What Hitchin do we want?

Some three years ago, in your columns, I urged the citizens of Hitchin to establish a town council for Hitchin to counter the malign power of the NHDC. I am delighted to learn that Cllr Judi Billing has seen the light and has come out in favour of a Hitch

Some three years ago, in your columns, I urged the citizens of Hitchin to establish a town council for Hitchin to counter the malign power of the NHDC.

I am delighted to learn that Cllr Judi Billing has seen the light and has come out in favour of a Hitchin Town Council, and I wish her every success.

Sadly I am not eligible to join her actively, since I no longer reside in Hitchin, where I grew up and lived for 47 years, but I hope that many members of the Hitchin Forum and others will respond to her call, and get the project off the ground.

The closing down of the NHDC area committees has nothing whatever to do with saving money and everything to do with the officials' desire to concentrate decision-making more securely into their hands.


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Cllr Billing and others joining her will, of course, be obstructed at every step by the officials, just as the founders of the Letchworth Town Council were. They should stick to their guns and press ahead.

PETER ROBBINS, Meadow Cottages, Caldecote, Baldock

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* Re merging area committees - Cllr Knighton should get out more! Your February 1 article 'Row over plans to merge area committees' quotes the North Herts district councillor from Baldock as saying "we hardly get any members of the public at meetings".

He has obviously not been to Hitchin committee lately where 30 or more people regularly attend meetings and over 60 attend the informal 'Town Talk' held six times a year before the formal meeting.

Town Talks, and increased other forms of public participation are an innovation since Labour has been chairing the committee (as are the open air councillors' surgeries in the Market Square) and we are worried that they will be lost if the plans go ahead to merge Hitchin and the rural committee.

That would dilute the Hitchin focus which the public who now attend value so much, even more so if power to decide planning applications is centralised at Letchworth.

Like the other Conservative councillors who have spoken on these plans, Cllr Knighton does not see that councillors are meeting the public at the area committees, just as they are also active for example ingoing to residents and parish meetings.

He also says "It is about reducing bureaucracy" but bureaucracy is not about meetings, it is about red tape and administrative hurdles in getting things done unfortunately we do not see these being reduced.

It is now clear that saving £50,000 is going to be done not by reducing bureaucracy, but by cutting work with the community, in particular by removing one of the essential Community Development Officer posts. Are the Conservatives, to quote Cllr Knighton, to be in the community to find out whether North Herts residents want the council to cut work with the community? I doubt it very much.

DEREK SHEARD, Vice-chairman, Hitchin Area Committee, Browning Drive, Hitchin

* Your report about the possible merger of NHDC area committees (February 1) may strike some readers as irrelevant political posturing by local councillors. However, it goes right to the heart of the issues so often raised in The Comet: What kind of town do we want Hitchin to be and who is in control?

The Hitchin Area Committee is the voice of Hitchin in North Herts. While we may not always like the decisions taken by Hitchin's councillors, they are the people we have elected to represent us and to take decisions for Hitchin. Crucially, they listen to the people of Hitchin and I believe that is what makes the elite cabinet at North Herts District Council so uncomfortable.

Merging the rural parishes in the south of the district and the Hitchin Area Committee will change its political control from Labour to Tory and this may be the true motive, but at what cost? What everyone in Hitchin should be aware of (and beware of) is that we will have no influence whatsoever over these people; they will not be accountable to us. Why should councillors who represent Kimpton or Knebworth, for example, decide Hitchin issues? (The people of Kimpton and Knebworth might also like to consider why Hitchin councillors should be given the power to take decisions for their villages.) Diluting local democracy is unsupportable, however one looks at it.

It is cynical and dishonest of NHDC's cabinet to say such a move is to save £50,000. This is peanuts in their annual budget. If they really want to save money, they could do so quite painlessly, by trimming the chief executive's budget which is a whopping £430,000.

The people of Hitchin should be aware as the May elections approach that the following Hitchin councillors support this change: Richard Thake and Allison Ashley of Priory Ward, Sarah Wren of Highbury Ward, Bernard Lovewell and Ray Shakespeare-Smith of Walsworth Ward, shame on them for such a disservice to the people of Hitchin.

ELLIE CLARKE, Highbury Road, Hitchin

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