Parish councils need to listen and be a voice for their voters
PUBLISHED: 18:10 29 March 2018 | UPDATED: 18:55 29 March 2018
One of the great things about democracy is that every so often it can conspire to give us a result no-one could have predicted and that politicians have to then take, read, inwardly digest and learn important lessons from.
When discount supermarket group Aldi submitted a planning application to build a new store at Martlesham Heath, it also invited people to tell local councils what they thought of the proposal.
I suspect its planning department knew the arrival of a high-quality discount supermarket often goes down well with communities wherever they are – hence the leafletting campaign – but I also suspect that even Aldi bosses were surprised by the level of support they attracted.
Because while Suffolk Coastal had nine letters of objection to the proposal (along with objections from Martlesham Parish Council and Woodbridge Town Council) it had 886 letters of support.
That is a phenomenal number which could not easily be ignored – even if Aldi did actually urge residents to make their voices heard.
It was good to see the planning officers at Suffolk Coastal recognising the level of public support, resulting in their recommending that councillors should approve the plans.
I must admit I was surprised to see the parish councils from both Martlesham and Woodbridge come out against the proposal (although why a parish authority like Woodbridge Town Council should be consulted on a planning application miles from its own territory rather beats me).
I can only assume the two parishes lodged their objections before they saw just how strong the support for the proposal was among voters in the area.
However, they really should reflect on how out of touch with the voters their objections ended up looking. Because parish councils are supposed to be the very bedrock of grass roots democracy – they are supposedly the voice of the community when speaking to the district council that actually makes the decision.
Well, in this case they weren’t.
I was particularly puzzled by Woodbridge Town Council’s objection, saying it would “reduce the distinctiveness of Woodbridge, Martlesham and Kesgrave”.
Have the good members of Woodbridge Town Council ever seen the retail park at Martlesham Heath? I can think of few retailers more in keeping with the style of shopping there.
And the parish councils have to remember of course that they are not elected to represent the views of the businesses in Martlesham or Woodbridge. They are elected to represent the voters of Martlesham and Woodbridge. They spoke loud and clear on this planning application and Suffolk Coastal listened.
The parishes might be well advised to listen a bit harder in future.