March

Swangley’s Farm Solar PV

The proposed solar farm at Swangley’s Farm has been ‘called in’. It will be referred to the Secretary of State for the Dept. for Communities and Local Government under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, Section 70. This was the recommendation of the planning officer of the District Council. Documents relating to the application will now have to be examined by the Planning Inspectorate. As of the time of writing, it is not clear how long this process will take.

NHDC Council Tax

At the District Council of the 12th February it was decided to increase its proportion of Council tax by 1.9%, or £3.88 for a Band D property in Knebworth. For such a property the contribution to the District Council becomes £208.01. The balance of what you pay on your Council Tax is made up of contributions to the Parish, the Police and the County, in order of increasing cost, for the important services they provide to us all.

Welwyn Hatfield Local Plan Consultation

Welwyn Hatfield has started consulting on its Local Plan. Responses must be submitted by the 20th March, so there is still time for you to comment. For residents of Knebworth the proposal that is likely to be of most interest is the potential development of the field between Gun Meadow Avenue and Monread Lodge, although there are a number of proposals along the B197 which will have an impact on Knebworth.

There is a Local Plan drop-in Consultation Event for the Welhat Plan on 7th March at Hatfield Hub, 56, Town Centre, Hatfield, AL10 0JJ. For further information contact the Welwyn Hatfield Planning Policy Team on 01707 357 000 or at planningpolicy@welhat.gov.uk.

Future of the Knebworth GP Surgery

Herts County Council have now confirmed their intention of Herts County Council that its intention is to enter into an agreement with General Practice Investments, a developer, to re-develop the current library site into a new Library, a GP surgery and an associated pharmacy. This is subject to HCC and GPI finding acceptable terms for the agreement. Stephen McPartland, Richard Thake and I, together with Graham Fothergill, representing both the Patient Participation Group, and the Parish Council, had a meeting last year, with the practice manager where we learned of this general intention. It is only this month (Jan) that HCC have confirmed their general intention.

I am sure that residents of the village will all welcome this development, which should ensure that Knebworth has a modern, fit-for-purpose, GP surgery for many years to come. As many of you will know, the library site has been the one that has been preferred by Knebworth and Marymead General Practice for some years. I am very glad that the process has moved on a stage so that we can look forward to a new surgery opening, if everything goes well, in the next few years.

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 hoped that two days of will be organised in the New Year when volunteers will be invited to work on clearance of the Common. In addition to the grant from Natural England, now the Common is registered it is eligible for payments from the Rural Payments Agency. To find out more please contact the Clerk to the Parish Council.

I should mention that the Stewardship Agreement represents major progress in the log hard slog that is the restoration of Norton Green Common. It would not have been possible without tireless effort on the part of Rosemary Pateman, Karen Robinson and the Parish Clerk.

Local Plan

By the time you read this the Extraordinary Parish Meeting scheduled for the 20th January will have been held. There is time to send your response to the consultation to NHDC. Just email your comments to localplans@north-herts.gov.uk or send via the post to Planning Policy, NHDC, PO Box 480, Sale, M33 0DE. If you use email, please think about copying in me and the Parish Council (clerk@knebworthpc.org.uk). The deadline for submissions is the sixth of February, so don’t delay!

JANUARY UPDATE

NHDC Local Plan - Preferred Options Consultation

The submissions made by members of the public to the Preferred Options Consultation, undertaken as part of the development of a new Local Plan, are now available on NHDC’s website. Every written response is available to read online - go to the page you get to by searching for ‘“Planning Policy Online Consultations” north-herts’.

NHDC’s Grants Policy

A report on Grants Policy is due to be discussed at the meeting of Cabinet on the 15th December. This will be reviewed by the Overview and Scrutiny Committee by the end of February 2016.

Grants represent a modest, but important part of North Herts District Council’s cost base, and have to be reviewed just as we review all our spending commitments. Knebworth has to pay for the upkeep of its village hall, pavilion and recreation grounds through the precept levied by Knebworth Parish Council. Voters in the towns in the District have the equivalent expenditure paid for directly by the District Council, ie through the Council Tax paid by all householders in the District. Rural grants, to a degree, compensate villages for this anomaly. For this reason, the review of grants policy is very important to us, and I will continue to argue for a fair deal for the ‘parished’ areas.

I would like to take a moment to reflect on the passing year. 2015 was a notable year with a number of major proposals put forward, most now decided, but others, most notably the development of the draft Local Plan, that will continue into 2016. Some of these could have significant impact on the village, and I hope you will continue to make your views known, and I will continue to try to reflect these in discussions with NHDC as your elected councillor.

There will be changes to your representation on NHDC as my fellow councillor, Alan Bardett, will be retiring at the end of his term in May 2016 when local elections will be held for some of the wards within NHDC including, this time, Knebworth.

I look forward to the year ahead and wish you all a Happy New Year.

NHDC Waste Collection

David Percival in last month’s Parish News commented: “contracted refuse collectors routinely dump emptied wheelie bins at random on pavements all around our village”. I contacted the officer at NHDC responsible for the waste and recycling contract with Veolia and this is what she wrote about the contract:

“The operatives should be placing any bins or boxes back where they came from. They, in particular, should not be leaving them obstructing driveways or footpaths unnecessarily. Windy days can be a problem generally however if they are returned to the boundary of a property they are often next to a wall or hedge which helps prevent this problem.  

We do have Waste Services Officers out monitoring the contract, so I have copied [the relevant officer] in who will be about to check some of the streets in Knebworth over the next few collections.

It is clear that the Veolia operatives are not perfect, but hopefully this reminder will provoke an improvement in the service. If residents notice any problems they can contact the NHDC helpdesk on 0800 328 6023 who will monitor the level of complaints from Knebworth. Alternatively feel free to contact me about this directly.

North Hertfordshire Local Plan

NHDC is due to vote on moving to the next stage in the production of the Local Plan at its meeting on 27th November. This will approve the Local Development Scheme which sets out the timetable for consultation, but will include the publication of the “Preferred Options”, i.e. sites which the council have put forward as suitable for development. Consultation on this document, as well as on the numerous planning policies that together with the sites form the Plan, will take place from early December through to the first week of February (these are provisional dates and are still to be confirmed). Full information about the proposals will be available in the Library and on the NHDC website.

Planning Matters - Update

Solar Farm PV Applications: The Swangley’s Lane application was due to be discussed by NHDC Planning Control at its committee meeting on 13th November but the NHDC officer wrote to advise me that it had been withdrawn from the agenda as the applicant had written to the planning officers “setting out additional proposals to mitigate the impact of the scheme on the surrounding landscape and to address the concerns regarding the impact of the development on the Green Belt.“. There will now be further public consultation and NHDC expect it to be discussed at the planning meeting on 18th December. Consideration of the Three Houses Lane solar farm has been delayed because of errors in the application and no date is yet scheduled for it to come before the planning committee.

Knebworth Park Cricket Club: Consideration of this application was deferred by NHDC planning because of late submission of a revised design of the pavilion and of a Flood Risk Assessment and drainage plans. It is expected that the application will be reconsidered at the NHDC Planning Control committee meeting on 18th December.

111 London Road: Following our objections, the developer provided a revised application with extra parking spaces and a contribution to affordable housing in the NHDC area and the committee has now accepted it.

Application to redevelop the GP Surgery at 1 Stevenage Road

The future of Knebworth and Marymead GP Practice at 1 London Road has been uncertain for a considerable time. Various proposals for it moving have been discussed without any coming close to fruition. A number of residents were surprised to read about an application to redevelop the surgery into eight one-bedroom flats, submitted by the owner of the site.

As I understand it, this application was submitted to protect the position of the owner in the event the surgery gives notice to quit. The practice may do so at short notice under the current tenure, which, so it is understandable that the landlord should enact some contingency plans. The current surgery is outdated and unsatisfactory in a number of ways: it would clearly be better if more modern premises were available, whether on the current site, or another one. To find out more about the options available I will be meeting with the surgery and a number of interested parties in the second half of October.

Knebworth Park Cricket Club

Of the order of sixty people turned up to the PC Planning Control Committee on Monday 13th October to hear it consider the application for a new clubhouse and two pitches on Jubilee Fields, to the east of Park Lane opposite the Alms Houses and Mulberry Cottages in Old Knebworth. Feelings ran high, with strong arguments on both sides. The committee decided to oppose the application. A date for it to be considered by NHDC has not yet been set. I am sure that when a date has been set there will be a big turnout at the Council Chamber in Letchworth. You can be sure that I’ll be present and will be writing about the decision.

Bulwer Lytton application

The developer has submitted an application to develop thirteen detached houses on the site of the former care home, Bulwer Lytton House. Some of these houses are close to neighbouring properties, they occupy a large part of the plan of the site, and the plan allows for the retention of fewer trees than the previous application, for outline planning permission, submitted on behalf of HCC which owned the site. I will be trying to persuade the Planning Control Committee at NHDC to reject this application at its meeting on the 16th October.

111 London Road Application

The long awaited amended application for twenty-six one-bedroom flats on the site of the former boy’s home at 111 London Road was submitted and reviewed by the Parish Council last month. The Planning Committee were not persuaded that the changes addressed any of the grounds on which they objected to the application the last time it was considered.

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

The consultation about introducing a Controlled Parking Zone in some roads near Knebworth railway station finished in early October. Unfortunately too early for me to draw attention to it in the previous edition of this newsletter. I have not received any indication of the results of this consultation from NHDC, as of today, but to the extent that I received any feedback the balance of opinion was opposed to the proposals, albeit with a number of residents being enthusiastic.

At the same time, although not part of the TRO, a preliminary consultation to reduce the amount of parking in Watton Road took place. I received one or two calls, but not enough to be confident of gauging the general mood of residents in the road, which does suffer a great deal as a ‘rat run’ to parts of Stevenage, as well as being the main route to the A602 south.

Solar Farms

The planning application for the proposed Solar Farm at Swangley’s Farm has not yet been scheduled to come before a Planning Control Committee, but the protestors continue to challenge the application. As I understand it, an attempt is being made to challenge the decision to dispense with an Environmental Impact Assessment as part of the application. I expect that the application will go before NHDC this month.

There is a second application to build a solar farm, this time on land south of Three Houses Lane, north of Codicote. There was a lively discussion about this application at the Parish Council Planning Committee which was held on Monday 13th October. Although this is a sparsely populated part of Knebworth Parish, a number of residents took part in the Public Participation. The Parish Council decided to object to the application on the grounds that it felt it was inappropriate for the Green Belt.

Fly Tipping

I have had a number of reports of fly tipping around Knebworth, made directly to me. North Hertfordshire District Council treats fly-tipping very seriously and will prosecute anyone caught fly-tipping waste. Fly tipping is irresponsible, dangerous and expensive to clear up. There is a form on the NHDC website (just search for ‘fly tipping’) or feel free to contact me.

Fly tipping on private land is not the responsibility of the local authority, but on the public highway it is. For larger scale fly tipping the Environment Agency has a statutory duty to investigate fly tipping when the waste may pose a serious threat to the environment.

North Hertfordshire Local Plan 

The Local Development Scheme has now been published. It can be viewed on the NHDC website (under Planning, Planning Policy and Projects). This sets out a timetable for the development of the Local Plan. This process includes several rounds of consultation, including one on the ‘Preferred Options’ and on the submission itself, before it is formally submitted to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government in April 2016.

As far as anyone can tell, writing in mid-October, we are still on course for submission of the preferred options paper, including the potential housing sites, to Full Council on 27th November 2014. Consultation on this paper is scheduled for the fifth of December to the end of January 2015. Formal submission of the final version likely to take place in Summer 2015.

If you are interested in finding out which parts of the District are likely to see residential growth in the ‘plan period’ to 2031 please check the Council’s website for the Full Council agenda which should be available online from around mid-November.

There have been reports recently of extra clarification from the current Secretary of State which appears to give priority to preservation of the Green Belt over the directive to meet objectively assessed housing needs, both ours and those of adjacent authorities. These conflicting messages from Central Government need in my view to be resolved very rapidly. I am joining with a number of my fellow district councillors in urging the planning officers and members at NHDC to press for such resolution.