POLITICAL parties could be allowed to have pitches on Ledbury's Charter Market for the first time ever, after it emerged there is no written policy in place to prevent them from having a slot.

But first of all, a pitch needs to be available.

In recent times, political parties seeking pitches, including UKIP, Labour and the Greens, have all been turned down by the town council because of a policy which, apparently, has never been set down in writing.

It has been a "custom and practice" policy which has led the town council to refuse stalls to political parties in the past, and more recently.

This issue was discussed at last week's full town council meeting in the Community Hall, where Cllr Liz Harvey said of the policy: "I don't recall seeing it written down."

And Cllr Andrew Harrison added: "If it's a policy we can't find, it's not a policy, is it?"

But other councillors, including the chairman of Ledbury Town Council and Cllr Jane Hopkins, chairman of the environment and leisure committee, warned of possible pitfalls in inviting political parties to re-apply during the run-up to next year's May elections.

This is because the town council has to be seen to be fair to all parties, especially before elections.

Cllr Hopkins said of sending out invitations to re-apply: "If we are going to to allow this, should we not have a policy in writing before we implement the policy; and where do you draw the line?"

The fear is that more controversial or extremist groups, which council may wish to refuse when it comes to an application for a stall, will become eligible in any case to have a pitch.

Cllr Harrison said: "We can make it clear we have the right to say no".

But Cllr Hopkins said a precedent of refusing stalls to political parties and groups may be already in place.

She said: "By refusing people we have set a custom and practice policy."

Cllr Shields said she shared Cllr Hopkins concerns and there was a need to establish "what we allow and do not allow".

Cllr Keith Francis said the matter was academic in any case, because the Labour Party's recent submission, which had led to the debate, was for a Saturday pitch, and all those were already spoken for.

But speaking from the public seats, former town councillor Richard Hadley said: "While the issue on Saturday might be academic, the Labour Party could take a pitch for the Tuesday market. How do you say no? We do not have a policy. We just can't make policy up on the hoof and make arbitrary decisions. We have no reason to deny the Labour Party or any other party a pitch. We would be denying their human rights."

The matter is to be looked into by the town's Democratic Working Party and Charter Market Working Party, with inputs by all groups whose applications for a pitch have been rejected during the past year.