NHDC Waste Collection

David Percival in last month’s Parish News commented: “contracted refuse collectors routinely dump emptied wheelie bins at random on pavements all around our village”. I contacted the officer at NHDC responsible for the waste and recycling contract with Veolia and this is what she wrote about the contract:

“The operatives should be placing any bins or boxes back where they came from. They, in particular, should not be leaving them obstructing driveways or footpaths unnecessarily. Windy days can be a problem generally however if they are returned to the boundary of a property they are often next to a wall or hedge which helps prevent this problem.  

We do have Waste Services Officers out monitoring the contract, so I have copied [the relevant officer] in who will be about to check some of the streets in Knebworth over the next few collections.

It is clear that the Veolia operatives are not perfect, but hopefully this reminder will provoke an improvement in the service. If residents notice any problems they can contact the NHDC helpdesk on 0800 328 6023 who will monitor the level of complaints from Knebworth. Alternatively feel free to contact me about this directly.

North Hertfordshire Local Plan

NHDC is due to vote on moving to the next stage in the production of the Local Plan at its meeting on 27th November. This will approve the Local Development Scheme which sets out the timetable for consultation, but will include the publication of the “Preferred Options”, i.e. sites which the council have put forward as suitable for development. Consultation on this document, as well as on the numerous planning policies that together with the sites form the Plan, will take place from early December through to the first week of February (these are provisional dates and are still to be confirmed). Full information about the proposals will be available in the Library and on the NHDC website.

Planning Matters - Update

Solar Farm PV Applications: The Swangley’s Lane application was due to be discussed by NHDC Planning Control at its committee meeting on 13th November but the NHDC officer wrote to advise me that it had been withdrawn from the agenda as the applicant had written to the planning officers “setting out additional proposals to mitigate the impact of the scheme on the surrounding landscape and to address the concerns regarding the impact of the development on the Green Belt.“. There will now be further public consultation and NHDC expect it to be discussed at the planning meeting on 18th December. Consideration of the Three Houses Lane solar farm has been delayed because of errors in the application and no date is yet scheduled for it to come before the planning committee.

Knebworth Park Cricket Club: Consideration of this application was deferred by NHDC planning because of late submission of a revised design of the pavilion and of a Flood Risk Assessment and drainage plans. It is expected that the application will be reconsidered at the NHDC Planning Control committee meeting on 18th December.

111 London Road: Following our objections, the developer provided a revised application with extra parking spaces and a contribution to affordable housing in the NHDC area and the committee has now accepted it.

Application to redevelop the GP Surgery at 1 Stevenage Road

The future of Knebworth and Marymead GP Practice at 1 London Road has been uncertain for a considerable time. Various proposals for it moving have been discussed without any coming close to fruition. A number of residents were surprised to read about an application to redevelop the surgery into eight one-bedroom flats, submitted by the owner of the site.

As I understand it, this application was submitted to protect the position of the owner in the event the surgery gives notice to quit. The practice may do so at short notice under the current tenure, which, so it is understandable that the landlord should enact some contingency plans. The current surgery is outdated and unsatisfactory in a number of ways: it would clearly be better if more modern premises were available, whether on the current site, or another one. To find out more about the options available I will be meeting with the surgery and a number of interested parties in the second half of October.

Knebworth Park Cricket Club

Of the order of sixty people turned up to the PC Planning Control Committee on Monday 13th October to hear it consider the application for a new clubhouse and two pitches on Jubilee Fields, to the east of Park Lane opposite the Alms Houses and Mulberry Cottages in Old Knebworth. Feelings ran high, with strong arguments on both sides. The committee decided to oppose the application. A date for it to be considered by NHDC has not yet been set. I am sure that when a date has been set there will be a big turnout at the Council Chamber in Letchworth. You can be sure that I’ll be present and will be writing about the decision.

Bulwer Lytton application

The developer has submitted an application to develop thirteen detached houses on the site of the former care home, Bulwer Lytton House. Some of these houses are close to neighbouring properties, they occupy a large part of the plan of the site, and the plan allows for the retention of fewer trees than the previous application, for outline planning permission, submitted on behalf of HCC which owned the site. I will be trying to persuade the Planning Control Committee at NHDC to reject this application at its meeting on the 16th October.

111 London Road Application

The long awaited amended application for twenty-six one-bedroom flats on the site of the former boy’s home at 111 London Road was submitted and reviewed by the Parish Council last month. The Planning Committee were not persuaded that the changes addressed any of the grounds on which they objected to the application the last time it was considered.

Pondcroft Road, Milestone Road, Gun Lane Draft Traffic Regulation Order

The consultation about introducing a Controlled Parking Zone in some roads near Knebworth railway station finished in early October. Unfortunately too early for me to draw attention to it in the previous edition of this newsletter. I have not received any indication of the results of this consultation from NHDC, as of today, but to the extent that I received any feedback the balance of opinion was opposed to the proposals, albeit with a number of residents being enthusiastic.

At the same time, although not part of the TRO, a preliminary consultation to reduce the amount of parking in Watton Road took place. I received one or two calls, but not enough to be confident of gauging the general mood of residents in the road, which does suffer a great deal as a ‘rat run’ to parts of Stevenage, as well as being the main route to the A602 south.

Solar Farms

The planning application for the proposed Solar Farm at Swangley’s Farm has not yet been scheduled to come before a Planning Control Committee, but the protestors continue to challenge the application. As I understand it, an attempt is being made to challenge the decision to dispense with an Environmental Impact Assessment as part of the application. I expect that the application will go before NHDC this month.

There is a second application to build a solar farm, this time on land south of Three Houses Lane, north of Codicote. There was a lively discussion about this application at the Parish Council Planning Committee which was held on Monday 13th October. Although this is a sparsely populated part of Knebworth Parish, a number of residents took part in the Public Participation. The Parish Council decided to object to the application on the grounds that it felt it was inappropriate for the Green Belt.

Fly Tipping

I have had a number of reports of fly tipping around Knebworth, made directly to me. North Hertfordshire District Council treats fly-tipping very seriously and will prosecute anyone caught fly-tipping waste. Fly tipping is irresponsible, dangerous and expensive to clear up. There is a form on the NHDC website (just search for ‘fly tipping’) or feel free to contact me.

Fly tipping on private land is not the responsibility of the local authority, but on the public highway it is. For larger scale fly tipping the Environment Agency has a statutory duty to investigate fly tipping when the waste may pose a serious threat to the environment.

North Hertfordshire Local Plan 

The Local Development Scheme has now been published. It can be viewed on the NHDC website (under Planning, Planning Policy and Projects). This sets out a timetable for the development of the Local Plan. This process includes several rounds of consultation, including one on the ‘Preferred Options’ and on the submission itself, before it is formally submitted to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government in April 2016.

As far as anyone can tell, writing in mid-October, we are still on course for submission of the preferred options paper, including the potential housing sites, to Full Council on 27th November 2014. Consultation on this paper is scheduled for the fifth of December to the end of January 2015. Formal submission of the final version likely to take place in Summer 2015.

If you are interested in finding out which parts of the District are likely to see residential growth in the ‘plan period’ to 2031 please check the Council’s website for the Full Council agenda which should be available online from around mid-November.

There have been reports recently of extra clarification from the current Secretary of State which appears to give priority to preservation of the Green Belt over the directive to meet objectively assessed housing needs, both ours and those of adjacent authorities. These conflicting messages from Central Government need in my view to be resolved very rapidly. I am joining with a number of my fellow district councillors in urging the planning officers and members at NHDC to press for such resolution.

Planning Matters

Several significant applications are due to be considered by the KPC Planning Committee on 13th October. Please submit your comments to NHDC before the deadline if you have views, and/or raise them with the KPC Planning Committee. As in all Parish and District Council meetings, members of the public are welcome to attend committee meetings:

Knebworth GP Surgery: An application has been made for 1 Stevenage Road a proposal for eight one-bedroom flats on the site of the Knebworth GP Surgery – the deadline for comments to be made to NHDC is 9th October, and as HCC is responsible for the provision of the GP surgeries, Knebworth’s HCC representative, Cllr Richard Thake, is fully involved.

Solar Farms: At its last planning meeting KPC objected to the proposed Swangley’s Lane Solar Farm, having had extensive discussion and views expressed by residents, other members of the public and the developer, and will be considering a second solar farm at Crouch Green, on Three Houses Lane (deadline 16th October).

Knebworth Park Cricket Club: An amended application is due to be considered (deadline 30th October).

Other residential: A new application for the Bulwer Lytton House site in Lytton Fields (deadline 16th October) and an application for proposed development at 111 London Road will also be considered.

NHDC – Capital and Grant Funding Awards

Two awards of additional funding have been made by NHDC committees:

  • A grant of £7,000 has been awarded to Knebworth Parish Council by the NHDC Rural Community Halls Capital Fund. This will allow a major upgrade to the heating system in the Village Hall, just in time for the cold winter months.

  • The Knebworth Day Centre for the vulnerable and elderly received a boost when it received a grant of £1,000 from NHDC’s Southern Rural Area Committee to help with operational costs. Knebworth Day Centre, a not-for-profit organisation staffed by ten volunteers, has provided social activities for elderly and frail people for 25 years, and currently around 15 members meet every Monday from 10am to 3pm.

Parking – Proposals for Further Restrictions

I hope that some of you were able to attend the meeting in the Village Hall on 23rd September when proposals to introduce further parking restrictions in Pondcroft Road, Milestone Road, Deanscroft, Gun Lane, Gun Road and (to a minor extent) Station Road. There is also a proposal, although at an earlier stage, to introduce parking restrictions in Watton Road. Full details are available in the Library or on the Parish Council and NHDC websites. Please be quick as the deadline for comments is 3rd October – you can email comments to transport@north-herts.gov.uk.

Norton Green Common

Fly Tipping and illegal access to the SSSI on the Common continues to be a problem. Representatives of Natural England and HCC have just been out to look at the tipping and have proposed a solution to restrict access on the Common by introducing bollards right along up to the beginning of the SSSI. Knebworth Estates have agreed pay for the bollards as they will also stop access to their woodland, which has suffered from fly tipping in the past.

Swangley’s Farm Solar PV

As you may already be aware, there is a proposal to build a ‘solar farm’ on one of the fields comprising Swangley’s Farm. This will involve covering much of the field with solar panels, fixed on metal frames, installing a container-sized inverter building, and connecting the latter to the grid. The field is at the junction of Swangley’s Lane and Baines Lane, at the eastern boundary of the parish, where it borders Datchworth Parish. The field is approximately fifty acres. Full details are available on the website of Solstice Renewables, the developer, as well as on the Parish Council website.

Another proposal has been made for a similar-sized solar farm at Three Houses Farm, between Three Houses Lane and Node Wood. This is in the western ‘finger’ of the Parish, which encompasses Rusling End and Three Houses Lane. No planning application has been made for this development as yet, so it is too early to say any more about it. It is notable that a number of these developments have been proposed in nearby parishes, including in Graveley and Langley. This may be linked to the current subsidy levels, which are due to change in April 2015.

It is expected that the fully validated applications for these two solar farms will have been accepted by NHDC by September. In the case of the Swangley’s Farm site, a ‘screening opinion’ has already been received and approved. This is a preliminary enquiry to determine what documents must be accompany in the application itself. The approval of this screening opinion application does not have any bearing on whether the development application itself will be approved.

The process for deciding on these applications is as follows. Once the application has been validated, it will be uploaded to the NHDC planning portal. The application will be examined by the Parish Council (or which I am a member) at a meeting of the Planning Committee, typically the first meeting after the application has been validated. Members of the public are welcome to attend this meeting. A period, typically fifteen minutes before the meeting formally starts, is allocated for members of the public to give their views. The discussion about the application is held in public, and, usually, the committee decides whether it has any objection to the application, and, if it has, on what ground(s) it objects. It may also decide to support an application in some cases, or merely to not object to it.

The key to the process is deciding on which ground or grounds the committee objects to the application. Planning applications must be decided in relation to the relevant planning legislation. If an application is not consistent with the Local Plan, or is outside the guidelines defined in the national and local guidelines, then the Parish Council may object, but the specific guideline that has been breached must be identified. The decision of the Parish Council is not final: it is merely a consultee, alongside possibly many others, depending on the type of the application. Neighbours are another class of consultee: all have the right to submit their comments to the Planning Authority, which is in this case is NHDC.

The key decision to be made is whether or not the renewable energy generated by these farms constitutes circumstances which are sufficiently special to override the general principle that development in the Green Belt is inappropriate. The relevant legislation is the National Planning Policy Framework, supplemented by the government’s Planning Practice Guidance. Any decision about these applications, as in the case of any other planning applications, will be decided in the light of this planning legislation, not on the weight of local opinion or on the value of renewable energy generation.

References

Parish Clerk, Knebworth: clerk@knebworthpc.org.uk or 01438 813795.

NHDC Planning Portal: http://pa.north-herts.gov.uk/online-applications/

NHDC: 01462 474000 or service@north-herts.gov.uk

Planning Practice Guidance: http://planningguidance.planningportal.gov.uk/

Letchworth Update

The work of the council does not stop over the summer, although it does slow down a bit. I have now attended sessions of each of the committees on which I sit: Southern Rural, Overview and Scrutiny, as well the first meeting of the full council in this, its fortieth year civic year. I have also undertaken various sessions of training and induction, and am now inducted into the mysteries of everything from governance, to planning to IT. The planning training was of great interest, as it is very relevant for understanding the implications of the long-awaited Local Plan. Although I am not a member of any of the committees at the District Council concerned with planning, I take a close interest in all applications which may affect Knebworth and continue to be a member of the Planning Committee on the Parish Council.

Knebworth Fun Day

Knebworth residents, being British, were not deterred by the wet weather over the final weekend of the Knebworth Festival. The Fancy Dress Competition took place with only slightly reduced (and slightly damp) numbers. Rosemary Conybeare and I were called to judge the entries. Years 2, 3 and 4, which had succeeded in forming the biggest group by the tactic of combining their members into a single entry, were clear winners from a strong field which had, inevitably, a World Cup inspired theme.

Solar Farm Application

An application is currently being considered to build a solar farm on Swangley’s Farm, to the East of Knebworth. This will cover fifty acres and have a peak generating capacity of around 10 MW. There will, undoubtedly be a great deal of discussion about this in the village between now and October of November when a decision will have to be made by the planning authority on whether to approve the application. Full details of the application are available on the NHDC Planning Portal.

KPIG

It is hoped that the Knebworth Parking Initiative Group (KPIG) will spring back into life in the next month or so. The first issue that we will tackle is the lack of parking in Pondcroft Road and Milestone Road, which have been particularly affected by commuter and other parking displaced from Park Lane, Lytton Fields, Deanscroft and other areas to the west of the railway line, as well as from the St Martins Road car park. I have received a number of communications about various traffic issues in the village, including Gun Lane, Station Approach, Park Lane to the west of the A1(M), as well as Pondcroft Road/Milestone Road.

‘Knebworth High St.’ - i.e. the shopping area at the northern end of London Road is a particular source of concern, both because traffic can be dangerously fast, and because congestion is so bad that ambulances and other emergency vehicles may be held up unacceptably.

There is an unused lot in Gun Road Gardens which may be suitable as a place where some extra parking spaces can be found. This has been suggested by some members of the Knebworth Community Group on Facebook. If you are a Facebook user, I urge you to join the group, as it provides a valuable forum to discuss issues affecting the village.

Knebworth Village Trust

As a District Councillor in Knebworth I am, ex-officio, a trustee of Knebworth Village Trust . This charity supports community groups based within the parish of Knebworth. In our meeting on the 10th July we decided to support a youth group run by the Trinity Church and the (newly amalgamated) Knebworth Football Club. To find out whether your community group could benefit from a grant from the Trust, please contact the Hon. Secretary at info@knebworthtrust.com. The application form for grants is available on their website: www.knebworthtrust.com.

Norton Green Subcommittee

The Norton Green Sub-Committee of the Planning and Environment Committee of the Parish Council had its inaugural meeting on Independence Day, 4th July. We had a detailed discussion about the legal ownership and status of the common, which is a key issue.

This was a very useful forum in which the interlocking issues affecting the Common were identified. Members of the committee are: Rosemary Conybeare, Rosemary Pateman, Karen Robinson, James Orme-Kirby and myself, with the Clerk of the Parish Council, Claire Graham providing much-needed support.

The Parish Council would like to acquire title to the Common, which is currently held by Stevenage Borough Council. Once this is achieved, it is hoped that the management of this valuable resource, which includes a Site of Special Scientific Interest, will be improved.