Legal fight to stop poll

PAPERS have been lodged with the High Court seeking an injunction against a parish poll due to take place on Monday. Acting on legal advice, Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation (LGCHF) made the move yesterday (Wednesday) in a bid to stop the electo

PAPERS have been lodged with the High Court seeking an injunction against a parish poll due to take place on Monday.

Acting on legal advice, Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation (LGCHF) made the move yesterday (Wednesday) in a bid to stop the electorate voting on whether LGCHF should "be placed under the control of elected representatives by replacing the current management structure of the governors and directors with a board of 12 people to be elected every four years". This motion was put forward by Philip Ross, chairman of Letchworth Garden City Council (LGCC).

LGCHF has asked the High Court for permission to apply for a judicial review and an injunction to delay the public poll until the determination of the proceedings. It is on the grounds that a parish meeting has no power to call a poll concerning the internal governance arrangements of a private charitable body, and that two Acts of Parliament lay down rules for the governance of the Foundation which cannot be overridden by a parish meeting.

At Monday's poll, a second, separate, motion will also be proposed: "Letchworth Garden City Council has shown itself incapable of justifying its cost and should be dissolved forthwith" and this is not being contested by the Foundation.

The results from either poll are not legally binding, but the law firm acting for LGCHF said: "It would be regrettable for public resources and time to be wasted on an unlawful poll."

Mr Ross said: "That's the choice - an old boys' network running amok in the town, using public money and the High Court to silence anyone it doesn't like, or a democratically elected town council that consults people.

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"Whatever they say about being a private landlord, their wealth derives from Letchworth and they shouldn't be allowed absolute free rein to behave like this."

The Foundation's director general Stuart Kenny said: "The Foundation contends that the decision to conduct the poll in relation to the Foundation was beyond the powers of electors at the parish meeting.

"The returning officer's decision to conduct a poll is, in itself, unlawful."

At the time of going to press, a spokesman for the returning officer confirmed it is still the intention to proceed with both poll questions.

All polling stations used for general and council elections will be open on Monday between 4pm and 9pm. There will be no poll cards issued and there will be no postal voting or votes by proxy.

Keep up to date on the latest poll news by logging on to www.thecomet24.co.uk

* The public feud between LGCC and LGCHF has taken another twist.

The majority of residents are not happy with planning controls in the town, according to the results of a LGCC survey, which cost taxpayers £18,000.

In most towns there is only a requirement to submit applications to the planning authority, usually the district council, but in Letchworth GC the LGCHF also has the power to scrutinise, approve or reject applications.

According to the 25-question survey, sent to 9,722 homes, 54 per cent of the 2,772 respondents said they would prefer a single permission system.

Thirty-seven per cent said "the double permissions system" was a waste of time or takes too long.

Seventeen per cent said LGCHF was unqualified and restrictive in its role, while 30 per cent said it was important to preserve the character of Letchworth GC.

Cllr Ross said: "I hope we can have a productive debate with both LGCHF and North Hertfordshire District Council about the findings."

Mr Kenny said: "I totally agree with the survey's basic finding - that residents are keen to preserve the unique character of Letchworth GC. The Foundation has worked tirelessly to protect the uniqueness and ethos of the garden city and will continue to do so.

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