COUNCILLORS voted to move forward with a neighbourhood plan for Fordingbridge.

The plan was discussed during a meeting of Fordingbridge Town Council last week.

A neighbourhood plan is designed to allow communities to shape the development of their local area. A referendum of residents then decides whether it is adopted.

Seven councillors voted to proceed with the plan while one voted against and three abstained.

Town council chairman Paul Anstey said a working group had been looking into the the plan and the “preferred option” was to proceed with producing one.

Councillor Anna Wilson said: “I believe if expenditure is certain and the outcome is unknown we shouldn’t be spending public money.”

A previous meeting heard other areas had reported differing experiences in producing a neighbourhood plan with some spending £25,000 and even £40,000.

She questioned the reasons for producing the plan. These included enabling the council to engage with people in the town to express their opinions, which she said could be done by hosting its own events.

She added: “To prepare us for changes that come to the town — we don’t have a crystal ball, we don’t know if people will have more children or we’ll have more older people, more ethnic groups, you can’t say. To enable us to have a greater say in what happens on sites which are developed, that is if the local planning authority puts any weight behind it. They haven’t in the past given a great deal of weight to what Fordingbridge’s thoughts are.”

Councillor Pete White said: “It would be a good way to get the community to interact with the council. That is the positive I see in this.”

But Councillor Pat Earth asked why the previous plan could not be used, which she felt was “all being wasted”.

Councillor Diane Patton said the previous plan had been “very narrow” and other people had not been involved enough previously.

She added: “It is not doing away with that it is using that as well with what we are doing. If we try and do the local (neighbourhood) plan, yes it will cost money and if it gets to the stage it is a huge amount of money I would be against that. But the way things are being proposed to be led I don’t think it will be a huge amount of money but it could benefit us greatly - financially for one thing - but also it will mean we can get involved.

“It doesn’t mean necessarily we’ll be listened to in every thing we suggested but we can put our ideas and they have to be read, it has to be picked up, it doesn’t mean somebody has to follow it. They have to read it with planning applications. I think it can only advantage Fordingbridge, I think it’s a bonus for us.”

A proposal put forward by Cllr Wilson to not proceed with the neighbourhood plan was not supported.

Council chairman Paul Anstey said: “The decision by Fordingbridge Town Council to proceed with a neighbourhood plan will give this council and town, our parishioners, several advantages. By going down this process of a neighbourhood plan – the first and key issue, it gives parishioners a voice and means to express their views and opinions.”

He said it would provide a “means and a direction” for the council to engage with parishioners, organisations and other outside bodies.

Councillor Mike Jackson said the plan had to be “wide ranging” and “inclusive” and the council needed to give everyone an opportunity to express their views.

A steering group is being set up to develop a neighbourhood plan.