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Column 30th January 2019

Mystery of hold-up on our long-awaited neighbourhood plan

I’m receiving an increasing number of questions about the status of the Wantage Neighbourhood Plan so thought it was probably time to provide an update.

Those of you with long memories, you might remember that the Wantage Town Clerk received approval to go ahead with the Neighbourhood Plan on 6 January 2014, more than 5 years ago.

Volunteers were recruited to work on the plan in July 2014 and I was asked to become Chairman of the Local Plan Steering Group leading the volunteers.

The teams of volunteers prepared SWOTs (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) on topics like the Town Centre; Art and Leisure; Heritage, Environment, Conservation and Design; and Transport and Infrastructure.

We also prepared the surveys which were sent to residents and stakeholders.

Feedback from the 1600+ survey responses and a workshop with a group of forty stakeholders helped us to identify the areas where policies would be useful.

The Draft Plan was published for comment in June 2015 and over 1000 comments were received.

The updated Pre-Submission Plan was based on all of this feedback and expert advice and was published for consultation again in October 2015.

More comments were received and more green spaces for designation as "Local Green Space" were added and this plan was submitted to the District Council at the end of January 2016.

The consultation held by the District Council generated further comments which were submitted to the Planning Inspector.

The Inspector produced his report on August 1st 2016 with the recommendation not to proceed to referendum.

In his report the Inspector explained that in his view whilst a number of policies would meet the basic conditions for the draft neighbourhood plan, many weren’t backed up by sufficient evidence.

At a meeting in September 2016, the Town Council decided they no longer needed the help of any volunteers and would complete the Neighbourhood Plan themselves.

That was more than 2 years ago.

It only took the teams of volunteers 18 months to complete the first plan, and the last meeting which volunteers attended proposed that a revised plan could be finalised by February 2017, two years back.

Our understanding is that the revised plan still under development will not include any new policies and many of the policies in the previous version will have been removed.

So we find it very difficult to understand why our Town Council is taking so long to produce a cut down version.


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