Council Tax for 2016-17 – NHDC Budget

At the full North Herts District Council meeting on 11 Feb the Executive Member for Finance, Terry Hone, presented his budget for next year (Apr 2016 – Mar 2017) for the District, later than usual as central government took a long while to decide on the financial settlement for local councils. The settlement for NHDC is £871,000 of Revenue Support Grant for next year and after that zero, i.e. from April 2017 NHDC’s expenditure (net of income received) has to be provided 100% by local Council Tax Payers. NHDC is one of only 15 local authorities in England to be facing a zero revenue support grant, which reflects the relative prosperity of the residents of North Herts. However, as a result of the response to the consultation on the financial settlement to local authorities’ additional central government funding has been provided. A so-called Transition Grant has been awarded to NHDC to ease the move to zero RSG. This amounts to £285,000 in total and will be received over the next two civic years.

The budget for 201617 results in the District component of Council Tax being set at the equivalent of £211.96 for a Band D property, an increase of 1.9% over the current year. For a Band D property, the charge for the cost of services provided by NHDC is therefore 58p per day, or just over £4 per week; the increase is only 1.1p per day. The recommendation to adopt the budget received all party support at the council meeting.

Of course, your Council Tax bill includes elements to fund services provided by the County Council, the Police and the Parish Council, so your total Council Tax bill will be considerably greater.

District-Wide Survey

NHDC seeks to understand people’s satisfaction with the Council and its services. A North Herts District Wide Survey is a consultation exercise that takes place every two years. The survey consists of approximately 1,000 residents from across North Hertfordshire who are consulted via telephone interviews. These interviews are carried out by independent consultants.

The most recent survey was carried out in October and November last year. The report from this survey is expected to be presented to Cabinet next month, and will be available on the website from about mid-March.

As part of the District-Wide Survey new members of the Citizen’s Panel are selected. This is a group of residents who are regularly contacted about their views on Council performance, so that trends in satisfaction levels can be tracked on a more frequent basis than every two years.

Flooding

December and January have seen extremely heavy rain falling, seemingly without respite. The consequences are that the gullies around the village have struggled to take the flow, and we have come perilously close to the flooding that was experienced in Orchard Way/Broom Grove a couple of years ago. Unfortunately a number of the graves in the NHDC Cemetery in Wadnall Way have been temporarily submerged. NHDC is aware of the problem and have taken steps to inspect the site with, as yet, no solution proposed.

Council Tax

The NHDC financial team are busy preparing a final budget for 2016-17. There are a number of uncertainties around the amount of money available from central taxation: the so called ‘Revenue Support Grant’. A number of decisions around this are scheduled to be made at Cabinet this month. It is likely that more efficiency savings will be made.

Syrian Refugees

The NHDC Cabinet decided in December that Syrian refugees Hertfordshire will be welcomed under the terms of a resettlement scheme recommended by the Home Office if they decide to come to North Herts. Full council voted, in November, to indicate to the Home Office that the District would be interested in helping fifty refugees to resettle here, in family groups, over the next five years, a total of ten individuals per year, possibly three or four families. The national scheme includes financial assistance to local authorities prepared to welcome refugees, who will be transported to the UK directly from camps in Syria or immediately neighbouring countries.

Application to redevelop the GP Surgery at 1 Stevenage Road

Negotiations are continuing to find a better building for the Knebworth and Marymead Medical Practice. I have had meetings with Stephen McPartland and Richard Thake to establish how to move forward on this problem. The owner of the existing surgery had submitted a planning application to redevelop the site, although this has now been withdrawn. The site currently occupied by Knebworth Library in St Martins Road is currently the preferred location. Plans have been produced to redevelop this site to become a building which can house both the library and the surgery.

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

I attended a meeting with Transport Officers at NHDC on 17th November. Both Cllr. Richard Thake and Cllr. Julian Cunningham, portfolio holder for Transport were present. We discussed preliminary proposals to further restrict parking on Watton Road and also a Traffic Regulation Order to create a Controlled Parking Zone (CPZ) covering Milestone Road and Pondcroft Road, which currently suffer from parking by commuters and both visitors and employees using the shops and offices in London Road. Our decision was to leave the parking arrangements in Watton Road unchanged, as there was too little support for the proposed changes, and to introduce the CPZ. A number of recommendations on relatively minor amendments to double yellow line positions in Station Road and Deanscroft were also accepted.

Norton Green Common

I am pleased to report that Knebworth Parish Council has entered into a Stewardship Agreement with Natural England for the management of Norton Green Common. This agreement comes with over seven hundred pounds of grants from Natural England to restore the Common to a good condition. However the work needs to be done and the subcommittee are looking for volunteers to do it! It is planned to hold a stall at the Christmas Fete to attract interest. It is hoped that two days of will be organised in the New Year when volunteers will be invited to work on clearance of the Common. For more information please contact the Clerk of the Parish Council. In addition to the grant from Natural England, now the Common is registered it is eligible for payments from the Rural Payments Agency. This would not have been possible without a lot of hard work on the part of Rosemary Pateman, Karen Robinson and the Clerk.

Local Plan

After a fairly tempestuous NHDC council meeting in the sports hall at the North Herts Leisure Centre in Letchworth, where over three hundred members of the public turned up, the council decided to agree to go to consultation on the current draft of the Local Plan. This plan is intended to shape development in the district up until 2031 (and in reality at least five years beyond this date). It is the biggest change to planning in the district since 1996. The plan includes forty two documents specifying policies on all aspects of development, and represents a huge effort on the part of the planning policy officers and the portfolio holder, David Levett. It includes a ‘Preferred Options’ document which list the sites which are most suitable for development, and therefore, in many cases, are proposed to be removed from the Green Belt. These sites include two which are in Knebworth, providing space for 411 homes and a new primary school.

The plan is available online on the NHDC website, and at Knebworth Library. The consultation period will have already started by the time you read this, and will continue until the first week of February. The Parish Council is a statutory consultee in this process, and will welcome your views. You may also send them direct to NHDC Planning Policy: just go to the ‘Current Policy and Projects Consultations’ page. The consultation process is a part of local democracy, and this is an important opportunity for you to have your say. I strongly encourage you to take part. I will ensure that any emails or letters I receive will be fed into the consultation process.

NOVEMBER UPDATE

NHDC Noise Application

NHDC has introduced a Noise App to help deal with noise nuisance

North Hertfordshire District Council is using new technology to help deal with noise nuisance and has introduced a new Noise App. The app created by RH Environmental, allows residents with mobile devices to record incidents of nuisance noise and submit them to NHDC via the app. As unwanted noise is captured when it is actually happening, this makes it easier for residents to report problems and will allow the Council to more effectively investigate noise nuisance cases. Recorded audio files, which are sent securely, can also be shared with the Police and other agencies when tackling cases of anti-social behaviour.

The app can be downloaded free from the NHDC website: http://www.north-herts.gov.uk/home/environmental-health/pollution/noise-app

NHDC Schedule of Meetings

The schedule of meetings for North Hertfordshire District Council is available on NHDC’s website: http://www.north-herts.gov.uk/home/council-and-democracy Agendas are posted ahead of the meetings and while some items, such as the Budget process, follow an annual cycle, other topics are ad hoc – the Planning Control committee is a good example where individual applications that have been “called in” to the committee are discussed. The meetings are held at NHDC’s offices in Gernon Road, Letchworth, SG6 3JF and are open for members of the public to observe; this includes the meetings of the Council’s Cabinet.

Approval has been granted to purchase equipment which will allow council and committee meetings to be recorded and made available on the web as podcasts.

SEPTEMBER UPDATE

NHDC – In the Summer time

NHDC full council meetings are not scheduled during school holidays to make it easier for those with school age children to stand as councillors. There are some exceptions, with the Standards Committee meeting in August (see below), and planning applications continue to be considered because of strict deadlines on the time allowed for the council to process these. Generally, the routine work of the council via the officers and staff continues ensuring that services are not interrupted, while a range of extra activities, particularly aimed at children, are run at the leisure centres and other venues through the district.

NHDC Planning Code of Conduct

A draft of an updated Code of Conduct for Councillors was reviewed on 12th August by the Standards Committee of which I am a member. The code makes it clear that it is essential for all members to avoid any suggestion of bias in respect of local planning applications. Many decisions are taken by the Planning Control Committee, while in some circumstances the case may be decided by a full Council Meeting, or on rare occasions be referred to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. This will not affect my ability, as District Councillor for Knebworth ward, to speak as member advocate for matters that affect Knebworth.

Three Houses Lane Solar Farm “Called In”

The Secretary of State for the Department for Communities and Local Government has “called in” the application for a solar farm in Three Houses Lane and confirmed that an inquiry will be held under Section 77 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. The situation is analogous to that of the application at Swangleys Lane and it is to be expected that the decision on the latter will be very significant for the Three Houses Lane application. Knebworth Parish Council is involved in the inquiry and neighbouring parish councils are also involved.

Neighbourhood Plan Working Party – Any more volunteers?

I have one additional offer of help towards producing a Neighbourhood Plan for all (or part of) Knebworth Parish so we are still on track to convene an inaugural meeting in the Autumn. If you would like to get involved, especially if you have any professional expertise or involvement with Planning legislation, then please get in touch with me using the contact details below.