One of the decisions made at the first meeting of the new Town Council was to elect the new Chairman of the Council, and the new council selected Martin Lovell. I was selected as the vice chairman, I am alongside the chairman serving on all committees.
One of the key pieces of work for this council is to deliver the Neighbourhood Plan, this a planning document that fits below the Local Plan.
Originally the Town Council decided that a referendum should be held on the first Thursday in May, but the reason given why this referendum could not take place was that it would clash with the general election. It is now promised for October, however it would appear that there is still a tremendous amount of work outstanding.
Currently I can find no evidence of a project plan for the completion of the Neighbourhood Plan or an effective timescale for consulting and then to write the plan and examination before the public vote.
The Neighbourhood Plan's Vision and Objectives should have been put out for public consultation last February and so far as I can see this has not been done or any date for this to be carried out.
I personally am not happy with the Vision and Objection, in particular the housing section is particularly weak, the objective of Neighbourhood Plan should be delivering housing that local people need, it is obvious that we need more one bedroom properties and homes for an ageing population. We should be stipulating the highest environmental standards of these new homes.
Affordability of housing is a particular issue for local people, the objectives of the Neighbourhood Plan should clearly state how much affordable housing Shepton needs.
The failure of the plan's objectives to address the health needs of the town including the development of the well being centre and further developments in public health is a serious flaw. Serious attention needs to be given to the low take up of further education by sections of our community and how as a community we take life long learning.
The Town centre strategy is seriously under prepared, the plan as we stand has not identified significant employment land for the jobs of tomorrow.
The Neighbourhood plan fails to state the need for sports and leisure opportunities.
For me the policy gaps are quite fundamental to a quality plan.
The other consideration about the Neighbourhood plan is the way it is being compiled. Whilst speaking to people during the recent election campaign, the community seem not to know of the plans existence and it has no community traction, yet the Neighbourhood Plan is a very important document informing policy decisions for the next decade and allocation of public money.
The Neighbourhood plan needs to grab the attention of Shepton people and needs the residents participation, we cannot allow such an important piece of work for the Town to be so anonymous, the neighbourhood plan needs invigorating, it needs to excite and involve the residents of the town.
The reporting back to councillors on the Town Council ( the commissioning authority) has been patchy at best, for example, minutes not being distributed to councillors was one example of the lack of information being shared.
As a Town Councillor I know nothing of the paid consultant, her terms of employment or time allocation to this project or the cost of her time, this has never been reported to me as a councillor.
Last Tuesday the Town Council decided to elect a new team to lead the Neighbourhood plan, the hope for an October referendum is wildly optimistic, we have an opportunity to relaunch the Neighbourhood Plan, this new team has new energy, that will work for a Better Shepton