Postpone The Burgess Hill Neighbourhood Plan Referendum - The Public Are Too Confused!!
13th November 2015 By Peter Chapman
Polling cards started dropping though the doors of Burgess Hill residents last week ahead of the Neighbourhood Plan Referendum. There was confusion.
'What's this all about?' they've been asking. 'What's a neighbourhood plan?' enquired another. 'I think it means we have to vote yes or no for the new shopping centre' came an answer.
Video: What Is Neighbourhood Planning?
Before we go any further with the issues surrounding the Burgess Hill Neighbourhood plan referendum, watch this quick informative video on what Neighbourhood plans are all about...
Public Don't Have A Clue About The Referendum Or What The Neighbourhood Plan Is
A broad post was made on the Burgess Hill Uncovered Facebook page. It asked people what they thought about the arrival of their polling cards. The post achieved a reach of 7,399 people and garnered 68 comments. It's a good sample to be working from. The responses showed utter confusion and a total lack of knowledge.
We are in serious trouble ladies and gentlemen. Sorry.... Burgess Hill Town Council are in trouble and they know it.
Did you know anything about the referendum and what you're actually voting on before your polling card arrived? Are...
The Martlets Shopping Centre As you're probably aware, NewRiver Retail have submitted a planning application to Mid Sussex District Council for the redevelopment of the Martlets Shopping Centre. Representations from the public are currently open until November 20th The District Planing Committee are set to meet in early 2016 to make a decision on the application.
As this has been such a prominent news item since around the summer, many members of the public think that the forthcoming referendum is actually about voting for or against having the shopping centre redevelopment. This is NOT the case. You have to contact the district council directly if you want any influence over whether the new shopping centre is approved or not. (Spoiler: It will be)
The Martlets Hall Another big news item since the Summer of 2014 has been the council's intention to give away the Martlets Hall as part of the Martlets Shopping Centre redevelopment. As further details emerged the situation got bleaker for all those hoping for Burgess Hill's only dedicated arts and entertainment centre to be saved.
A petition calling for the council to either retain or replace the hall in the event of town centre redevelopment was signed by around 6,000 local residents. The volume of signatures forced the district council to debate the Martlets Hall at a full council meeting. The 'debate' actually turned out to be a bunch of pre-written statements from councillors, many of which don't even live in our town. Needless to say, there wasn't any support for the Martlets Hall from the councillors - so much for representing all the views of the public!
There's alot of angry local residents out there. Quite rightly too. 5 years ago the public were promised a new state-of-the-art Entertainment and Arts venue in return for the 4,000 new homes coming to Burgess Hill. It was a promise that never should have been made.
Multiplex Cinema Vs The Martlets Hall
Right now, it seems that a large number of people think that the neighbourhood plan referendum is a vote between old and new. It's a new multiplex cinema vs the Martlets Hall. It could come down to motivation.
Will the angry 6,000 people who think a No Vote will save the Martlets Hall (or those voting No to teach the council a lesson for taking away their hall) gain enough votes to beat those that want to see a multiplex cinema?
Who will care enough to go out and vote in person on a cold, dark, December evening?
If you've read this far then you will know that this is not what the Neighbourhood Plan referendum is about*. Hundreds, if not thousands of people do not realise this.
(* If you are interested in a replacement for the Martlets Hall, we have a suggestion that'll be explained in another report coming soon. )
Burgess Hill Town Council Are Worried. The Mistakes They've Made.
Currently, Burgess Hill Town Council are VERY worried about the public's understanding of what the vote really is about. It is in their interests that the neighbourhood plan achieves a 'Yes' vote.
They are currently sending out extra press releases and writing letters in the paper, trying to get people to realise that this is not a vote about the Martlets Shopping Centre. They are using the opportunity to include other unqualified statements for why people should vote yes*. (*We'll address this in a future report )
The fact that so many people didn't know that a referendum was coming up or even what the neighbourhood plan is shows that Burgess Hill Town Council are so out of touch with how to engage with the local community.
Those in charge seem to think that the public are regular readers of their website or pay 85p each week to buy a weekly newspaper in decline.
A miniscule amount of people attended the various neighbourhood plan meetings or commented on the final consultation before it went to the examiner for approval - via public hearing - to get to the referendum stage that we've arrived at now.
For the record, Burgess Hill Uncovered were never contacted by the town council during the Neighbourhood plan process. Is it any wonder that so many members of the public are in the dark?
90 Pages Away From Having The Ability To Vote Armed With The Knowledge
Now, there are some members of the public out there, fully aware that the neighbourhood plan is not about voting for or against the proposed redevelopment of the Martlets Shopping Centre.
However, in order to become an informed voter, you must read the 90-page Neighbourhood Plan document. It's full of technical jargon, lots of planning speak, and ends up raising more questions than what it gives answers.
Your author is not ashamed to admit that he's confused too, so how can the majority be expected to understand?!
Postponement Is The Logical Solution
A knowledgable community leads to good, strong democracy. We won't get this all the time there's public uncertainty as to what they are voting on and what the content of the Neighbourhood plan actually is.
It is widely recognised that there is mass confusion, so why isn't anything being done to ensure it's completely wiped out?
Your author's suggestion is that the Neighbourhood Plan referendum be postponed until AFTER Mid Sussex District Council have made a decision on the Martlets Shopping Centre planning application.
It'll be removing the element that's the root cause of the confusion.
During this downtime, Burgess Hill Town Council can re-engage with the public and inform them as to what the neighbourhood plan is for, and it's contents, in plain english.
If this doesn't happen, then the outcome of the Neighbourhood Plan referendum will be shrouded in controversy. How can it not be?
Please Vote In Our Poll
Do you think that the Neighbourhood Plan referendum
should be postponed?
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Got an opinion on this story? Leave a comment below.....
What do you think of this neighbourhood plan confusion? Should the referendum be postponed? Did you know anything about the plan?