It’s like watching a period drama or reading a big Russian novel. Everything happens so slowly. There’s an immense amount of talking and arguing, lots of procedural observance, but precious little forward momentum.
Take the town’s Neighbourhood Plan, our planning blueprint for the next fifteen years, and a vital bulwark against predatory building development. What should have been an urgent, all hands to the pump exercise, instead has ambled along in leisurely fashion, punctuated by often unproductive monthly meetings, for the best part of eighteen long months. Are we near the finishing post? Not really. The projected end date of this drawn-out process is about a year hence. On current progress, I’m not holding my breath even for this.
Talk about letting the grass grow under our feet. Building developers are circling like hungry raptors, poised to swoop in with major housing and retail planning applications, confident that the legal climate is massively tilted in their favour. Right now, there’s a retail superstore plan slated for Lawnside Road while the cricket pitch is subject to a bid for a large housing development. Bovis Homes have now submitted a plan to Herefordshire Council for a massive housing development on the Gloucester Road towards Parkway. There will be more of these interventions, make no mistake.
We knew all this two years ago. When the Government simplified the planning system, enlightened communities around the country, got to work immediately with their Neighbourhood Plans and have them now in place. (See Leominster's draft plan here). This means they can repel unwelcome developments that run counter to the best interests of their residents and economies. Not so in Ledbury. We are at least a year away from our plan being legally ratified.
Thankfully, the process is now being supported by professional planning consultants, but even so, we are still not quite on track. Under hazy leadership, the steering group lacks team spirit and is consequently shedding participants faster than it is recruiting new ones. Community engagement methodologies are still being argued over, months after they had been agreed by the group. Motivation and group cohesion have been ebbing away. Roles are blurred.
Ledbury’s Neighbourhood Plan is emblematic of the Town Council’s wider malaise: too little, too late, not done well enough. But it really doesn't have to be this way, if we put our minds to it and face up to the issues.
What is needed is an infusion of energy, a relaunch geared to recruiting new enthusiastic members of the community to the project, and above all, motivational leadership.
Let's get down to it. Press the reset button. Make good things happen. Right now.