Planning Matters

Several significant applications are due to be considered by the KPC Planning Committee on 13th October. Please submit your comments to NHDC before the deadline if you have views, and/or raise them with the KPC Planning Committee. As in all Parish and District Council meetings, members of the public are welcome to attend committee meetings:

Knebworth GP Surgery: An application has been made for 1 Stevenage Road a proposal for eight one-bedroom flats on the site of the Knebworth GP Surgery – the deadline for comments to be made to NHDC is 9th October, and as HCC is responsible for the provision of the GP surgeries, Knebworth’s HCC representative, Cllr Richard Thake, is fully involved.

Solar Farms: At its last planning meeting KPC objected to the proposed Swangley’s Lane Solar Farm, having had extensive discussion and views expressed by residents, other members of the public and the developer, and will be considering a second solar farm at Crouch Green, on Three Houses Lane (deadline 16th October).

Knebworth Park Cricket Club: An amended application is due to be considered (deadline 30th October).

Other residential: A new application for the Bulwer Lytton House site in Lytton Fields (deadline 16th October) and an application for proposed development at 111 London Road will also be considered.

NHDC – Capital and Grant Funding Awards

Two awards of additional funding have been made by NHDC committees:

  • A grant of £7,000 has been awarded to Knebworth Parish Council by the NHDC Rural Community Halls Capital Fund. This will allow a major upgrade to the heating system in the Village Hall, just in time for the cold winter months.

  • The Knebworth Day Centre for the vulnerable and elderly received a boost when it received a grant of £1,000 from NHDC’s Southern Rural Area Committee to help with operational costs. Knebworth Day Centre, a not-for-profit organisation staffed by ten volunteers, has provided social activities for elderly and frail people for 25 years, and currently around 15 members meet every Monday from 10am to 3pm.

Parking – Proposals for Further Restrictions

I hope that some of you were able to attend the meeting in the Village Hall on 23rd September when proposals to introduce further parking restrictions in Pondcroft Road, Milestone Road, Deanscroft, Gun Lane, Gun Road and (to a minor extent) Station Road. There is also a proposal, although at an earlier stage, to introduce parking restrictions in Watton Road. Full details are available in the Library or on the Parish Council and NHDC websites. Please be quick as the deadline for comments is 3rd October – you can email comments to transport@north-herts.gov.uk.

Norton Green Common

Fly Tipping and illegal access to the SSSI on the Common continues to be a problem. Representatives of Natural England and HCC have just been out to look at the tipping and have proposed a solution to restrict access on the Common by introducing bollards right along up to the beginning of the SSSI. Knebworth Estates have agreed pay for the bollards as they will also stop access to their woodland, which has suffered from fly tipping in the past.

Swangley’s Farm Solar PV

As you may already be aware, there is a proposal to build a ‘solar farm’ on one of the fields comprising Swangley’s Farm. This will involve covering much of the field with solar panels, fixed on metal frames, installing a container-sized inverter building, and connecting the latter to the grid. The field is at the junction of Swangley’s Lane and Baines Lane, at the eastern boundary of the parish, where it borders Datchworth Parish. The field is approximately fifty acres. Full details are available on the website of Solstice Renewables, the developer, as well as on the Parish Council website.

Another proposal has been made for a similar-sized solar farm at Three Houses Farm, between Three Houses Lane and Node Wood. This is in the western ‘finger’ of the Parish, which encompasses Rusling End and Three Houses Lane. No planning application has been made for this development as yet, so it is too early to say any more about it. It is notable that a number of these developments have been proposed in nearby parishes, including in Graveley and Langley. This may be linked to the current subsidy levels, which are due to change in April 2015.

It is expected that the fully validated applications for these two solar farms will have been accepted by NHDC by September. In the case of the Swangley’s Farm site, a ‘screening opinion’ has already been received and approved. This is a preliminary enquiry to determine what documents must be accompany in the application itself. The approval of this screening opinion application does not have any bearing on whether the development application itself will be approved.

The process for deciding on these applications is as follows. Once the application has been validated, it will be uploaded to the NHDC planning portal. The application will be examined by the Parish Council (or which I am a member) at a meeting of the Planning Committee, typically the first meeting after the application has been validated. Members of the public are welcome to attend this meeting. A period, typically fifteen minutes before the meeting formally starts, is allocated for members of the public to give their views. The discussion about the application is held in public, and, usually, the committee decides whether it has any objection to the application, and, if it has, on what ground(s) it objects. It may also decide to support an application in some cases, or merely to not object to it.

The key to the process is deciding on which ground or grounds the committee objects to the application. Planning applications must be decided in relation to the relevant planning legislation. If an application is not consistent with the Local Plan, or is outside the guidelines defined in the national and local guidelines, then the Parish Council may object, but the specific guideline that has been breached must be identified. The decision of the Parish Council is not final: it is merely a consultee, alongside possibly many others, depending on the type of the application. Neighbours are another class of consultee: all have the right to submit their comments to the Planning Authority, which is in this case is NHDC.

The key decision to be made is whether or not the renewable energy generated by these farms constitutes circumstances which are sufficiently special to override the general principle that development in the Green Belt is inappropriate. The relevant legislation is the National Planning Policy Framework, supplemented by the government’s Planning Practice Guidance. Any decision about these applications, as in the case of any other planning applications, will be decided in the light of this planning legislation, not on the weight of local opinion or on the value of renewable energy generation.

References

Parish Clerk, Knebworth: clerk@knebworthpc.org.uk or 01438 813795.

NHDC Planning Portal: http://pa.north-herts.gov.uk/online-applications/

NHDC: 01462 474000 or service@north-herts.gov.uk

Planning Practice Guidance: http://planningguidance.planningportal.gov.uk/

Letchworth Update

The work of the council does not stop over the summer, although it does slow down a bit. I have now attended sessions of each of the committees on which I sit: Southern Rural, Overview and Scrutiny, as well the first meeting of the full council in this, its fortieth year civic year. I have also undertaken various sessions of training and induction, and am now inducted into the mysteries of everything from governance, to planning to IT. The planning training was of great interest, as it is very relevant for understanding the implications of the long-awaited Local Plan. Although I am not a member of any of the committees at the District Council concerned with planning, I take a close interest in all applications which may affect Knebworth and continue to be a member of the Planning Committee on the Parish Council.

Knebworth Fun Day

Knebworth residents, being British, were not deterred by the wet weather over the final weekend of the Knebworth Festival. The Fancy Dress Competition took place with only slightly reduced (and slightly damp) numbers. Rosemary Conybeare and I were called to judge the entries. Years 2, 3 and 4, which had succeeded in forming the biggest group by the tactic of combining their members into a single entry, were clear winners from a strong field which had, inevitably, a World Cup inspired theme.

Solar Farm Application

An application is currently being considered to build a solar farm on Swangley’s Farm, to the East of Knebworth. This will cover fifty acres and have a peak generating capacity of around 10 MW. There will, undoubtedly be a great deal of discussion about this in the village between now and October of November when a decision will have to be made by the planning authority on whether to approve the application. Full details of the application are available on the NHDC Planning Portal.

KPIG

It is hoped that the Knebworth Parking Initiative Group (KPIG) will spring back into life in the next month or so. The first issue that we will tackle is the lack of parking in Pondcroft Road and Milestone Road, which have been particularly affected by commuter and other parking displaced from Park Lane, Lytton Fields, Deanscroft and other areas to the west of the railway line, as well as from the St Martins Road car park. I have received a number of communications about various traffic issues in the village, including Gun Lane, Station Approach, Park Lane to the west of the A1(M), as well as Pondcroft Road/Milestone Road.

‘Knebworth High St.’ - i.e. the shopping area at the northern end of London Road is a particular source of concern, both because traffic can be dangerously fast, and because congestion is so bad that ambulances and other emergency vehicles may be held up unacceptably.

There is an unused lot in Gun Road Gardens which may be suitable as a place where some extra parking spaces can be found. This has been suggested by some members of the Knebworth Community Group on Facebook. If you are a Facebook user, I urge you to join the group, as it provides a valuable forum to discuss issues affecting the village.

Knebworth Village Trust

As a District Councillor in Knebworth I am, ex-officio, a trustee of Knebworth Village Trust . This charity supports community groups based within the parish of Knebworth. In our meeting on the 10th July we decided to support a youth group run by the Trinity Church and the (newly amalgamated) Knebworth Football Club. To find out whether your community group could benefit from a grant from the Trust, please contact the Hon. Secretary at info@knebworthtrust.com. The application form for grants is available on their website: www.knebworthtrust.com.

Norton Green Subcommittee

The Norton Green Sub-Committee of the Planning and Environment Committee of the Parish Council had its inaugural meeting on Independence Day, 4th July. We had a detailed discussion about the legal ownership and status of the common, which is a key issue.

This was a very useful forum in which the interlocking issues affecting the Common were identified. Members of the committee are: Rosemary Conybeare, Rosemary Pateman, Karen Robinson, James Orme-Kirby and myself, with the Clerk of the Parish Council, Claire Graham providing much-needed support.

The Parish Council would like to acquire title to the Common, which is currently held by Stevenage Borough Council. Once this is achieved, it is hoped that the management of this valuable resource, which includes a Site of Special Scientific Interest, will be improved.