'It's not over and it's up to us to do our bit' - More than 250 people rally in Baldock to discuss Local Plan representations
PUBLISHED: 20:33 10 November 2016 | UPDATED: 13:52 11 November 2016
More than 250 people packed into a meeting held in Baldock last night to help make sure as many residents as possible have their say about the town's future.
The meeting at Knights Templar School, chaired by Baldock Town councillor Jim McNally, advised locals on how they could make representations regarding North Hertfordshire’s Local Plan.
And with the plan currently set to see 3,590 homes added to Baldock – increasing the town’s size by 80 per cent – topics of discussion included traffic strategy, wildlife and the provision of infrastructure such as water, sewage and schools.
Mr McNally – flanked on stage by fellow councillors Michael Muir, Michael Weeks, Val Shanley and Janine Paterson – opened the meeting with a call to action.
“I’ve heard a lot of people say it’s gone quiet, that it’s a done deal – that we might as well give up,” he said.
“My answer to that is that we’ve already been successful as a direct result of protest.
“We councillors didn’t enter into this lightly. We put over our constituents’ views very clearly – we’re for development, but we’re not for overdevelopment.
“As a direct result, the number of houses allocated to Baldock has been reduced by about 1,700.
“We’re in the final furlong of the race, and you really don’t want to fall at the final hurdle.
“It’s important that if you do hold views either way you make representation and go through the process.”
Highlights of the evening included an announcement from Mr Muir – who represents Baldock and Letchworth East on Herts County Council as well as Baldock Town on North Herts District Council.
He told the assembly he had been assured that as the major landowner, the county council was willing to recognise Baldock’s special status as the oldest town in North Herts by holding each developer to requirements designed to minimise the effects of overdevelopment.
This would be a condition of the land’s sale, he said.
Another highlight was a presentation by Christine Watson and Adrienne Waterfield of Save Rural Baldock, who explained how interested parties could submit their views.
“The fat lady hasn’t sung yet,” said Christine.
“It’s not over and it’s up to us to do our bit.
“We’re not just sending our things to the district council here – this time it’s to the inspector. This is it.
“You really must say everything you want to say. Remember the inspector may not have been to Baldock. Your local knowledge is crucial.
“If you don’t say something now, the inspector may never know.”
Rev Andrew Holford, vicar of St Mary’s Church and chairman of the Baldock & Bygrave Neighbourhood Planning Group, also took the stage to stress the importance and weight given to such a plan and urge people to get involved.
“A neighbourhood plan carries equal weight to the district council’s Local Plan,” the vicar explained.
“People have been saying there hasn’t been much joined-up thinking. The neighbourhood plan is our opportunity to actually close some of those gaps and produce a document from the community that is of value in making decisions.”
Mr McNally agreed, adding: “Everyone should be getting involved with this as it affects everyone here.”
Other topics touched upon during the evening included the campaign to have the A507 downgraded to a B-road, and the contrast of Baldock’s proposed growth with railway operator Govia’s plans to cut fast trains serving the town – an issue the councillors assured commuters they were working on.
During a lively Q&A session, one man earned a round of applause when he spoke passionately against overdevelopment.
“I’ve lived in Baldock since I was eight and I’m 55 now,” he said.
“Baldock has a culture and I think as humans we have a right to enjoy the culture of this town.
“A piece of paper can’t just take that away from us. I think that’s just rude and arrogant.”
If you’d like to make representations about the Local Plan, you have until the end of the public constulation period on November 30 to do so.
You can make your views known by email, letter or through the district council’s website at north-herts.jdi-consult.net/localplan.
Alternatively you have until November 20 to drop envelopes containing your views into one of the Save Rural Baldock postboxes around town for them to post for you.
For more about the Baldock & Bygrave Neighbourhood Planning Group, see bbplan.co.uk or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The submission version of the North Herts District Council’s Local Plan is set to go before full council for a vote by March.