Town council in the spotlight

I hope you will do me the courtesy of allowing me to clarify some of the matters raised in correspondence to your newspaper in relation to the Letchworth Garden City Council. Clearly some people did not support the formation of a town council, and I doubt

I hope you will do me the courtesy of allowing me to clarify some of the matters raised in correspondence to your newspaper in relation to the Letchworth Garden City Council.

Clearly some people did not support the formation of a town council, and I doubt that anything I say or do will change those entrenched views, but the reality is that the town has a democratically elected council.

What therefore are the two things a council needs? A base to work from and house its staff, and an experienced clerk to guide it through the minefield that is local politics.

In relation to the base, our clerk's letter printed in last week's Comet outlined the current position, although the council is still investigating a possible long term solution to this problem.

For a clerk we have recruited an experienced man, Mr Richard Bowran.

Can I assure the public of Letchworth that despite any impression given no one individual runs or directs the policy of the council. Currently 22 councillors democratically vote on all decisions.

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As to expenditure, two years ago when the district council helped set up the town council, it set its first budget at approximately £170,000. Yes the precept has gone up, but what costs have not in the intervening period.

On the question of speaking or writing to the press, almost all the elected councillors had little or no experience with dealing with or talking to the media. As a safeguard to them as individuals and the council itself, a policy was adopted that all such communications would be directed through our clerk. This is not a matter of gagging individuals, each councillor has a right to speak his or her own personal thoughts, but under the circumstances the policy adopted seems eminently sensible to me.

I personally was quite taken aback by the comments allegedly made by Mr Stuart Kenny, in relation to the matter becoming known as the 'double planning' issue. All the town council has decided to do is investigate a system almost unique to Letchworth, which has already affected hundreds of our residents and potentially could affect every householder in the town. It has decided nothing else, and will not consider anything else until this evidence gathering exercise is complete. On this issue the town council would still like to hear from any resident who has experienced the current system whatever that individuals feelings are, and this can be done by ringing 682552, or email to admintowncouncil

In relation to the petition currently being circulated this has not been arranged by the town council and is clearly the work of an individual who has acted after reading articles on the subject.

In conclusion can I say that we are just a town council, we are not going to make any earth-shattering decisions. We are just currently 22 independently thinking individuals, giving up our free time, working for nothing, we take no expenses unlike the district councillors, trying to represent the views of the residents, and in some small way hoping to do things that benefit the town. If we get things wrong we know we are open to criticism, we just hope that that criticism is based on fact and not rumour and innuendo.

CHRIS HARLOW, Vice Chairman, Letchworth Garden City

* I feel that I must reply to the letters attacking the Garden City council in recent copies of The Comet and I think that it is time for some facts - something sadly lacking in recent correspondence.

Firstly let me correct the details concerning the Elim Church Hall, if the LGCC were to purchase the building, it would nowhere near cost the £800,000 mentioned, as it has been minuted that the district valuer had assessed a price of £400,000 for the purchase and a further £155,000 for refurbishment. For the record, it would not cost the ratepayers a penny, as there are over a million pounds in grants available from external sources such as government and regional organisations who fund restoration of historic buildings. Secondly, as far as the Scheme of Management is concerned, it is hitting below the belt for Stuart Kenny to attack one councillor when the initial press release was approved by full council. This, as had been said previously, was a fact finding mission, only actually asked for by the locals residents and for him to muddy the water by citing cost to ratepayers if a court case ensues makes one ask who would be paying heritage court fees.

However, Mr Burrows is worth a mention, he is right, the infighting should stop and maybe a joint meeting of councillors and governors could ease the tension even if it takes custard pies on the table.

Finally, I would emphasise as I have done many times in the past, that the LGCC has done a great deal of good over the past two years and if you require proof ask the residents of the Grange and the Hawksley bungalows. I can only think that the people sniping at the LGCC are among the faction who tried to stop the council getting elected in the first place. When looking at costs, they should realise that the Garden City council's running costs are a fraction of one per cent of that of the other two local organisations.

DEREK HODGSON, LGCC Councillor, Norton Road, Letchworth Garden City

* I keep reading letters questioning the need for the town council and wonder how it can be fair that it was imposed on Letchworth residents by only some 20 per cent who voted for it. Who are those 20 per cent?

Can you believe they are taxpayers? Obviously, non-taxpayers would not mind having the town council, what do they lose? It is hard-pressed middle class workers and pensioners who feel the pain of ever increasing taxes. Our council tax has doubled over the last 10 years.

As I remember, during the campaign to set up the town council, people asked whether they would have to pay any additional tax. The answer was that the town council was going to use money from some financial article called miscellaneous from the local council funds. Now residents, who did not vote for it, are being forced to pay its tax, which the town council wants to increase to pay for its extravagant plans, such as buying the church and getting into a potentially expensive court wrangle with the Heritage Foundation.

Why is the town council so obsessed with buying itself a property? Why should tax payers pay for it? Why not lease it? Now the town council wants to gamble a lot of money in a fight with the Foundation, which it is likely to lose.

Do the people of Letchworth need it, really?

Mrs ROWE, Letchworth GC

* Since Letchworth Garden City council's consultation on residential planning controls was launched I have read with interest the letters sent in by residents and the comments made via the council's website. There are a variety of opinions, which is good.

There is also much agreement: all seem to care deeply about the character, architecture and management of our town. Personally I think the Garden City isn't just about architecture, it is a philosophy too. There are not many towns where people proudly call themselves citizens. Following in that tradition one of the founding principles of the new town council is that people should have a say in how their town is run

That is the purpose behind the current consultation: to hear what the people of the town think. Every household and every citizen will get the chance to reply. The town council isn't aiming to be the planning authority, nor is it trying to close down the Heritage Foundation. Because this consultation isn't about the Foundation, it is about the unusual situation in which we have to submit plans to two bodies and get two sets of approval.

As for the outcome of the consultation: that is for residents to decide.

All that has been decided so far is that the council will listen attentively to people of the town. I appreciate that the Heritage Foundation are anxious and upset that this is even being looked at. But just as they are mandated to operate under an Act of Parliament, the council is mandated to represent the people of the town. In my opinion it would be failing in that duty if it didn't look into this.

Several outcomes are possible, Mr Kenny keeps suggesting that hundreds of signatures will be collected and a challenge made in the High Court to vary or remove their 'planning' powers. I don't wish to deny them their day in court! - but I say that people could support the status quo or want to keep the Scheme of Management but change the way it is operated or opt for a more streamlined process that combines the requirements of both the District Council and the Heritage Foundation. In such circumstances the Heritage Foundation, as long as it listens to the people of the town, emerges with a popular mandate to operate its scheme. Personally I think they have much to gain from engaging constructively with the consultation and for my part I would welcome their active participation. Indeed that is the outcome I hope to help bring about.

Philip Ross, Willian Way, Letchworth GC