This is what we said: “Ledbury is under intense pressure from building development… The time for empty talk in meetings is now at an end. It’s all hands to the pump. What Ledbury needs right now is action delivered by a group of fully committed, energetic town councillors working with local residents and technical experts.
If they genuinely care about our town, each and every Ledbury town councillor must now get themselves involved in bringing the Neighbourhood Plan to fruition as their number one priority.”
Some town councillors found this suggestion to be offensive. To them I apologise if they feel slighted by the letter; it wasn’t intended to insult but simply to remind them that the future of our town is at stake. Forget car-parking charges, or grass cutting, or closure of public toilets. These are important issues but are insignificant in comparison to the building free-for-all that is about to happen on the fields and green spaces in and around Ledbury.
A town councillor friend asked me if I thought that ‘battering people over the head’ was the best way of gaining their cooperation. He has a point. Sadly however, gentle persuasion and polite requests for support, have gone largely unheeded.
The Neighbourhood Plan group has been trundling along in unhurried fashion for eighteen months. Just six councillors have given it their active support, which means the remaining two thirds have contributed little or nothing to the effort. Our slow progress is partly due to their lack of interest: the group is short of people, it desperately needs more pairs of hands.
Contrary to a lot of misinformed comment around town, the Neighbourhood Plan is not a bit of bureaucratic fluff or a fruitless paper exercise. It is an essential piece of the planning jigsaw, allowing our local community to set out its preferences for building and infrastructure development over the next decade. Once it is adopted by referendum, it will become a legally binding planning framework guiding all development that takes place here: housing, business, retail, open space, leisure, town centre and more.
The central issues are what we value right now, what we want to see protected and conserved in future, and what positive changes, in terms of places and spaces, would benefit the lives of our residents. These are not side issues.
The Neighbourhood Plan is probably the most important single initiative that has come Ledbury Town Council’s way in its entire history.
So is it “fair" to call for busy town councillors to get involved, on top of everything else they are doing? I think so. I’m also sure that the residents of Ledbury would expect their town councillors to be directing at least some of their energies and talents into this single project which is the key to our well-being and prosperity for years to come. The real question is why any town councillor should feel the Neighbourhood Plan is not a top priority?
To those councillors who are making a lot of noise, and rightly so, about the future of Lawnside Road, the Recreation Ground, about provision of social housing, about the need for sports facilities - all vitally important topics - I say this: the best place to focus your efforts is by getting involved in the Neighbourhood Plan, for it is this project that will yield the practical results that you seek.
One final point: do those councillors who have desisted from making a contribution so far, think it is fair that the entire responsibility for the Neighbourhood Plan should be shouldered by just six of their colleagues?
It’s now time to put aside egos and political agendas and in fairness to our community, begin working together for the long term good of the town. In May 2015, the electors of Ledbury will be looking for a progress update.