Campaigners for a Sutton Coldfield town council have dismissed the latest round of consultation ahead of a referendum as a “cynical document” designed to secure a ‘no’ vote.
The campaigners claim a consultation document offers only limited powers to the proposed town council over areas such as allotments, parks and public toilets, while ignoring new powers over planning allowed under the 2011 Localism Act.
It suggests residents would pay £50 a year for the town council, which the campaign describes as ‘scare mongering’. It claims the real cost would be half that.
In a letter to the Post, campaigner and urban designer Nick Corbett said: “The consultation paper is a cynical document because it is clearly designed to put residents off voting for a town council.
“For example, the consultation paper lists the powers that town councils had in 1992, rather than highlighting the new powers that town council’s have under the Localism Act 2011 – over issues such as town planning.
“Rather than exploring how a town council could become self-funded, it scares voters with exaggerated claims about how much it will all cost.”
He said that as many other historic towns in England have a town council, it would be appropriate for the Royal Town to have one.
Chairman of the Sutton Coldfield Referendum Group, Ken Rushton, said: “It would be better termed a ‘confusion’ package than a consultation package.
“We know the authors are senior well-paid council officers, who wish to guard their own status and introduce weak non-legalised devolution to retain their centralised control.”
Politically the issue has also been divisive, with Conservatives in Sutton Coldfield arguing that a town council would essentially be a costly additional tier of local government with no real power and, as such, is unwanted.
But Labour councillor Rob Pocock (Lab, Sutton Vesey) was supportive – although he agreed the initial consultation document only looked at the minimum of what is possible.
“Once you wade through the stuff about park benches and public conveniences there is mention of neighbourhood plans and community rights to challenge,” he said.
He said the town council would be able to stand up for Sutton Coldfield as a legally independent body and challenge policies made in Birmingham.
The campaign group raised a petition of 10,000 names in 2013 calling for a town council and guaranteeing a referendum on the issue, which will take place later this year following the final set of proposals. A council working group looking at the issue is now, in the light of the Kerslake Report into the council, looking at wider opportunities for devolution across the city.
A council spokeswoman said that anyone can comment on the town council proposal by March 30 and all responses would be considered.
A final proposal will be drawn up in the summer.
She said: “Residents in Sutton Coldfield will then have their say on the matter, however, we would emphasise that we have worked hard to ensure the documents give an accurate and balanced view of the issues, including thorough checking with legal staff.
“The papers refer to the new community rights granted under the Localism Act, such as Right to Bid and to Challenge and the new Neighbourhood Planning system, but it is important to point out that these are also available to other organisations not just parish or town councils.
“Lastly, this consultation and the petition is not about returning to the pre-1974 position in which Sutton Coldfield was a separate borough, so the documents do not cover that option. That is not a change that could be made by Birmingham City Council.”
* People have until 30 March to complete the questionnaire at the Birmingham Be Heard website or submit a written contribution to CommunityGovernanceViews@birmingham.gov.uk.