120 residents and representatives of businesses and organisations attended the Bengeo Neighbourhood Area Plan (BNAP) meeting on 24th June. The meeting focused on three main themes:
- Communication: informing the local community about what Neighbourhood Plans are, their benefits and how they are created.
- Consultation: the fundamental basis of the plan is that it reflects community concerns, ideas and aspirations – the “vision”. Much of the meeting consisted of a discussion forum in which the audience was asked to raise and discuss anything they thought relevant.
- Contribution: the plan can only be successful if members of the community are prepared to contribute time to it – a good pool of volunteers is vital.
Mark Lynch, the Chairman of interim BNAP Steering Group introduced the three themes and explained that the aim of Neighbourhood Plans is to shape the vision of the area. It is proposed that BNAP will cover the entire Hertford Bengeo Ward, which is very diverse – in addition to the main residential areas on either side of Port Hill and Bengeo St, it includes St Andrew Street, the north side of North Road, Hartham, Folly Island, Great Molewood and rural areas along B158.
Jacqueline Veater, a planning consultant for BNAP, and Maria Iancu, Project Officer at Hertford Town Council (HTC), explained the stages of establishing a neighbourhood plan and the governance. BNAP will be governed by a community Steering Group, which will include local residents, organisations, and business, as well as the representatives of HTC Councillors’ Working Party of four ward Councillors. HTC will ensure that the correct consultation and plan preparation processes are followed so that the completed plan successfully negotiates examination by East Herts District Council and the Planning Inspectorate, and then, finally, a public referendum.
County and Town Councillor Andrew Stevenson chaired the next interactive session with the participants of the meeting – questions were asked about potential areas for consideration for BNAP community working groups. Some of the issues raised included: protection of the green spaces and countryside including Bengeo Field, ensuring reasonable housing development, transport and parking issues, GP practice, sports and leisure facilities, train services, cycle lanes etc. Many of these cannot be addressed directly by BNAP. However, an “action plan for Bengeo” can be created to address the issues through other channels.
MP Mark Prisk congratulated the Bengeo community for getting together and looking into ways to positively address the concerns and influence the future shape of the area. He stressed that a neighbourhood plan allows a community to say what it wants rather than objecting to proposals that it doesn’t want. He was interested to hear the issues raised by residents and expressed his commitment to help and support with some of the issues raised once they are more defined through the community working groups.
Chairs of local Residents’ Associations outlined the main concerns of their residents – Ben Penrose spoke for Molewood Residents’ Association, Hilary Durbin for Lower Bengeo Residents’ Association, and Deborah Sumby for Watermill Estate Residents’ Association.
Other Councillors who joined the meeting and discussions included: Cllr Sue Dunkley, Cllr Paul Phillips, Cllr Mari Stevenson, and Cllr Steve Cousins. Cllr Cousins shared the lessons learnt from the Sele Neighbourhood Area Plan, which started last year.
Finally, Aska Pickering encouraged the participants to express interest in joining working groups and provide feedback on any ideas, suggestions and concerns to be addressed. She confirmed that further information and updates are available on www.lovebengeo.org.uk as well as Facebook group Love Bengeo. Feedback forms to encourage community engagement will be available on the website shortly as well. Paper forms can be left in the “Secret Garden” flower shop in the Avenue.