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owner of the existing surgery had submitted a planning application to redevelop the site, although this has now been withdrawn.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.

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.