District council votes for review into Letchworth council’s future

DISTRICT councillors voted for a review last night (Thursday) which could see a town council abolished by the end of the year.

Members of North Hertfordshire District Council (NHDC) voted overwhelmingly in favour of starting a Community Governance Review (CGR) to determine whether Letchworth Garden City Council should be dissolved.

A decision on the outcome of the review, which includes a public consultation in which the electorate of Letchworth GC will be asked whether they support the town council’s abolition, is scheduled for December.

Cllr Frank Lovetti, chairman of Letchworth Garden City Council, in which 21 of the 24 councillors represent Help Eliminate Letchworth Parish council (HELP), said the town council’s request for a review was called after Letchworth residents had “sleepwalked” into a situation where the council came into being in 2005.

The resolution did not pass without incident, with the meeting of full council temporarily suspended so NHDC’s solicitor could make enquiries about a statement by former town council chairman Philip Ross.

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Mr Ross had sent a two-page letter which was distributed to all NHDC councillors, which referred to a situation in which a CGR could be undertaken “only to be followed by a new petition by 10 per cent of the electorate within 24 months” leading to the automatic reinstatement of the town council.

Following research, NHDC officers said that a petition could not take place until after 24 months, but could not determine in the time available whether it would lead to the council’s automatic reinstatement.

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Cllr David Kearns called for a CGR decision to be adjourned until there was legal clarification on the matter, but the motion did not carry.

Letchworth GC district councillors Cllr Michael Paterson, Cllr David Levett and Cllr Lynda Needham, all spoke in favour of holding a review.

Cllr Needham, who represents the Letchworth South West ward, added that following low turnouts for the 2005 and 2009 elections, she expected the people of Letchworth would be “far more awake this time around” and the decision would come “from a much larger number of voters”.

Letchworth East ward representative Cllr Kercher, who did not vote in favour of a review, said: “ I believe we should wait until after the May 2013 election and let the people of Letchworth decide then.”

Cllr Steve Jarvis asked whether NHDC had asked the town council to contribute to the cost of the review, estimated to be �30,000, and was told this request had not yet been made.

A timetable for the review has not yet been confirmed.

Cllr Lovett, chairman of Letchworth Garden City Council, said: “We are grateful for the careful consideration given by NHDC to our application and are delighted that they have agreed to a governance review. In 2009, Letchworth residents gave the town council a very clear mandate to abolish itself. This year they will have the opportunity to make that happen. I am sure that the people of Letchworth will welcome being freed from having to fund a bureaucratic body that charged them highly, but gave them nothing.”

Reponding, Cllr Sue Johnson, who sits on the town council as a representative of the Town Council Supporters Party, said: “It does not surprise me that NHDC have gone for it. They may well get their noses blooded because they haven’t done their research. I’ve always believed that the town council would be seen as a threat to NHDC and they perceived it as that. When we were elected they wouldn’t even agree to hand over the running of allotments.”

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