This is one reason why developer Philip King, of PLK Properties, has sought early consultation with the town council.
Mr King has secured the option to buy Electric House, the Workshop and the former ambulance station, but not so far a number of key buildings and areas including the youth centre, swimming pool, community centre and the recreation ground.
The Town Plan Steering Group has registered these as ‘community assets’, which means it would be able to bid on one or all of them, if they ever came on to the market – a so-called ‘right to buy’. The group would have six months to find the money. But the owners would not be obliged to sell, in any case.
The fire service has not ruled out talks with Mr King about the possible sale of the fire station.
The ‘community right to build’ is a power that comes from the Government's Localism Act. The usual planning process could be bypassed if the Government is satisfied, by the outcome of a referendum, to show there is both community support and community need for development.
The government says of the right to build: “It can be used to approve the building of homes, shops, businesses, affordable housing for rent or sale, community facilities or playgrounds; or the conversion of disused buildings into affordable housing.”
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