Station Pub

The long-awaited application for redevelopment of the Station Pub site (Planning Reference 17/01622/1) is likely to come before the NHDC Planning Control Committee this month, on the 15th February, probably in the Spirella Building in Letchworth. If you plan to attend, please check on the NHDC website for confirmation that the application is on the agenda. The start time of the meeting will be 7:30pm, but this application will be one of potentially many all of which will be decided at this meeting.

It has taken a long time for the application to come before the Committee. I do not know why this is, but a frequent reason is because the negotiations between the developer and the officers for Section 106 Contributions have been drawn out.

When an application comes before the Committee the members will have visited the site and read all the associated paperwork, including the objections and plans. Particular attention will be given to the responses from the statutory consultees, especially Herts Highways and Knebworth Parish Council. Committee members will rely on the report of the planning officer for guidance on which policies are relevant and to what extent the application complies with them. This is the job of the committee, to decide whether or not the officer has, in his professional capacity, missed any valid planning ground (i.e. breach of policy) on which the application might be refused.

In the meeting, the planning officer involved will introduce his report and summarize the main findings, including his recommendation. If this is to refuse the application, it is very unlikely the Committee will go against his recommendation. However, if the recommendation is to grant, it will need to have some fairly compelling reasons why. The objectors will have to provide these compelling reasons, all in a speech lasting no longer than five minutes.

As the local ward member I, or my fellow councillor, may speak in support of the objector for a further five minutes. The applicant is also allowed to speak for this amount of time, to rebut any of the arguments put forward by the objectors. After the speeches, the committee may ask of the speakers about their comments.

The committee will then debate the application until one of them proposes a motion to refuse the application or to grant it, possibly with additional conditions to those recommended in the report. If the motion is to grant, and the vote is passed, the applicant is free to proceed with construction. No appeal is possible in this event.

If the motion is to refuse, and it is passed, the applicant has up to six months to appeal to the Planning Inspector. Or he has the option to submit a new application, presumably somewhat amended to take account of the reason for refusal.

Members of the Planning Control Committee are not professional planners. They are elected District Council members. They are heavily dependent on guidance from planning professionals to make their decisions. Planning law is complex, and even the council’s own planning officers sometimes need to call in specialist advice. However, they are attuned to local need and I am sure they will arrive at the right decision as long as they are in possession of all the arguments for and against the application.

Garden Waste Bins

Most of you will be aware of the new charging regime for garden waste bins being introduced this year. Removal of household waste remains a statutory obligation for the Council, and not one that it may charge for. This includes food waste which will be collected weekly from food caddies to be provided. While this will mean an additional container, the alternative would be to allow food waste to be put in the ‘residual waste’ (i.e. purple) bins. Although this would have saved money, it was considered a worse option from an environmental point of view and was rejected. The new caddies will be 23l in capacity, enough for a week, so considerably bigger than the old ones, which are at most 4l.

Householders who pay for garden waste bins will be able to continue to use them for food waste, but with a fortnightly collection, and leave their new caddy unused. Bonfires are allowed, provided they do not create a nuisance, which can reduce garden waste; householders may have more than one brown bin (at £40 pa each) or can share.

Forthcoming NHDC meetings

The meeting of the NHDC Cabinet on 21st January is expected to review the revenue budget and capital spending programme for the next civic year; these items will be referred to full Council on 8 February 2018.

Both these meetings are open to members of the public. Please check the NHDC website for details of the location for each meeting as the District Council offices in Gernon Road are currently out of action. The office refurbishment is expected to be finished by the end of the first quarter.

Enhanced provision for the homeless

NHDC remains responsible for homelessness, even though it no longer owns any housing stock having transferred its former stock to North Herts Homes in 2004.

Although homelessness in North Herts is very low (at the last count under five families), for those affected it can be devastating, and NHDC has a number of housing officers who help avoid homelessness and provide assistance to those affected. Currently, in some cases, families can end up being housed in temporary accommodation in adjacent areas. The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, which comes into force in April 2018, is likely to increase the load on NHDC who are actively considering establishing a Housing Company that will own residential accommodation to be used for temporary accommodation.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish you all a Happy New Year and my best wishes for 2018.