My experience of the Twittersphere

I’ve been on Twitter for a long time. Since 2007. From a time before Stephen Fry discovered the medium, and many years before Donald Trump did so. I’ve mainly used it passively. I kept my account private, and followed only those authors whose work interested me. A lot of libertarian comment and analysis, some humour, especially the dark side. I have a number of followers, but get virtually no engagement with them. They are either people I follow, and feel that it is only good manners to follow back, or people who somehow have the email address linked to the account in the address book they have handed over to Twitter Inc.

Although I have never tweeted anything very incendiary, and do not follow anyone I wouldn’t want my mother to know I was following, I decided that when I was elected I’d better start a new account for the political me. This happened in 2014, and I’ve been quietly tweeting since, without much traction.

Of late I’ve decided to integrate a bit more automation, using ifttt.com, and simply linking my Twitter account to a FB page. I’d previously auto tweeted from my Tumblr blog, but that never seemed to do any good.

Anyway, for reasons quite beyond me, my follower numbers seem to be accelerating. The threat to close the Station Pub seems a catalyst. Maybe it’s just that my odd retweet is enough to create a sustaining wave. I confess to paying a magnificent £10 to promote one tweet, but I don’t think I’ll be doing that again in a hurry, as there seems to be no way to localize the audience, in contrast to FB.

Rail Services from Knebworth - Timetable Consultation

Consultation has finished.

The consultation for the timetable for Govia Thameslink Railways is on-going but will close at 17:00 on 8th December. The proposals represent a significant change to the current service for Knebworth as the stopping trains will now all come from Cambridge (rather than alternately Cambridge and Peterborough), and become Thameslink services going into St Pancras. Most significantly, this would mean Knebworth would not benefit from the fast services as present, although there are some suggestions that GTR have already had second thoughts about this. Evenings and Saturday services may be significantly reduced and proposals also suggest that Knebworth goes back to having only one train per hour throughout the day on Sundays.

Our MP, Stephen McPartland, has made a formal response, available on his website, and the Parish Council is actively preparing one, which should be available on their website also. Full details on the proposals and how to respond are on the Great Northern Thameslink website: http://www.thameslinkrailway.com/your-journey/timetable-consultation

North Herts Leisure Centre and Council Offices Refurbishment

Work is progressing on refurbishing the North Herts Leisure Centre in Letchworth. Much of this work was essential to keep the facility functioning safely, but a new pool and cafe are included in the works. This centre, which is operated by Stevenage Leisure Ltd on behalf of the council, produces revenue for the Council, which will go up under the agreed contractual arrangements once the work is complete.

The project to refurbish the Council Offices will soon be underway. It is expected that the work will start in the next month or so, and that staff will be relocated to other offices around the area. The work is being project managed by local firm, Wilmott Dixon. All staff will be ‘decanted’ from the existing District Council Offices to Town Lodge over the course of this month. Town Lodge is also in Gernon Road, but opposite the Broadway Cinema.

NHDC Planning Portal

The council’s planning portal is being upgraded, to a more functional system. This will continue to be supplied by Idox PLC., the current operator. A number of you have noticed how unsatisfactory the current system is. I encourage you to try the new one and send your feed back to me or to NHDC at service@north-herts.gov.uk.

you when I have more details.

NHDC Local Plan – Public Consultation Period 19th October

to end November

The local public meeting ahead of the Parish Council meeting went ahead as planned on Wednesday 12th October. The hall was full, with many of those attending having to stand. The only occasion I can recall coming close to this level of attendance was the meeting to discuss the NHDC Preferred Options, in the fourth quarter of 2014.

Paul Ward delivered an excellent summary of the Local Plan process. This set the context and enabled members of the public to understand better how they could participate effectively in the Local Plan consultation process. Both of your District Councillors were present, and did their best to answer the questions addressed to them.

The Parish Council, in its regular meeting after the public meeting, decided to allocate a budget to cover the cost of a planning consultant to help it produce its response to the Local Plan consultation which started on the 19th October and will run until the end of November. All residents are encouraged to read the Plan, which will be available in the Library, and online, and to submit their representations. A new improved online system for recording representations will be accessible via the District Council’s website, or an email to localplan@north-herts.gov.uk, or a letter to Planning Policy, Local Plan Consultation, North Hertfordshire District Council, PO Box 480, M33 0DE. Please ensure that you make it very clear which section of the Plan your representation relates to. As I have explained previously, these representations will be collated by NHDC and submitted to the Planning Inspector ahead of the Public Enquiry, which is currently expected to take place in the second quarter of 2017.

NHDC Revised Grants Policy

The revised Grants Policy, now adopted, has reduced the total amount of money available for grants from the Council, and restricted the groups which are eligible. One of the big changes is that ‘precepting bodies’, such as Parish Councils are not allowed to ask NHDC for grants. The basis for this is that they already have the power to raise money from local residents via Council Tax. Historically, parish councils have been a big recipient of NHDC Grants, so even with a reduced budget there is an opportunity for local community groups to obtain funding. The grant-awarding committee which covers Knebworth, Codicote and other southern parishes is Southern Rural. It still has a budget of around £18,000 to spend by the end of the Civic Year, so now is the time to write your applications ready for the next committee meeting, which is on 1st December.

Note that there is a separate committee which overseas capital grants for village halls, community halls and the like. This is the Community Facilities Capital Projects Fund. The current four-year programme has one million pounds to disburse for capital projects. Parish councils are permitted to apply for capital funding from this fund.

NHDC Draft Local Plan

Introduction: Last month I wrote about the development sites allocated to Knebworth in the Local Plan. This month I will look at the broader context. Development sites are allocated very rarely. The last time this happened in North Herts was in 1992. Once the current Draft Local Plan is approved the pattern of development in North Herts will be set for a generation.

Much of the draft plan is available on the NHDC website, but minor changes are still being made, so it is not possible to give any links here. Please check the website itself, and social media for the latest updates.

Implications of Local Plan for Knebworth: There are several sites proposed for Knebworth, see map, one in the centre of the village and the rest for removal from the Green Belt, with dwelling estimates (area based rule of thumb, not developer proposal) totalling 791, as follows:

SHLAA Ref Address Site Type Refined dwelling estimate
52 Land at Deards End Green Belt 227
335 Land rear of Redwood, Deards End Lane Green Belt 14
53 Land at Gypsy Lane Green Belt 229
55 Land North of Old Lane Green Belt 63
336 Land east of Old Lane Green Belt 44
57 Land south of Swangley’s Lane Green Belt 100
58 Land north of Watton Road Green Belt 100
KB/m01 Chas Lowe, London Road PDL within village boundary 14

Why is this consultation different:

Some of you are probably suffering from ‘consultation fatigue’. NHDC have consulted repeatedly on aspects of the local plan, which is not surprising since it was supposed to be ready by 2011. The most recent consultation, on the so-called Preferred Options was in December 2014 and generated about eight and a half thousand responses from around the District, including a several hundred from Knebworth.

This consultation is different because the responses will be examined by the Planning Inspector and will feed into the public enquiry where the Local Plan will finally be adopted (or not). NHDC will simply collate the responses and pass them to the Inspector. Responses may be electronic or on paper, but not by telephone or in person.

Note that, if you submitted comments in response to previous consultations on the plan and believe that the updated plan does not fully address your concerns, you should submit your comments so that they will be received by the Planning Inspector.

Soundness of Local Plan:

The Planning Inspector will examine the Draft Local Plan to determine whether it is ‘sound’. A plan is sound if it is ‘Positively prepared, Justified, Effective and Consistent with national policy.’

Positive Preparation

This requires that the plan provides for enough houses, business premises, infrastructure and community facilities. It also requires that the plan is sustainable, in the sense that it does not cause irreversible damage to the environment or the well-being of future generations. Although developers are expected, in principle, to pay for infrastructure, there is a requirement that the plan defines what infrastructure is needed. NHDC take the view that no account may be taken of ‘Brexit’ because it is too early to estimate its effects on housing numbers.

Justified

The plan is justified only if it is based on compelling evidence and that evidence is presented alongside the plan itself. The submitted draft must be the best of all possible choices. Other choices for the plan, such as the suggestion that has been made for a ‘New Garden City’, must be demonstrated to be inferior to the choices in the plan.

Effective

The plan is effective if it can be implemented within the available timescale (before 2031). If the plan does not mesh with those of neighbouring authorities, or the infrastructure required to support it cannot be built, the plan will fail the effectiveness test. The draft submission plan calls for around 1,100 house completions a year to be delivered for the latter of the plan period. This is considerably more than North Herts has previously achieved.

Consistent with national policy

The plan must be consistent with national policy. A policy that many local residents have commented on is the need to avoid changing Green Belt boundaries, except under exceptional circumstances. Available sustainable brownfield sites in the District are limited and the vast bulk of land allocated for proposed housing is on sites which are currently in the Green Belt. There are many polices in the NPPF (and the associated Planning Practice Guidance website): I suggest that residents consider whether or not the Plan is consistent with the whole of the NPPF, and not just the paragraph relating to the Green Belt.

Timings:

The NHDC Cabinet is scheduled to meet on 26th September to approve the current version of the plan to go forward to consultation. It will then become the ‘draft submission plan’. If it is approved, the officers will prepare the material for consultation, and set up the consultation software on the NHDC website. Readers will be pleased to hear that new, improved software is being used this time, so the frustrations which the experienced trying to make representations on the Preferred Options draft should be a thing of the past.

If all goes according to plan the consultation period will run from the 19th October to the 30th November. Again, this period will run over the Christmas holidays, and potentially means that some residents will have a very short window in which to read the documents and make their submissions.

Following the end of the consultation period, the submissions will be categorised by NHDC and submitted together with the Draft Plan and all other supporting material to the Planning Inspector in the first part of 2017.

NHDC Draft Local Plan

Update on Process: Last month I highlighted the extraordinary meeting of the Council to endorse the proposed emerging (or draft) Local Plan. It was the only topic on the agenda and the meeting heard public participation from a number of groups, almost exclusively speaking against the proposals. The council heard a presentation from the Executive Member for Planning, and then a prolonged debate involving most of the council. The resolution to endorse the draft plan was supported by 32 votes, with 12 voting against or abstaining (which included me).

Implications of Local Plan for Knebworth: There are several sites proposed for Knebworth, one in the centre of the village and the rest for removal from the Green Belt, with dwelling estimates (area based rule of thumb, not developer proposal) totalling 791, as follows:

SHLAA Ref Address Site Type Refined dwelling estimate
52 Land at Deards End Green Belt 227
335 Land rear of Redwood, Deards End Lane Green Belt 14
53 Land at Gypsy Lane Green Belt 229
55 Land North of Old Lane Green Belt 63
336 Land east of Old Lane Green Belt 44
57 Land south of Swangley’s Lane Green Belt 100
58 Land north of Watton Road Green Belt 100
KB/m01 Chas Lowe, London Road PDL within village boundary 14

A map of the sites is available, and you can find out more by searching for “draft emerging allocations Knebworth”, with information on the Parish Council and NHDC websites. The full detail of the Emerging Local Plan may be obtained from: www.north-herts.gov.uk/home/planning/planning-policy/emerging-local-plan

Next Steps and Timings: The next step is for a final decision by the NHDC Cabinet to submit the plan for public consultation which, in this context, is collecting responses for review by the Planning Inspector, on behalf of the Secretary of State.

The decision by Cabinet will be taken at a meeting in September, so that the statutory period of 6 weeks for the consultation will begin sometime around mid October, so there is time to examine the proposals so that you are ready to submit any comments once the consultation begins.

Note that, if you submitted comments in response to previous consultations on the plan, such as the Preferred Options consultation in December 2014, and believe that the updated plan does not fully address your concerns, you should submit your comments again in October. This time the comments will be examined by the Planning Inspector, on behalf of the Secretary of State, and not by the planning officers in NHDC, as part of his review of the whole plan. It is expected that formal submission to the Planning Inspector will happen in the first part of 2017 and approval of the plan will be some time after that, possibly not until 2018.

Joint Waste Collection and Street Cleaning Contract

A contract for waste collection and street cleansing in the District is not the most exciting topic imaginable. However, it does account for around 45% of all North Herts District expenditure, so getting it wrong could have catastrophic consequences for the Council budget. It has been decided to go out to tender jointly with East Herts as by doing this there will be an elimination of duplication in management of the contract and should result in a reduction in unit costs. Before we can do this the contract specifications for North and East Herts have to be brought into line: not least the termination date of our current contracts, but also in some detailed aspects of waste and recycling. To let the contract will therefore take quite some time, but the decision has now been made to move forward with the tender process.