Town referendum 'waste of money'

A REFERENDUM costing £35,000 looks set to be held in a Suffolk town to gauge opinion on a major £75million development – despite officials insisting it will be a "futile waste of money".

A REFERENDUM costing £35,000 looks set to be held in a Suffolk town to gauge opinion on a major £75million development – despite officials insisting it will be a "futile waste of money".

A group of concerned residents has forced the poll in Bury St Edmunds on the proposed Cattle Market redevelopment, but there are already claims it would have little influence on the final decision.

And officials from Bury Town Council, which will be forced to hold the ballot, say the cost of the poll to taxpayers will run to around £35,000, and will oblige the authority to drop its "zero tolerance" policy with regard to future council tax hikes.

They have begged the residents group to rethink and say that, regardless of the results, no one has to act on the information gained by the referendum as it is not a statutory duty.

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But Simon Harding, who organised the delegation calling for the poll, said the aim of the exercise was to ensure elected members were "absolutely clear" on the feelings of their constituents.

And he argued the sum needed to fund the ballot was a drop in the ocean compared to the residential, retail and entertainment scheme's £75million overall price tag.

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"We want to make sure our town councillors, who represent their constituents, are absolutely clear on the feelings of these constituents, whether it be for or against," said Mr Harding.

"It gives them the power to talk with authority, so they know they are representing their elector's views.

"Everyone will say we are wasting council money, but in the context of a £75 million scheme the cost of a referendum is a very small sum.

"It would be a very thick-skinned councillor who ignored the results. I am sure technically they probably can, and then go on to decide what they think is best for us – although I think they would be on very dodgy ground."

But Frank Warby, town mayor, slammed the demand, and urged that "common sense should prevail". He said the referendum would force the town council to drop its "zero tolerance" policy on tax rises to recover the costs – which amount to 20% of the authority's annual budget.

"My personal view is that this is a total and futile waste of taxpayers money," said Mr Warby. "No matter what the referendum comes out saying, the council do not have to act on it, and do not control what happens at St Edmundsbury Borough Council, who are involved with the Cattle Market development.

"I am not very happy about this. We will act as to the regulations and I have agreed my council will hold a referendum, but common sense should prevail and they should withdraw their call for a referendum and save the taxpayers £35,000."

However Mr Harding said the more information councillors had regarding the Cattle Market scheme the better, adding he hoped for a high turnout of townspeople to help gain a clear picture of the public's feelings.

"Like most people, I think some parts of the scheme are ok and others need radically changing," he said. "But I think that the more information councillors and council officials have must only be a good thing.

"I am sure there will be a few people who jump up and say we are trouble-makers who are delaying things and wasting time, but the Cattle Market saga has gone on for 40 years. Another three months or so is not really significant."

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

However, no timescale has yet been drafted for the poll – which will take place at the discretion of the town council.

"We will officially accept their referendum and set the wheels in motion at our next full council meeting on September 22," added Mr Warby. "But we would beg the group to reconsider the implications of a 20% increase in the town council rates and avoid a referendum which will have no avail."

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