Referendum on major project avoided

A £35,000 referendum planned for a Suffolk town to gauge opinion on a major £75million development has been avoided – but the public may still give their views during a cheaper parish poll.

A £35,000 referendum planned for a Suffolk town to gauge opinion on a major £75million development has been avoided – but the public may still give their views during a cheaper parish poll.

Taxpayers in Bury St Edmunds will be saved tens of thousands of pounds after town mayor Frank Warby last night agreed to grant a delegation of concerned residents the chance to hold a special meeting to discuss the Cattle Market.

A vote will then be taken regarding the possible ballot on the retail, residential and leisure redevelopment, with a parish poll following should the suggestion muster enough support from local people.

It is hoped the poll, which would be run by St Edmundsbury Borough Council on behalf of Bury Town Council, will cost around £10,000 – £25,000 less than first predicted.

But officials say that, regardless of the results, no one has to act on the information gained by the vote as it is not a statutory duty, and have labelled the move a "waste of taxpayers' money".

"I am going to call a town meeting on November 1 at the Corn Exchange," said Mr Warby, who stressed his views were personal and not those of the town council. "The people who are there can then, by a show of hands, decide to go for a parish poll.

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"We will pass on the outcome of the poll to the borough council (which is masterminding the Cattle Market project), and they could just say thank you very much then throw it in the bin if they wanted to. This has no jurisdiction."

The prospect of a referendum was first mooted two weeks ago, when a band of residents, led by Simon Harding, approached the town council requesting the vote.

Mr Harding, who lives in the town, said the idea had been raised to ensure all councillors were fully aware of their elector's views when making further decisions on the project.

The proposed wording for the referendum read: "Is the design of the Cattle Market, as submitted by (developers) Centros Miller, suitable for Bury St Edmunds?"

Although it is not yet clear if this question will change for the parish poll, Mr Warby said the plans for the redevelopment were not finalised – therefore making the vote pointless.

"The plans and the design are changing every minute, so what does the question mean?" he added. "What is the sense of wasting taxpayers money asking about something which is changing every day? We do not even know the final designs yet and this will still cost an awful lot of money."

Town clerk Linda Sherer predicted the poll, which would be run by the borough council in a similar way to a local election, would cost around £10,000, and said everything possible would be done to try and keep the costs down.

Last night, Mr Harding welcomed the possibility of holding a parish poll – and said he would back anything that gave the people of Bury a chance to air their views.

"We want to get as many people involved in Bury as we can," he added. "If the parish poll will give more people the chance to voice their opinions then I think it is the way to go.

"A poll is also cheaper than a referendum, which is very important."

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