The following letter appeared in the various North Herts editions of today’s Comet newspaper. You can access the ‘e-edition’ (with some difficulty) via this link.

Dear Sir,

In response to the ‘anonymous’ (why?) correspondent who stated that the Conservative Group has adopted rules regarding voting. I am sure they are aware that all Parties, including the Liberal Democrats, have rules in place that require members to support agreed Party positions. They are completely incorrect in saying that anyone voting “in support of their residents” will be immediately subject to a three month suspension. In fact, local Conservative Party rules contain provisions allowing members to vote against or abstain on the agreed Party position when the matter specifically affects their ward or is a matter of conscience. An examination of the recorded vote on the Local Plan in September will confirm that there were several Conservative members who did not support the proposals at that time. The North Herts Conservative Party’s agreed position continues to be that this Plan should be supported, as a whole, as this is the only way in which we can protect our District from completely unchecked development. The Party Whip works closely with all Conservative members who may wish to abstain or vote against that position to ensure their reasons continue to fall within the rules of the Party. An approach not dissimilar to Liberal Democrat and Labour Party led authorities.

A perhaps more interesting question is exactly what detailed research your correspondent has done in believing that the ‘wishes of the residents’ are to vote against the Local Plan? There are approximately 131,000 residents in North Hertfordshire and we have received 5,675 representations on the Local Plan. Similarly, your correspondent focuses only on the ‘residents who voted him/her in as a councillor’. North Herts Conservatives work for every single resident in North Hertfordshire, not just the approximately 75% that vote or the ~1% who object, but the 100% who will be affected by unrestricted and unchecked housing development.

Cllr. Julian Cunningham.

This article appeared in the April edition of the Knebworth Parish News.

Chas Lowe Redevelopment

You will be aware by now of proposals by McCarthy and Stone to re-develop the former Chas Lowe builders’ merchants site in London Road. I am not aware of any planning application yet, and so it is difficult to comment on proposals. A leaflet, which lacks details, has been delivered to residents.

What is clear is that distortions in the housing market have given rise to a situation where land for accommodation of the elderly has a higher value than almost any other. Knebworth, and North Herts generally has an ageing population. There is a need for this population to be housed. It is arguable that remaining in the larger properties they occupied when their children were young does not make a lot of sense. 

The other factor is that this sort of development can be built to a much higher density than other types, and needs to be provided with fewer parking places. Under the current plan, if the development is in ‘Category 2’, the requirement is for 0.35 places per dwelling. Category 2 accommodation is in grouped flat-lets for the less active elderly people normally with a self contained warden’s dwelling. This is much less than for other types of residential dwellings, and maximizes the return on a given size plot.

Knebworth residents have completed a questionnaire for the Neighbourhood Plan. This will reveal what type development village residents of Knebworth prefer. However, it is unlikely to be fully ready before a planning application is received.

The policies of the current Local Plan (Local Plan No. 2 with alterations, 1996) and the emerging Local Plan are similar, as far as development in what one might call town centre locations. Both seek to maintain shopping as the main activity in town centres, with permission for developments being given if retail use is preserved on the ground floor. This is my interpretation of the policies only: anyone interested would be advised to consult the Local Plan policies themselves. These are Policies 42 and 43 in the current Plan, and policy ETC6 in the emerging Plan. The emerging Plan states that larger developments, of more than 500 square metres would not normally be considered suitable.

May Elections

Voting in County elections takes place this year on 4th May. Please make sure you are registered to vote.  If you need to register, or would like a postal vote, please contact NHDC on 01462 474000 and ask for Democratic Services. It is also possible to register to vote on-line, although voting itself still requires the use of a pen (or pencil) and paper.

Local Plan Update

Officers at NHDC have been hard at work cataloguing the responses to the Local Plan consultation from last year. This process will be complete by the 23rd March. The Council will decide on submission of the Plan on a special meeting on the 11th April. The submission is to the Secretary of State  for Communities and Local Government, formally. In practice the work is delegated to the Planning Inspectorate. The full plan, plus the evidence base, plus all the responses to the last consultation forms the submission. This will be delivered to the Inspector shortly after the 11th April assuming that the Council decides to proceed with submission.  

Once the Inspector has reviewed the plan, the process moves to an examination in public. I will give further details in due course. The full timetable can be viewed on the NHDC website. Search for ‘Local Development Scheme’. This is, obviously, subject to change.

Knebworth Community Chorus

I am pleased to announce that Knebworth Community Chorus have received grants from NHDC and from the Knebworth Village Trust. This will provide them with staging and a new keyboard. The choir should now be fully equipped for its concert in the Village Hall on [insert date]. This is always a very entertaining and popular event, so book early to avoid disappointment.

Links

I think the following links and email addresses should be better known:

As you may be aware, Chas Lowes site has been sold and the shop will be closing at the end of this month. Mccarthy and Stone have purchased the site and will be giving an open presentation of their ‘proposes Plan’ on the 28th of March in Trinity Church between noon and 7:30pm. If you have views on how you would like to see the site developed, please do attend. The presentation is being made by The Remarkable Group who are handling the PR for McCarthy and Stone.

It seems that the actual business has been sold to Gibbs and Dandy, who are going to open a store in Gunnels Wood Park (SG1 3BH) ‘soon’. Watch this page for full details when they become available. It seems clear that land in Knebworth is worth a great deal more as a development for retirees than as a retail outlet.

I have been an elected politician for three years now. I have spent a lot of time in meetings, where people have said a lot of things. In some cases they have said the same things over and over but in many cases they have argued for the Council doing things. In nearly ever case, the focus has been on the benefits of taking the action. The implicit subtext is that this clearly exceeds the cost.

Most politicians would, if pressed, concede that all actions have a reaction, and, in reality there are very few changes that leave everyone better off. The hope is that the costs are low, and spread widely, and will be offset by one or other of the other actions taken which, cumulatively, leave everyone better off.

This is not unreasonable. we discuss many policies which cost very little in financial terms. A grant of £1,000 will cost the average person in the District less than a penny. It seems obvious that the average person would simply never notice such a cost. The gratitude and clear benefits to the recipient are, however, very clear to the grant committee. The argument hardly needs to be made that the award is worthwhile.

From an empathetic point of view, this is the right thing to do. But a quiet voice in my head keeps telling me that the resources that those 100,000 pennies represent have been diverted from what the producers of them would have chosen, to a charity that most of them have never heard of. Maybe if they had spent the time understanding the good work done by the organisers of this charity, they would have come to the same conclusion that we did. By examining the application, the constitution of the charity, the record of good work that it has done, we have saved countless hours of due diligence that could never have been justified if they were each considering dropping just a single penny in a collecting tin.

This is the argument made by Ronald Coase. That the practicalities of atomised decision making, are such that it makes eminent sense to delegate to a small group who can then arrange the joint purchase of services that in the absence of all the frictional forces operating in the real economy would have been impractical to agree.

The District Council collects household waste, and arranges for it to be disposed of. Every household may avail itself of this service. The cost is very modest. Private contractors would probably spring up if this service were not offered by the Council, and householders would, in most cases, sign up with one or other of the private contractors. Although I believe that capitalism is an incredibly efficient mechanism for supplying many goods and services, I acknowledge that it is very unlikely that households would save money.

There are certainly problems with local or central governments providing services. One of the biggest is the difficulty in innovating, especially when consumers no longer have the incentive to adapt their own behaviours to enable more cost effective delivery.

Coase’s Nobel Lecture.