AUGUST UPDATE

NHDC – Council Business Update

The Council Meeting on 21 July covered a range of important issues, many of which will have an effect on North Hertfordshire residents long after the current Civic Year:

  • The Council is preparing to respond to recent legislation to take into account Social Value in its tendering processes. This should make it easier for local businesses to sell goods and services to the Council

  • A report was accepted on the refurbishment of the North Herts Leisure Centre at Letchworth, costing in excess of £3 million, which should result in significantly improved facilities there

  • The ‘Corporate Objectives’ which sets goals and priorities for the district until 2021, centred around Promoting Sustainable Growth, Working with Communities and Living Within Our Means

  • Reports on projects such as Churchgate, Hitchin, and the North Herts Museum and Community Facility at Hitchin Town Hall, and from the Finance Officers

Knebworth Post Office – New Look and Longer Opening Hours

I was honoured to open officially the new-look Post Office in St Martin’s Road, Knebworth. The branch has undergone a major refurbishment and upgrade of the old post office, which has remained largely unchanged from a time before I moved to Knebworth in 1985. It will now open for longer hours, until 6pm on weekday evenings and until 5.30pm on Saturdays, so giving more time for residents to pick up un-delivered parcels and generally use the services without the need to go further afield.

Knebworth Post Office also now has a new Postmaster, with Mohammad Miah recently taking over from Nicola Low, who had held the position for the last thirty years.

Neighbourhood Plan Working Party – Interested in being Involved?

I have a small number of volunteers offering to get involved in examining the feasibility of developing a Neighbourhood Plan for all (or part of) Knebworth Parish. 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.

If there is sufficient support I hope to convene an inaugural meeting in the Autumn and would expect to work extremely closely with the Parish Council on development of any Neighbourhood Plan.

NHDC - New Council Appointment

The first meeting has been held and the appointments of Chairs, Vice-Chairs and members of the various committees made. As well as being a member of the Southern Rural Committee, I have been appointed as the Vice-Chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee. The function of this committee is to ‘hold the executive to account’. To this end we examine many performance statistics and call each portfolio holders to present a report to us once per year. We occasionally have meetings devoted to specific, usually large, projects that we consider require close scrutiny: e.g. last year a meeting was devoted to examining the redevelopment of Hitchin Town Hall.

NHDC Grants available through the Southern Rural Committee

NHDC has limited funds, but does make grants to local organisations, as long as they are independent, not-for-profit and work for the benefit of the local community. Currently there is a Community Building Refurbishment Fund which has £15,000 available, and a Playground Fund and an Environmental Improvement Fund each with £10,000 available. With the exception of the Environmental Improvement Fund, community groups will be expected to raise at least 50% themselves. For further details see http://www.north-herts.gov.uk/home/community/grants or call 01462 474000 and ask for the Community Services Team.

Grant applications for Knebworth groups will be reviewed by the Southern Rural Committee, which meets four times a year. In our meeting on 11 June the committee approved £250 towards the cost of installing new pedestrian handrails on the steps to the footpath from New Close to Stevenage Road, and £200 towards the cost of developing the new Parish Council Website. Grant applications must be completed in good time before we meet, and may be submitted on paper or filled in online. The deadline for submissions for the next meeting in September is early August.

Stevenage Borough Council – Consultation on Local Plan 2011-2031

As part of the development of the Stevenage Borough Local Plan 2011-2031, Stevenage Borough Council is undertaking a public consultation on SBC’s preferred housing target for the Borough which is increased to 7,600 homes. Their preferred approach would roll-back the Green Belt within SBC and for needs beyond 2031 would wish to work with neighbouring councils to review the Green Boundary. The consultation on this aspect of the Emerging Local Plan runs from 22nd June to 27 July 2015 and further information and how to submit a response can be found on SBC’s website under Planning Policy: http://www.stevenage.gov.uk/planning/planning-policy/

June 2015 Newsletter

The Annual Meeting of the Parish on Wednesday the 6th of May, where parking in Knebworth was one of the more burning issues under discussion. Opinion in the village is sharply divided between those who welcome the increased space available for shoppers, and those who worry about availability of parking spaces for those who work in the village, and those whose vehicles need to be near their place of work. I am in discussion with NHDC to see if the balance between the needs of residents and local businesses can be improved.

Parking as a wider issue in the village has not disappeared from the agenda. I am trying to revive KPIG, the Knebworth Parking Initiative Group, but I will have to wait until the portfolio holder for transport is announced before I can make much more progress with this. Fairly extensive changes have been made to parking in the village, and the District is reluctant to deploy resources to change things even more, unless there is compelling evidence that this will improve matters. Clearly, the best outcome would be a new, large, free carpark near the centre of the village, but reviving KPIG will not deliver this.

There were no District or County elections this year for Knebworth. However, there were a number of seats contested elsewhere in the District, and your new Council will have a significantly different composition to that of the civic year just ended. Responses to the consultation on the emerging Local Plan will continue to be processed by hard-pressed officers until August or September, but when the report is ready I am sure that the Local Plan will once again hit the headlines.

The Annual Meeting of the (NHDC) Council is scheduled take place on the 21st May. After this I will know which committees I am on, and who the chairmen and vice-chairmen are of the various committees the make up the District Council. I will be on the Southern Rural Committee, as this is the one that deals with matters relating to the villages in the south of the district, but I do not know yet which other committees (if any) I shall be on.

June will be a month of fêtes and festivals. Do not forget to put the details of the Knebworth Festival in your diaries. Full details can be found elsewhere in this issue. I will be attending most of the events and look forward to seeing you at them.

Review of my first year at NHDC

By the time you read this column I will have served as a member of NHDC in the Knebworth Ward for (nearly) a whole year. It has been an eventful one for matters that concern the District Council: a number of planning applications for major brownfield developments, two solar farm applications, the introduction of Knebworth’s first Controlled Parking Zone and the planned move of the GP Surgery.

Of course the biggest issue of all is the ongoing, and ‘emerging’ Local Plan, which will continue emerging for a considerable time before it is adopted. The current timetable envisages that this will happen in April 2017, two years’ from now, but the probability that this timetable will slip must be significant, in the light of the rate of progress so far.

I have done my best to represent the interests of all the residents of the ward so far, and will continue to do so over the course of the next civic year. I hope that my considerably increased experience of being a District councillor will enable me to be no less effective than over the previous twelve months, and hopefully a little bit more effective.

A large number of you have taken the opportunity to contact me, via telephone, email and letter and I can assure you that I read every communication personally, even if occasionally I may not have time to send an individual response. There are, inevitably, many problems that are not amenable to any easy solutions. A considerable part of my postbag is connected to issues around road safety and parking. To this end I am working towards re-starting the Knebworth Parking Initiative Group in the coming year, a forum in which representatives from Knebworwth village can have a dialogue with representatives of NHDC.

As many residents of Knebworth pointed out during the consultation on the Local Plan, it is important that jobs are created locally if we are to avoid having a community in which there is a good balance of local employment and London commuters. NHDC is aware of the importance of local economic activity and is looking for feedback on its Draft Economic Development Strategy – ‘Productive North Herts’. This policy aims to address issues related to growing new and existing businesses across the District. The feedback from the consultation will form a final strategy and action plan to help the economy grow and generate employment opportunities locally. A draft Economic Development Strategy has been published and feedback is encouraged via the Consultations area of the NHDC website, or by post to Economic Development, North Hertfordshire District Council, PO Box 480, Sale, M33 0DE.

April 2015 Newsletter

I attended a meeting on 11 March with representatives of NHDC and Stevenage Borough Council about the transfer of ownership and management of Norton Green Common to Knebworth Parish Council. The discussion was very constructive, and all parties confirmed that they could envisage no major obstacles to the transfers taking place. The legal process will take some time, and the Parish Council have yet to ratify that they wish to take on this expanded role, but I believe that this meeting was a milestone towards the goal of improving the Common as an important piece of amenity land within the Parish.

The Secretary of State for the Department for Communities and Local Government has confirmed that an inquiry will be held under Section 77 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 into the application for planning permission for the Swangleys Lane Solar Farm. Datchworth Parish Council plan to submit evidence and make a representation to the inquiry. They are looking for financial support from other Parish Councils and other interested parties. The inquiry will examine the appropriateness of developing this installation on this site in the Green Belt.

On a separate, but related matter, the planning application for the solar generation facility at Three Houses Lane (ref. 14/02360/1) has been amended and is being reviewed by NHDC. The scale of the installation has been reduced, to 5MW, but it remains in the Green Belt. Nicholas Pellett is leading the objectors to this application. Knebworth Parish Council are opposed to the application.

Steve Deakin Davies is looking for singers to appear in a video for the Knebworth Festival, on 26 June. Lots of events and activities are planned for the day, including a video featuring Knebworth singers, each singing a line of ‘Perfect Day’, along the lines of the famous BBC video. Contact Steve on 07508832581 for more information.

NHDC Planning Portal: via www.north-herts.gov.uk.
Swangleys Lane Solar Farm: knebworthsolar.co.uk.
Three Houses Lane Solar Farm: saveourherts.com.
Knebworth Festival: facebook.com/Knebfest or Twitter @knebfest or stevedeakindavies@hotmail.com.