Grantham Journal letter: Town needs real local democracy

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I have been disappointed by the reaction to your page three article (Journal, July 25) about calls for Grantham to have a town council.

The three letters published in the last two Journals have been more about party political sniping than about the real arguments for and against the idea.

And neither they nor your article have explained the strongest argument for a town council, which is that although it is the largest centre of population and economic activity in South Kesteven, Grantham is the only one which does not have a level of elected representation below the district council.

The villages have their parish councils. Bourne and Stamford have their town councils. But Grantham has nothing.

As to the arguments, let us take the additional ‘precept’ first. In that it covers some services already provided by SKDC which the town counci would take over, the effect of those changes should be broadly neutral.

True, there would be the new costs of running the town council itself, but that extra level of democracy should deliver benefits to Grantham which would more than outweigh them. To see that, one only has to consider how Grantham might perform compared with Stamford and Bourne if it, like them, ran more of its own affairs.

Their town councils both have finance committees which manage their budgets, expenditure, assets, audits, etc.

Both have amenities committees to manage cemeteries, allotments and recreation facilities - in Bourne this committee is also responsible for events like Bourne in Bloom and the Christmas lights, whereas Stamford also has a separate events committee to run festivals and special markets.

In Grantham under a similar arrangement, the town might at least get equal billing with SKDC on Gravity Fields and similar events!

And both Stamford and Bourne already have what Grantham needs most, which is a planning committee to receive copies of all applications for their areas and provide an extra level of local review below SKDC Development Control Committee (DCC).

In Bourne this committee’s title explicitly includes highways. In Stamford, the town council additionally operates a separate strategic development committee (bringing its committees total to five plus the council itself, which might help to explain its precept level!).

From the viewpoint of a relative newcomer to Grantham, a town-level voice on strategic and individual planning matters is what would make most difference to its economic development and consequent prosperity.

It would also ensure a local perspective on the value placed on community facilities and the natural and built environment. As matters stand, the views of local SKDC councillors voicing Grantham’s interests are too easily overlooked, and could easily be voted down, by the rest of the DCC.

Representations from the planning committee of a Grantham Town Council would have to be heard with more respect in SKDC and the DCC, as those from Stamford and Bourne Town Councils already are.

A Grantham town council would also solve the problem facing residents of St Anne’s ward, among others, on planning matters: because both of our SKDC councillors sit on the DCC, we have no one to actively lobby it on our behalf.

That is because if they did so, they would not be able to participate in any debate or vote about a contentious application. We therefore, unlike South Kesteven villagers, unlike residents of Stamford and Bourne, and unlike Grantham wards with at least one councillor not on the committee, have no local elected representative free to make a case to the DCC on our behalf.

But having a local planning committee to review and advise SKDC on local applications would be only one benefit. Potentially much more important would be that we could all look to a town council to develop and deliver a stronger strategic vision for Grantham, one which respects the interests of its rural hinterland, but which does not give them priority over those of the largest centre of population and economic activity in South Kesteven.

Grantham should be the economic power house of South Kesteven. It has the main line railway connection and important north-south and east-west road links.

As an incomer, I am astonished that a town with its apparent advantages has been allowed to decline to its current condition.

We need a town council sooner, rather than later, to lobby for road and traffic management improvements; to make the case for investing in its hospital and other community assets; to market Grantham to new industry investors; to take over the market and refocus the town centre until it thrives as Stamford does.

In short, to give Grantham a chance to shine again.

Some of the party bigwigs won’t like it, as their letters show. But remember that when at last you get the chance to vote for real local democracy for Grantham.

H. C. Harding