Voters in March say YES to neighbourhood plan - it needed 50 per cent in favour but on the day got 80 per cent support

FLASHBACK: March Neighbourhood Plan exhibition at the Oliver Cromwell March. Left: Mandy Noakes from

FLASHBACK: March Neighbourhood Plan exhibition at the Oliver Cromwell March. Left: Mandy Noakes from MTP,Derek McKenzie MTP director, Cllr Jan French, Cllr Rob Skoulding, Cllr Kit Owen and Cllr Bernard Keane. Picture; Steve Williams. - Credit: Archant

It may have attracted a turn out of just 12.14 per cent and cost up to £20,000 but the people of March who did vote in yesterday’s ballot on the neighbourhood plan were decisive in agreeing it should go ahead.

When the votes were counted 1,665 were in favour with only 415 against – a clear 80 per cent support for the town council’s ambitious proposals.

The question on the ballot slip was succinct enough – ‘do you want Fenland Council to use the neighbourhood plan for March to help it decide planning applications in the neighbourhood area?’

March will now join a growing number of local councils across the country that is using new powers to enable them to shape their own identity.

It has been four years in the making and could only go ahead if at least 50 per cent of people voting in the referendum supported it.

The referendum is the outcome of proposals first spotlighted in 2012 under the localism banner; the Government introduced legislation to give communities more control in shaping the future of the places where they live and work.

They did this in the form of neighbourhood plans, which are prepared entirely by qualifying bodies such as town and parish councils.

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Town clerk Clive Lemmon said: “This is a significant change from the traditional plan-making approach which, up until this point, was the sole responsibility of the council’s local planning authority.”

He said the town council was anxious to ensure that the process was community led from start to finish and have adhered to the project strap line of “March Town Plan by March Town People”.

He said this was evident from the length of time it has taken to reach this key stage, having followed a number of important plan-making stages.

This included a town wide survey that went to every household and business at the start of the process in November 2013.

The final report covers large scale housing, shopping, regeneration and open spaces

If the plan is supported by the community, it will now be adopted by the council and form part of the statutory development plan, carrying significant material weight in the determination of planning applications in March.

Paul Medd, chief executive of Fenland Council and the official counting officer for the poll, said a Government grant of £20,000 “may cover of the costs”.

Cabinet member Will Sutton explained that the costs incurred in the referendum were the responsibility of the district council which is a statutory duty under the Localism Act.

Cllr Sutton stated said that the neighbourhood plan should supplement the Local Plan and not be in opposition to it, although there is one area in this plan where it does conflict in relation to affordable housing thresholds.

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