Referendum explosion

FORMAL steps towards holding three separate referendums – one in a bid to scrap a town council – have been taken and could cost council taxpayers almost £30,000. Nigel Jury, of Broadwater Avenue in Letchworth GC, is using a little-known section of the Loc

FORMAL steps towards holding three separate referendums - one in a bid to scrap a town council - have been taken and could cost council taxpayers almost £30,000.

Nigel Jury, of Broadwater Avenue in Letchworth GC, is using a little-known section of the Local Government Act 1972 in an attempt to dissolve Letchworth Garden City Council (LGCC).

On Tuesday he presented the town council's clerk, Pat Nevins, with a letter signed by eight members of the electorate, calling for a parish meeting.

LGCC is obliged to hold this meeting and, if at least 10 people at the meeting vote in favour of a referendum, North Hertfordshire District Council (NHDC) must be notified and is obliged to hold one between 14 and 25 days after the day it is demanded.

The motion proposed is: "Letchworth Garden City (parish) Council has shown itself incapable of justifying its cost and should be dissolved forthwith."

Mr Jury said: "If the town councillors were collectively to do the decent thing they would admit they're not doing anything effective and resign.

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"They have been doing nothing for years. Everything I need to be done is regulated rather completely by NHDC and the Heritage Foundation.

"I don't need an additional level of people telling me what trivial things I can and can't be doing.

"I also really resent the idea that the town council can order a precept without a limit.

"The referendum doesn't carry the weight of law but it does carry the weight of public opinion."

Hours after Mr Jury met with Mrs Nevins a further call for a parish meeting with a view to two separate referendums was made by the chairman of the town council, Philip Ross. He did not secure the required six signatures but used his own powers to call a parish meeting.

One motion proposed is: "Should Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation 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?"

The second motion is: "Does Hertfordshire require a unitary authority?"

With referendums costing £8,000 to £9,000 each, The Comet asked Cllr Ross if he was concerned about the cost to taxpayers. He said: "The main cost of staging the referendum is triggered by Mr Jury. The second two questions would merely add extra ink to the ballot paper."

He added: "I think Mr Jury has opened Pandora's box because it now seems there will be a fuller debate and referendum on whether people are happy with the way the Heritage Foundation is run, how it behaves and whether people believe it is an open, democratic, accountable and fair organisation or not. As a town council those are our basic tenets and we are proud of them, but they are also the reason some people don't like us."

Councillor Tricia Gibbs, NHDC's portfolio holder for community engagement, said: "It's for the people of Letchworth GC to express their opinion through the ballot box."

Stuart Kenny, director general of LGCHF, said: "I suspect I am not alone in finding the motion regarding the Foundation rather confusing and potentially misleading.

"It seems to pay no regard to the Act of Parliament and associated rules which brought the Foundation into being and which contains provisions relating to its potential demise."

On March 12, the requested parish meetings will be held at the town council's offices on Leys Avenue in Letchworth GC, with the dissolution of the town council on the agenda from 7.30pm to 8.30pm and the two items called by Cllr Ross on the agenda from 8.30pm to 9.30pm.

Depending on numbers, the meetings may be moved to Howard Hall, on Norton Way South, on the night.

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