District council dismisses Letchworth abolition claims
A DISTRICT council has dismissed claims that a town could be abolished as part of a review into the future of its governance.
North Herts District Council (NHDC) has released a statement following suggestions that Letchworth GC could be abolished under the Community Governance Review (CGR) which will decide the fate of Letchworth Garden City Council. An online petition called Save Letchworth Garden City has been launched after the review’s terms of reference stated the focus would be to ask: ‘Should the town council and the town itself be abolished?’
NHDC was asked to carry out the CGR by the town council, which is led by Help Eliminate Letchworth Parish council (HELP), elected in 2009 with the sole aim of abolishing the council.
A questionnaire went out to the town’s electorate, businesses and community groups last week asking for their views on governance in Letchworth GC in the first stage of the review, expected to be concluded in January 2013.
“Contrary to what some people have understood, there is no suggestion of abolishing Letchworth Garden City as a town,” said David Miley, democratic services manager for NHDC.
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“One of the things we are asking is whether or not people think Letchworth should have what is called a ‘civil parish arrangement’ – either with or without a town council – or whether they think this should be abolished.
“If this were to be abolished, it would leave the town ‘unparished’ in the same way as Hitchin and Baldock. If it was retained, a town council might continue to represent it, or people might feel that a different form of representation would be appropriate. We have published frequently asked questions on our website that provide further details about the review, currently available from the home page of our website at www.north-herts.gov.uk”
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Cllr Sue Johnson, who represents the Town Council Supporters Party on the town council, said the questionnaire is “exceedingly confusing” for residents.
She added: “We are asked whether we support abolishing the civil parish arrangement, but nowhere are we told what this means. Equally confusing is the fact that although asked to tick boxes in answer to questions, we are told this questionnaire is not a vote – so what is it exactly? There is no indication of how our responses will be used.”
Cllr Johnson also expressed concerns regarding two questions on the benefit of having a town council as it does not state that since election in 2009 HELP councillors’ only aim has been to abolish the council.
District council officers have clarified the situation regarding the CGR and future governance.
If the town council was abolished but the civil parish arrangement kept, the minimum requirement would be to hold an annual parish meeting in Letchworth GC.
When the town council was started in 2005 a petition of signatures from 10 per cent of the Letchworth GC electorate was needed to support its formation, which had to be approved by the secretary of state.
After changes to the law in 2007, now the responsibility lies with the district council with a CGR required for a town or parish council to be formed or abolished.
Should Letchworth Garden City Council be abolished following the conclusion of the CGR, another review would be required to reinstate it.
If a petition of 10 per cent of the electorate was received within 24 months of the review, NHDC would have discretion not to carry out a CGR unless it could be justified, but it must conduct a further review should a valid petition be received after 24 months.