ILMINSTER residents are set to have their say on one of the most important decisions to affect the town over the next couple of decades.

That is according to deputy mayor Cllr Tony Walker, who addressed members of the public at last week’s annual assembly to talk about the new Neighbourhood Plan (NP).

For the first time ever, the opinion of the town’s people can be legally binding, holding the same weight at the district council and the county council.

Neighbourhood Plans are an important community-led initiative aimed at guiding the future development of the town over the next 20 years, running alongside policies contained in the South Somerset Local Plan and the National Planning Policy Framework.

Cllr Tony Walker, deputy mayor and head of the Neighbourhood Plan Implementation Group (NPIG), said: “NPIG will be tasked with building an evidence base, collating the visions, aims and proposals already expressed in numerous local documents and updating information from workshops, to which all members of the community will be invited.

“This will clearly define the facilities and resources needed to take Ilminster into the future.

“Ilminster Town Council believes that those who live or work in Ilminster will have the best ideas about what will benefit us in the future, rather than leaving the decisions to others.

“Unlike other plans and documents, Ilminster’s NP will have the same force in law as national and district plans. It must be taken into account by planning officers, inspectors and developers when reviewing local planning applications.

“The NP should also help to obtain valuable grants, helping to deliver what we want.

“The NP will take between two and four years to complete and will be costly to produce but there are significant grants available to fund its creation, if we act now.

“Once the NP has been adopted, Ilminster will benefit financially. For example, Ilminster’s proportion of the new planning charge, the Community Infrastructure Levy, will increase from 15 per cent to 25 per cent.

“When the plans are ready for adoption, they will go to independent examination and then a referendum of the town’s people. Provided more than half of those voting say ‘yes’ the NP will be given legal status.”

Ilminster Town Council will be holding workshops to explain to Ilminster residents how they can help develop these new plans. The town council will be at IMEx to provide information and advice to those interested.

A table will be set up in the IMEx Community Drive on Saturday, June 10, and on Sunday, June 11, on Ilminster Recreational Ground.

The first workshop will be taking place at the Best Western Shrubbery Hotel, Station Road, on June 29, from 7.30pm, with others to be arranged in the near future.

An Ilminster Neighbourhood Plan website and Facebook page will soon be developed, enabling residents to keep track of progress and feed their ideas to the Implementation Group.