A long-awaited referendum on Altrincham’s future is set to exclude 95% of the public – after a council decision described as “entirely unacceptable”.
The Altrincham Town Centre Neighbourhood Business Plan, originally launched in 2014, is set to shape all town centre planning decisions for the next 15 years and covers proposals including the development of a main shopping area, new retail development, housing, car parking and community facilities.
Three public consultations – involving the views of thousands of residents and business owners – have already taken place and it was originally expected that two referenda on the plan (one for the businesses and one for the general public who use the town centre) would take place earlier this year.
A date of October 19th has finally been set – but the Altrincham Town Centre Neighbourhood Forum, a volunteer group set up to deliver the plan, says the council has now reneged on an understanding that as many local residents as possible should be involved in the final vote as to whether it should adopt the plan’s policies.
The row centres on the referenda boundary – the council believes it should match the plan boundary, thereby including all businesses within the town centre but only 2,500 residents, while the Forum wants to use the WA14 and WA15 postcodes as a boundary, which would see up to 70,000 residents included.
Trafford Council claimed it was following advice from an independent referenda inspector.
But Tony Collier, Chairman of the Altrincham Town Centre Neighbourhood Forum, said the decision to “disenfranchise the bulk of the community… flies in the face of the principles embodied in the Localism Act and deliberately deprives those people from exercising their right to vote. It is an entirely unacceptable situation”.
He added that it was “disingenuous” for the council to “hide” behind the inspector’s report as the council had indicated to the inspector that they felt the Plan boundary to be appropriate for the Referendum.
“It is quite concerning however that the inspector did not choose to consult the Forum at all on this hugely important issue,” Collier said.
Collier also rejected suggestions from the Council that the £100,000 cost of the referenda was a factor in its decision, saying it had rejected attempts by the Forum to mitigate the cost.
“The proper exercise of democracy should never be the subject of cost limitations which is why elections generally are very largely funded by central government. The definition of the referenda boundary should be determined by what the democratic process properly requires and not influenced by cost considerations,” he said.
Speaking about October’s planned referenda, Cllr David Hopps, Trafford’s Executive Member for Housing and Strategic Planning, said: “Trafford Council is determined to develop our town centres so that they are places people want to work, live and visit. Our town centres are pivotal to ensuring investment in the borough and the plan developed by the Altrincham Town Centre Neighbourhood Business Forum brings the right mixture of commercial, residential and community use to the area continuing the town’s thriving popularity.
“The plan has already been through public consultation and the Examiner is now happy for us to put the final draft to residents and businesses to have their say on the plan being put into action.”
Further details of when and where the referenda will take place will be published soon.