Cutback on Hitchin, Letchworth and Baldock meetings is ‘an attack on democracy’

The council approved a rise in council tax at a meeting held last night

The council approved a rise in council tax at a meeting held last night - Credit: Archant

Councillors have hit out at a district council which has decided to cut back on the number of area committee meetings, claiming it is an “attack on democracy”.

Members at a full council meeting held at North Herts District Council (NHDC) last week agreed that area committee meetings will be held four times a year as opposed to six from April, in a bid to save money on administration and resources.

The area committees, which are held in Hitchin, Letchworth GC and Baldock, offer residents the chance to raise issues and apply for grants within their community.

Councillor Gary Grindal, who represents the Letchworth Wilbury ward, said: “I, and my fellow Labour councillors think we should have more area committee meetings not less. It is an attack on democracy because these meetings are a fundamental chance for Letchworth GC residents to listen to debates on decisions made in their town.

“Now we will have to cram a year’s worth of work into four meetings. It is a terrible decision and one that has been made in an effort to save money.”

Councillor Judi Billing, who represents the Hitchin Bearton ward and is the leader of the North Herts Labour Group, said: “The Labour Group is appalled. These meetings are some of the most important ways in which councillors are able to hear directly from residents about the things that matter most to them.”

Prior to the Hitchin area committee, there is also an unconstituted community meeting called Hitchin Town Talk, where Hitchin residents can directly address councillors.

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Cllr Michael Muir, who represents Baldock town, said: “I don’t think reducing the number of meetings will make any difference at all. Sometimes there are only one or two items on the agenda apart from discussions about council spending so I don’t think it will be detrimental.”

Cllr Lynda Needham, leader of NHDC, said additional meetings could be held if there were “matters of importance to discuss”. She added: “The administrative and resource implications of holding meetings was one of the considerations when reviewing the frequency.”

NHDC was unable to provide the cost of holding a area committee meeting.