Forget Brexit, residents in a North Yorkshire town may get the chance to vote in their first-ever referendum on a subject closer to home.
More than three years in the making, the epic new Knaresborough Neighbourhood Development Plan aims to enhance and protect the town’s interests in planning matters in everything from threats to wildlife in Nidd Gorge to empty shops on the High Street.
Knaresborough residents are currently being asked to register their views in an online survey but, if the NDP passes its remaining hurdles next year, the town itself will have the ultimate say in a full-blown referendum. This is a far from an academic matter. Supporters say, ultimately, it is about Knaresborough emerging out of the shadows of Harrogate.
Should the proposals go-ahead, it would raise the possibility, for example, of Knaresborough introducing a ‘use it or lose it’ policy for the owners of empty properties on the High Street.
Local business owner Andy Grinter, one of the many people involved with the creation of the NDP, said everyone should get behind the process which has been led by Knaresborough Town Council.
Andy said: “This is all about Knaresborough looking out for Knaresborough.
“I think anyone who has a stake in Knaresborough’s well-being, be it of a commercial or residential nature, should embrace an opportunity to get involved in future-proofing the town’s character and protecting its assets.
“The exciting bit as far as I’m concerned, is seeing how many new ideas, new businesses and new opportunities come our way when commonly held beliefs concerning growth, are approved, seen and shared.”
Referendum: winning more input for town in decision-making
Others involved with creation of the NDP got involved specifically because they wanted Knaresborough to have a bigger say in decisions which effect the town.
Resident Emma Walsh said Knaresborough’s potential was being held back by a lack of input.
She said: “At the time I was running my own shop in Knaresborough and found the status quo and lack of investment frustrating.
“I got involved because I genuinely believe we have a chance to make Knaresborough an even better place to live in.”
Should a referendum take place, potentially, next year, the requirement to turn the NDP into a legal document is that more than 50% of the votes cast is in favour.
Empty high street shops - 'use it or lose' policy
Hot issues raised in the many forums and meetings between residents, business people and councillors during the build-up have been reflected in the eventual, hugely comprehensive NDP summary document which the public can look at on Knaresborough Town Council’s website.
Andy Grinter, founder of Visit Castlegate Traders Association, said the potential benefits for Knaresborough’s economy were substantial.
Andy said: “There are shop premises on the high street that have been vacant for an incredible 20-30 years.
“Under the auspices of the NDP proposals, landlords could be instructed that the community’s wish is to ‘use or lose’ the property.
“How welcome would it be for our existing shops, many of whom offer outstanding service, who are fed up hear distracting comments from customers like “but it’s a shame about the empty shops”.”
Protecting the environment in Knaresborough
Another key member in the process, Coun David Bulmer said the NDP would help protect the lovely environment in the Knaresborough area.
Coun Bulmer said: “Knaresborough is wonderful place to be but it needs affordable housing and employment, though not at the cost of the heritage and environment.
“There is much of the town that needs protecting such as the Nidd Gorge, Hay-a-Park and Birkham Woods.
“Knaresborough has its own identity and sometimes seems to be in the shadows of Harrogate.”
After the current public consultation ends on November 13, the town’s NDP will then need to win the approval of both Harrogate Borough Council and an independent planning inspector next year before reaching the referendum stage.
If you would like to give your views on Knaresborough’s NDP, go online to http://tinyurl.com/KnaresboroughNDP
Knaresborough Town Council hs been holding a series of free drop-in sessions for the public about the NDP.
The final one will take place next Thursday, October 26 from 2pm to 8pm at Knaresborough Cricket Club.