>Another referendum, another master plan derailed?
Never mind the Irish referendum – a predictable outcome, which allowed the EU’s carefully crafted constitutional compromise to become the target of a set of contradictory anxieties and antagonisms and allowed voters to give the political establishment a kick up the backside (hard to resist in any democracy) – the most interesting referendum I’ve come across of late is the one in the neighbouring commuter town of Haywards Heath. The local district council in collaboration with Thornfield Properties has been trying to push through a 20 year masterplan for the grandiose redevelopment of HH and its satellite town of Burgess Hill with many details – despite some careful top down ‘consultation’ – rather vague or rather confidential. Many locals suspected they weren’t getting a good deal – too many civic and community facilities bulldozed, too little certainty of proper replacements – and thought the relationship of Thornfield, the district council’s chief executive and the councillors a little too opaque and a little too cosy. In HH opponents, including the Liberal opposition and the town’s long serving single Labour councillor, organized in the Haywards Heath Referendum Group, used fairly new legal provisions to force a local (consultative) referendum on the plan: half a day’s voting, 20% turnout of the town’s 19,000 voters with almost 94% voting to put the plan on hold until fuller information is available. Local elected worthies and council bureaucrats – the (appointed) chief executive seems to play a surprisingly prominent role in all this – don’t quite have an EU-sized dilemma as they can, in theory, ignore the result, but there will be political pressure to respond to this obvious public thumbs down. As in the EU, consultation’ and a pause for reflection seem likely until civic opposition dies down. Then I imagine they’ll just go ahead with what they planned anyway – certainly the local press seems to think so.