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Congresbury Referendum Success....

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You and I may be fed up to the back teeth with referendums (referenda? Any classics scholars out there?) but it seems the good folk of Congresbury are still mad for them. They decided to take back control by holding a local referendum on their new village hall, blazing a trail on how to use the new ‘Community Right to Build’ process as an alternative to traditional planning permission. They’re one of the first in the country to try it.

The trouble with a referendum, as we’ve just discovered, is that it can be divisive. But not in Congresbury; oh no. Over 1000 people voted, and 70% of them (now that’s a majority!) agreed the plans and location for the new hall.

Instead of divisions, the vote helped the community come together. Villagers have been discussing the issue for at least 15 years, and finding it hard to agree on the right location and design. But the referendum created a moment when they could all focus on it, discuss it and reach a sensible consensus. It sounds rather like democracy to me…..

So I was delighted to be invited to Congresbury last week to help celebrate their triumph. The Development Trust are the people who’ve made it all happen; they’re a dedicated bunch of local activists who are very clear that they wouldn’t have got anywhere without huge support from their neighbours, friends and pretty much everyone else in the village as well. It was no small feat, and a brilliant example of how a strong community can work together. Now they’ve got to raise the funds but, given what they’ve achieved so far, I’m sure they’ll succeed!

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