Melbourn community hub meeting cancellation was ‘terrible for democracy’

A RESIDENT concerned about plans for a community hub and housing development has said villagers have been denied the chance to have their say after a public meeting was cancelled.

Jason Hall was due to speak on behalf of Melbourn residents about a proposal to demolish the village’s vacant police station and build 13 houses and a hub at a meeting last Wednesday.

The meeting was scheduled to take place ahead of the plans – which could see a library access point, new civic offices, communal computer facilities and an informal coffee room built on the High Street site – being discussed by South Cambridgeshire District Council’s planning committee on Wednesday.

Mr Hall told the Crow that he had heard the public meeting would not be taking place just hours before interested parties – including developers the Hundred Houses Society and the district council planning officer – were due to meet at Melbourn Village College. Members of Melbourn Parish Council, which has already pledged �250,000 towards the project, were also expected to attend.

“There was an opportunity lost for everyone to get together to speak face to face,” said Mr Hall, who lives in Kays Close.

“We all thought it was going to be a very healthy moment to have a proper discussion about it to see if we could all get on the same page but it was pulled at the eleventh hour.”

The meeting was meant to be chaired by former parish councillor John Poley.

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He said: “I can sympathise with residents in their disappointment and frustration at the cancellation of this meeting. However, the meeting was arranged at very short notice and concerns had been expressed that some might claim the meeting was not genuinely open and public and could be argued to be an erosion of the democratic process.

“The planning application for the old police site is a very sensitive issue in the village and it was clear to many people that the need to avoid any risk to the democratic process was the most vital consideration in this case.”

Cllr Susan van de Ven, who represents the Melbourn division for Cambridgeshire County Council, was one of those to express her concerns.

She said: “I had not known about the meeting and was invited at the last minute, which surprised me. My reasons for declining the invitation had solely to do with the ‘semi-official’ nature of the meeting. I was concerned that there might be other people who would have liked to attend this meeting and to contribute their views, but hadn’t known about it or hadn’t been invited. That would not have been fair.”

Responding, Mr Hall, who said he took time off work to prepare for the meeting, said: “It’s terrible for local decision making and local democracy. We’ve had an opportunity to write to the district council to put forward our views but we haven’t had a chance to challenge the parish council because they have a vested interest in this because they could be getting the hub.

“We wanted to make it crystal clear that the residents are not against affordable housing or the hub. It’s a very green open place on the High Street at the moment and we’re against the reduction of the open space. The housing needs to be more sympathetic.”

Mr Hall added that himself and fellow resident Jonathon Reeve did meet with the chief executive of Hundred Houses on Tuesday but said, while the meeting was “useful”, it would have been better to speak in an open forum.