Havant council could slash petition threshold by 500 signatures to encourage first debates since 2013

The Public Service Plaza, where Havant Borough Council is based. Picture: Allan Hutchings (150078-158)
The Public Service Plaza, where Havant Borough Council is based. Picture: Allan Hutchings (150078-158)
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CAMPAIGNERS may soon have less of a mountain to climb to get their issues heard in the corridors of power as a council considers cutting its petition threshold by a third.

Havant councillors will vote next month on whether to reduce the number of signatures needed for a full council debate from 1,500 to 1,000 in a bid to encourage more participation in the town’s democracy. 

According to council records the last petition to cross the threshold and be debated was undertaken in 2013, when the Emsworth Business Association called for a hike in borough-wide car parking fees to be reversed. 

But Emsworth councillor Richard Kennett, who tabled the proposal as the chairman of the borough council's Governance, Audit and Finance Board, hopes more residents may soon take to the process if there is a better chance of their efforts paying off. 

‘At a time when politicians and democracy are held in low esteem we should be doing all we can to encourage participation by our residents and local groups in the democratic process,’ he said. 

‘This will be for a one-year trial as it could be open to vexatious petitions, although I think that’s unlikely, and I think it is a really positive step forward to encourage engagement in the borough.’

The move has been welcomed by Ray Cobbett, chairman of Havant Friends of the Earth, which is part of a green alliance currently petitioning the council to declare a so-called ‘climate emergency’. 

‘I’m very grateful for Cllr Kennett for taking this forward,' he said. ‘He has shown great interest in this and he ought to be recognised.

‘We are hopeful it will be passed and, although Portsmouth’s threshold is only 500, we feel it’s a big step in the right direction.’

Hayling Island resident Dave Parham, chairman of the Save Our Island pressure group, said a reduction of that number ‘makes common sense’ but would only be worthwhile if petitions got a meaningful debate from councillors as a result. 

It comes after he and others got more than 4,400 signatures for a 2016 petition calling for housebuilding on Hayling to halt until ‘profoundly serious’ infrastructure woes were addressed.

Though it led to the assembly of the Hayling Island Infrastructure Advisory Group, the issue was not debated before the council – which later announced plans for more than 900 new island homes in its local plan in January.

Mr Parham said: ‘I’m searching my mind as to what the council believe they might get out of taking this action.’

Councillors will have their say on the recommendation at 5pm on July 10.