On 4th May, elections were held for the County Council. Richard Thake was re-elected to represent Knebworth, as well as Codicote, St Pauls Walden, Kimpton, Wymondley and St Ippolyts. 

Residents are often unclear about the difference between the County and District councils. The County Council runs social care, children’s services (including schools) and the highways (other than motorways and trunk roads), and for Hertfordshire has a budget of around £1.85 billion, spending £1,625 per head of population.

The District Council has a budget of less than one percent of that of the county, around £16.6 million, with spend of £125 per head, so County spends approximately 13x as much per capita.

One of the primary functions of the District Council is to act as the Planning Authority. This does affect us a lot - the reason I write about it here so often. It is important to understand the distinction between Planning Policy: the production of the Local Plan; and Planning Control: the process by which applications are development are checked against the appropriate local, and national, planning policies.

Inevitably, there is scope for developer and objector to disagree on exactly what they are permitted to build according to the policies in place. The District Council employs a team of planning officers, who are professionally qualified to interpret planning law. They determine routine applications under authority delegated from the Planning Control Committee. The bigger, or more contentious applications are examined by members of this committee, all of whom are elected councillors.

Although there seems to be a view that once a Plan is adopted, there is nothing further that residents can do to shape development, this is not the case. Individual applications will still have to be reviewed as part of the Planning Control process, which gives residents a say in what ends up being built. Objectors have been successful in blocking, or causing major modifications of several applications recently. Applications for solar farms on two Green Belt sites were refused or abandoned. Even if an application is granted, it may be possible for residents to make the grant subject to the developer taking prescribed actions. For example, he may be required to fund to local infrastructure.


Elections in North Herts

Congratulations to Michael Muir, Judi Billing, David Barnard, Derek Ashley, Richard Thake, Simon Bloxham, Terry Hone, Fiona Hill and Steve Jarvis for winning County Council seats.

Also congratulations to Ray Shakespeare-Smith and Sarah Dingley in District bye-elections.

For full results in North Herts visit the NHDC website.

Local Plan Update

In March officers at NHDC finished cataloguing the 5,675 responses to the Local Plan consultation from last year. The role of NHDC in that consultation was only to collect and organize the responses, and to make sure the correct procedure was followed, as part of the overall, multi-stage process as set out by legislation that must be followed to arrive at a Local Plan.

The next step is the submission to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, for the plan to be reviewed by the government. In practice, the work is delegated to the Planning Inspectorate, with a named Planning Inspector responsible for undertaking the review. The review includes a Public Inquiry with the opportunity to provide oral evidence to the Planning Inspector.

The Council decided at a special meeting on 11^th^ April to proceed with the submission. To be clear and help understand what was being asked at that meeting, the proposals within the plan themselves were not discussed nor voted on, solely the decision to submit to the Planning Inspector. I am happy to answer questions to the best that I can as the process is involved and quite complicated, largely determined by a legal framework.

NHDC will shortly deliver to the Inspector the full plan, plus the evidence base, plus all the responses to the last consultation forms the submission. Once the Inspector has reviewed the plan, the process moves to a Public Inquiry before the Inspector provides his report to the Secretary of State who has the final decision. As timings are confirm I will provide these, and the full timetable, updated from time to time, is available on the NHDC website - search for ‘Local Development Scheme’, which is what most of us call a ‘timetable’.

Hertfordshire County Council Elections – 4th May

Voting in County elections takes place this year on Thursday, 4th May so if you are reading this early enough in May and registered to vote please take the opportunity to vote for your county council representative. Knebworth is within the Knebworth & Codicote county electoral division which, as well as covering Knebworth and Codicote also covers Kimpton, Great and Little Wymondley and Chesfield.

The following letter appeared in the various North Herts editions of today’s Comet newspaper. You can access the ‘e-edition’ (with some difficulty) via this link.

Dear Sir,

In response to the ‘anonymous’ (why?) correspondent who stated that the Conservative Group has adopted rules regarding voting. I am sure they are aware that all Parties, including the Liberal Democrats, have rules in place that require members to support agreed Party positions. They are completely incorrect in saying that anyone voting “in support of their residents” will be immediately subject to a three month suspension. In fact, local Conservative Party rules contain provisions allowing members to vote against or abstain on the agreed Party position when the matter specifically affects their ward or is a matter of conscience. An examination of the recorded vote on the Local Plan in September will confirm that there were several Conservative members who did not support the proposals at that time. The North Herts Conservative Party’s agreed position continues to be that this Plan should be supported, as a whole, as this is the only way in which we can protect our District from completely unchecked development. The Party Whip works closely with all Conservative members who may wish to abstain or vote against that position to ensure their reasons continue to fall within the rules of the Party. An approach not dissimilar to Liberal Democrat and Labour Party led authorities.

A perhaps more interesting question is exactly what detailed research your correspondent has done in believing that the ‘wishes of the residents’ are to vote against the Local Plan? There are approximately 131,000 residents in North Hertfordshire and we have received 5,675 representations on the Local Plan. Similarly, your correspondent focuses only on the ‘residents who voted him/her in as a councillor’. North Herts Conservatives work for every single resident in North Hertfordshire, not just the approximately 75% that vote or the ~1% who object, but the 100% who will be affected by unrestricted and unchecked housing development.

Cllr. Julian Cunningham.

This article appeared in the April edition of the Knebworth Parish News.

Chas Lowe Redevelopment

You will be aware by now of proposals by McCarthy and Stone to re-develop the former Chas Lowe builders’ merchants site in London Road. I am not aware of any planning application yet, and so it is difficult to comment on proposals. A leaflet, which lacks details, has been delivered to residents.

What is clear is that distortions in the housing market have given rise to a situation where land for accommodation of the elderly has a higher value than almost any other. Knebworth, and North Herts generally has an ageing population. There is a need for this population to be housed. It is arguable that remaining in the larger properties they occupied when their children were young does not make a lot of sense. 

The other factor is that this sort of development can be built to a much higher density than other types, and needs to be provided with fewer parking places. Under the current plan, if the development is in ‘Category 2’, the requirement is for 0.35 places per dwelling. Category 2 accommodation is in grouped flat-lets for the less active elderly people normally with a self contained warden’s dwelling. This is much less than for other types of residential dwellings, and maximizes the return on a given size plot.

Knebworth residents have completed a questionnaire for the Neighbourhood Plan. This will reveal what type development village residents of Knebworth prefer. However, it is unlikely to be fully ready before a planning application is received.

The policies of the current Local Plan (Local Plan No. 2 with alterations, 1996) and the emerging Local Plan are similar, as far as development in what one might call town centre locations. Both seek to maintain shopping as the main activity in town centres, with permission for developments being given if retail use is preserved on the ground floor. This is my interpretation of the policies only: anyone interested would be advised to consult the Local Plan policies themselves. These are Policies 42 and 43 in the current Plan, and policy ETC6 in the emerging Plan. The emerging Plan states that larger developments, of more than 500 square metres would not normally be considered suitable.

May Elections

Voting in County elections takes place this year on 4th May. Please make sure you are registered to vote.  If you need to register, or would like a postal vote, please contact NHDC on 01462 474000 and ask for Democratic Services. It is also possible to register to vote on-line, although voting itself still requires the use of a pen (or pencil) and paper.

Local Plan Update

Officers at NHDC have been hard at work cataloguing the responses to the Local Plan consultation from last year. This process will be complete by the 23rd March. The Council will decide on submission of the Plan on a special meeting on the 11th April. The submission is to the Secretary of State  for Communities and Local Government, formally. In practice the work is delegated to the Planning Inspectorate. The full plan, plus the evidence base, plus all the responses to the last consultation forms the submission. This will be delivered to the Inspector shortly after the 11th April assuming that the Council decides to proceed with submission.  

Once the Inspector has reviewed the plan, the process moves to an examination in public. I will give further details in due course. The full timetable can be viewed on the NHDC website. Search for ‘Local Development Scheme’. This is, obviously, subject to change.

Knebworth Community Chorus

I am pleased to announce that Knebworth Community Chorus have received grants from NHDC and from the Knebworth Village Trust. This will provide them with staging and a new keyboard. The choir should now be fully equipped for its concert in the Village Hall on [insert date]. This is always a very entertaining and popular event, so book early to avoid disappointment.