A CONSULTATION document on the future of Ledbury is so complicated and contentious, in the opinion of town councillors, they are hiring an expert to help them complete it.

Taxpayers' money, to the tune of £1600, will be spent on hiring a consultant to advise the town council on whether or not Herefordshire Council's Core Strategy, the authority's planning blueprint for the next two decades, is legally sound.

At stake is the possibility of rendering the strategy null and void, in line with the town council's views that a proposal to build 700 new houses to the north of the viaduct is several hundred houses too many.

Town Mayor, Coun Bob Barnes said: "If our planning expert can offer guidance on errors in the plan, it is obviously at risk of being overturned, which is why we are seeking professional help.

"As a town council we have been consistent in indicating that the development of the viaduct site on such a scale would be too great, in our opinion."

Speaking at an extra-ordinary full town council meeting in the Market House on Thursday, June 12, to discuss the Core Strategy, Coun Barnes said:"Since the passing of Coun Peter Watts, I don't think there is anyone on the council with the expertise we require."

Town Councillors then voted to hire a consultant, for the period leading to the end of the consultation period, on July 3.

But Coun Clive Jupp raised concerns that such as complicated document, "Representation Form - Part B, Comments on soundness" was undemocratic in spirit.

This is because members of the public might struggle to complete it.

Coun Jupp said: "We are getting legal help while everyone else in the town is being disenfranchised, as far as I'm concerned.

"How could a member of the public cope with this? It's out of order."

The document asks the public to assess whether the Core Strategy has been "positively prepared, justified, effective and is consistent with national policy".

And it directs people to council guidelines and "policy number" documents, - from presumption in favour of sustainable development through to movement and transportation, employment provision and loss of open space.

The town council has also agree to send a letter to local MP Bill Wiggin, and Herefordshire Council, to express concern at the consultation document's format.

But Herefordshire Council has defended its approach.

Herefordshire Council communications officer, Michelle Morgan said: “The representation form at this stage aims to collect the information that the Inspector requires the Local Authority to collect, for examination in public.

"It is very much a more formal stage than previous consultations and requires those commenting to say exactly which part of the plan they are commenting on and indicate where they consider the plan to be unsound; – the Inspector will consider the plan against the specific tests of soundness set out in the guidance notes which accompanies the representation form."

But she added: "However, although the completion of the form makes it easier for processing and assessment we will accept all comments made in writing before the deadline on July 3 whether or not they are included on the representation form as long as they make clear what part of the plan is being commented upon and what changes are being suggested."

Bill Wiggin MP is confident that the voice of the public will be heard properly.

He said: "It does not look like the people are being disenfranchised by the County Council. There is a help line available from the Council.

"Ultimately the people of Ledbury will have to have a referendum to agree the local plan. This will put the people of Ledbury very firmly in the driving seat.”