Leighton-Linslade and Eggington boundary controversy continues as town council accused of "screwing up" consultation

Different versions of a letter were dispatched to the three groups of residents impacted by the review

Friday, 17th December 2021, 3:03 pm
Updated Friday, 17th December 2021, 3:14 pm

Letters sent out by Leighton-Linslade Town Council "screwed things up" during a consultation process over a parish boundary issue, a meeting heard.

Different versions of a letter were dispatched by the town council to the three groups of residents impacted by a community governance review of Eggington parish.

Each variation was worded to suit sections of the local population and encourage them to support the town council's stance, a meeting of Central Bedfordshire Council's general purposes committee heard yesterday (Thursday).

Should Clipstone become part of Leighton Buzzard?

There were 491 responses overall, said a report to councillors. "Of these, 38 were identified as living in Eggington village, while 171 were identified as living in roads on the Clipstone Park development, which is currently part of Eggington parish."

The breakdown of those in the parish revealed 149 (72 per cent) seeking to remain in Eggington, 39 (19 per cent) favouring the Leighton-Linslade parish boundary being extended, and 19 (nine per cent) wanting a new parish to be created.

Conservative Heath and Reach councillor Mark Versallion, whose ward includes Eggington, said: "The problem is Leighton-Linslade Town Council has complicated things by sending out three different versions of a letter to three different audiences that has screwed things up.

"Otherwise we'd have probably arrived at a situation where nobody's feathers were ruffled. A sensible outcome would have been reached quietly and calmly.

"Instead a lot of people are upset including my parishioners of Eggington. Morally we can see people have said: 'We don't want it'. So we should say: 'That's the end of it'.

"From a governance perspective we have a process we need to conclude by May. As the document says, these letters from the town council have had an undue influence on the outcome.

"Having read them carefully myself, all three versions, they are misleading, so that scuppers our willingness to proceed to stage two.

"The town council has really put CBC in a difficult position," he added. "I would like to recommend a third option that 81 per cent is an overwhelming indication of what people want so we propose no change.

"But this committee looks at it again over the viability of some kind of referendum of the population in question and we explore the original plan before the town council complicated things."

Monitoring officer Edwina Adefehinti explained if the consultation was thought to be unfair as a result, then it could be done again and the timetable altered, but the legal end date would remain as May 2022.

"There's no legal basis for carrying out a referendum," she said.

Conservative Westoning, Flitton and Greenfield councillor James Jamieson warned against recommending no change in case that was rejected by the public leaving no positive alternative to consider.

Conservative council leader and Arlesey councillor Richard Wenham, who was chairing the committee for this agenda item, said: "It's my understanding we can't propose 'no change' because we're in a legal process and we have to conclude that in a fixed time frame."

The committee voted to disregard the town council letters as campaign material, and accept the results of the consultation using it to inform the next steps.

And it agreed to move to stage two with the suggestion of no change with the current parish boundaries based on the initial feedback, with suitable wording for further consultation to be produced by officers and shared beforehand.