The Environmental Area, AKA the Wildlife Haven

It was fascinating to see the Knebworth Primary School Environmental Area when I visited the school on Friday, 31st March for the official opening, with Stephen McPartland MP. I have never really ventured very far beyond the dining room in the school (where Knebworth Village Trust meetings are held).

Now, thanks to many weeks of hard work put in by Alena Evans of Evans on Earth the EA is finished. It will need a lot of ongoing TLC, but there is an amazing range of things to do in a reasonably compact area. I hope that staff members in the school will exploit this valuable new resource to the full.

Alena provided me with the following notes on the project, which I thought would be interesting to share with you:

History of the project

The whole process startwd in the autumn of 2017. Alena Evans and Mrs Bishop (TA in KS1 and she used to run our gardening club) created a plan to restore the environmental area. It has been refurbished in 2013 but had suffered from neglect shortly afterwards. The pond was restored and lots of other work was carried out but unfortunately without any ongoing maintenance the area got overgrown. 

The plan was created but no budget was available. Children wrote letters to companies asking for donation towards the redevelopment.  They were very lucky and the donation started to come in from a range of local businesses and individuals.


The first action was to create more seating areas, storage and places of interest.  Alena and the team installed a used shed. It was destined for skip but with a new roof and floor, it’s now great. It provides storage for  gardening tools. 


The vegetable bed was too big. With only half an hour a week of gardening club it wasn’t manageable. ( We have no gardening club at this moment). So the bed was filled with shingle, slugs don’t like crawling across.

New raised planters were sourced. These are big enough for growing veggies and herbs and hopefully easy to manage. Three of the planters were made from different leftovers of wood and two were a donation. Planters have quotes written on. As it gives the teachers opportunity to use them not just for growing but for English as well. 


We have already had the greenhouse but unfortunately it was outside of the area, in the school grounds. That made it difficult for teachers to use. So it was taken apart and put back together in more suitable place. 

Outdoor Classroom

The existing classroom had a new white board fitted up. You can also see several book/author quotes in the classroom.  The older children get the more quotes they should recognise. Quotes are from books they read at school. Quotes have no attribution on purpose.  And there still is lots of space to add more. 

Next to the classroom is another storage cupboard. This one is for teaching supplies only. It contains stationary, very old scales, Viking and Egyptian hieroglyphs, number and letter stones, story stones for each year group, etc. There is also a list of activities related to different parts of curriculum.  

Fairy Garden

The team has created a fairy garden. Especially for younger years. It should help with imagination and story telling. Children can also create their own fairy gardens.  They have boxes with “loose parts” in the greenhouse.  They can use sticks, pinecones, bark, seashell. 

Bug Hotel

The bug house was rebuild from untidy mess into a 5*hotel.  A “Checkers” seating area with a board for games was built from leftover landscaping materials. 

As you might have noticed there are lots of ridge tiles through out the garden.  These ridges came from the actual school roof after last year’s renovation. There for they are over 100 years old and great part of the school’s history.

Literature in a Garden Setting

One of the newly added seating areas in “Narnia corner”.

The bench was given to us but it was in unusable state. We replaced the slats. It was suppose to be just a bench by the lions in the armrests sparked our imagination.  Quote for Chronicles of Narnia was added. And then the lamp post. Someone had the actual lamp sitting in garage for years. Now we just need a post.  The post came from the old Hamilton site, before it was demolished.  It consists of two pool table legs: a small piece of Knebworth history.

A mouse took a stroll through the deep dark wood.  And if you look carefully, you can just about see it. But be careful the snake, owl and fox are hiding close by.

Another new seating are is our reading nook. The whole nook was built from leftover landscaping materials that would have just ended up in the skip. Apart from the sail. The sail was one of the few things we bought.  Luckily we have received a financial donation as well. 

Things we had to buy were: compost for raised planters, plants, sail.

The Pond

Last but not least. Pond seating area. Bench was discovered on clearance job. Once again it only need a bit of paint and new slats.

We installed a box for pond dipping weeds. Box has gaps big enough for any bugs being able to crawl out back to the pond. 

Wild flowers area.

We have already had the bench. It has plaque with signatures of people who were involved in the rebuit in 2013.

We have installed the picket fence  for couple of reasons.  It is the only area we don’t mind nettles, brambles to grow. Nettles are a feeding plant for butterfly caterpillars. We will have some foxgloves growing there as well. And it’s an area we don’t want children to pick plants from. Everywhere else they are ok to cut and chop. As long as they follow the simple rule of foraging.

*One for the bees, one for birds, one for bugs, one for butterflies and one for me.* 

It has been decided that the  Environment Area should be given a new name: The Wildlife haven. This is so recent a decision that the sign has not yet been made.

You can use The North Herts Self Build and Custom Build Register to register yourself as wanting a plot in the District for a self-build home.

New rules came into effect on 31 October 2016 which amended the Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Act 2015 and implemented Chapter 2 of the Housing and Planning Act 2016 which sets out provisions to support self-build and custom housebuilding.

This means that the second and final part of the Right to Build, placing a duty on relevant authorities to make land available to meet the demand on their self-build and custom housebuilding registers, has now come into force and the Right to Build is now fully implemented.

The legislation requires ‘relevant authorities’ to keep a register of individuals and associations of individuals who are seeking to acquire serviced plots of land in the authority’s area and to have regard to that register when carrying out their functions. Unless exempt, they also have a legal duty to grant sufficient ‘development permissions’ to meet the demand for self-build and custom housebuilding in their area.

Regulation 2 (Time for compliance with duty to grant planning permission) specifies three years as the period within which the required number of development permissions relating to a ‘base period’ must be granted to satisfy the duty (as set out in the Housing and Planning Act 2016).

Yesterday I spoke at a Planning Control Committee meeting. I was supporting the Parish Council, in the form of Cllr Roger Willcocks, in objecting to application, ‘17/02652/1 - 135A LONDON ROAD, KNEBWORTH, SG3 6EX’. This is the conversion of the old aggregates yard, part of Chas Lowe & Sons, into two 2-bed flats and two commercial (retail) units. The grounds on which we objected were principally to do with parking.

Although we did our best to convince the committee to refuse permission, only two members agreed with us. The minimum parking standards had not been met, but the committee accepted that the location justified relaxing the standard. The full argument, as well as the text of the Parish Council objection, can be read in the report of the Planning officer.

In a case like this, where the vote goes the ‘wrong’ way, my view is that the time has not been wasted as the committee’s attention is drawn to the desperately bad parking situation in the village, and may be less inclined to grant another similar application, having, perhaps, more appreciation of the severe cumulative impact of so many high-density developments going on in Knebworth.

Full details of the application can be read on the NHDC Planning Portal. Just search for the reference number on the application (in this case ‘17/02652/1’).

As you may know, the Government have recently issued a consultation on powers for dealing with unauthorised developments and encampments. The consultation document can be found here.

Questions include: 1. What evidence is there of unauthorised development and encampments in your community, and what issues does this raise for the local community?

  1. We would like to invite evidence of unauthorised encampments which have occurred in the last 2 years, as follows:
    • the number of instances where trespassers have occupied land without authorisation, including the location and scale of the encampment.
    • whether the land in a) required cleaning or repair once the encampment had left, and if so, what was the cost?
    • how was each unauthorised encampment encouraged to leave, how long did it take, and was the local authority able to move them on; or did the police became involved?
  2. Do you think that the existing powers made available to local authorities to remove unauthorised campers from land are effective?

  3. Do you think local authorities could improve their use of existing powers?

  4. What other powers may help local authorities deal with unauthorised encampments?

  5. Do you consider that the current powers for police to direct trespassers to leave land are effective?

  6. Would any new or revised powers that enable police to direct trespassers to leave land make it easier to deal with unauthorised encampments?

  7. Do you consider that the Government should consider criminalising unauthorised encampments, in addition to the offence of aggravated trespass? If so, how should a new offence differ, and what actions and circumstances should it apply to?

  8. What barriers are there to the greater use of injunctions by local authorities, where appropriate, and how might they be overcome?

  9. Do you have any suggestions or examples of how local authorities, the police, the courts and communities can work together more successfully to improve community relations and address issues raised by unauthorised encampments?

  10. Are there ways in which court processes might be modified in a proportionate way to ensure unauthorised encampments can be addressed more quickly?

  11. In your view, what would the advantages and disadvantages be of extending the IPO process to open land? Are you aware of any specific barriers which prevent the effective use of current planning enforcement powers?

  12. If you are aware of any specific barriers to effective enforcement, are there any resourcing or administrative arrangements that can help overcome them?

  13. Are you aware of any specific barriers which prevent the effective use of temporary stop notices? If so, do you have a view on how these barriers can be overcome?

  14. How do you think the existing enforcement notice appeals process can be improved or streamlined?

  15. How can Government make existing guidance more effective in informing and changing behaviour?

  16. If future guidance was issued as statutory guidance, would this help in taking action against unauthorised development and encampments?

  17. Are there any specific barriers to the provision of more authorised permanent and transit sites? If so, is there any action that the Government could take to help overcome those barriers?

  18. What impact would extending local authority, police or land owner powers have on children and families and other groups with protected characteristics that public authorities must, in the exercise of its functions, have due regard to under their Public Sector Equality Duty?

  19. Do you expect that extending the powers referred to above would have a positive or negative impact on the health or educational outcomes of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities? If so, do you have any evidence to support this view, and/or suggestions for what could be done to mitigate or prevent any negative impacts?

  20. Do you have any other comments to make on the issue of unauthorized development and encampments not specifically addressed by any of the questions above?

Station Pub Planning Application (Ref 17/01622/1)

It was good to see the support at the Pop Up Pub in the village hall last month, held as part of the SOSPUB Campaign (see photo). The planning application for the Station Pub, which retains a pub but includes development of part of the site into flats, is still to come before the NHDC Planning Control Committee, this month’s meeting is on Thursday 15th March, 7.30pm. I gave fairly extensive additional comments last month which you can find here:

Changes to brown bin service

You should all have received a leaflet about changes to the waste and recycling services being made in May. The leaflet is available on NHDC’s website: and this page is also the one to sign up through if you wish to use the brown bin service. To keep costs to a minimum NHDC is asking everyone who can to use the online option, but you can pay by phone via the general number, 01462 474000, and selecting waste services. The cost is £40 a year for one bin, with an early bird discount of £35 available if you sign up by the end of March. Payment can be by debit or credit card.

NHDC Budget 2018-19

The budget for 2018-19 was agreed at the full council meeting held in February. Total net budgeted expenditure will be £14.6m. To give some context, in 2010, total net spend for NHDC was running at £18m. Throughout the long march to reduce costs, the focus for NHDC has been to protect front-line services: those which directly affect residents of North Herts.

Of the £14.6m net expenditure, Council Tax will pay for the lion’s share, £11m, and the rest comes from Business Rates and New Homes Bonus. There are considerable increased costs flowing through as a result of various inflationary and contractual increases. Offsetting these increases are savings, primarily from the new Waste Collection and Street Cleaning contract which covers all the services the council must provide as a statutory obligation. This is around £2m per annum cheaper than the current one with Veolia, which has been running for 14 years, and some additional savings are expected in 2019-20.

The result of all this effort is that the increase in Council Tax for next year will be £6.49 for a Band D property for the year, to £223.45. Your total Council Tax bill is much higher than this as NHDC collects the tax on behalf of Herts County Council, the Herts Police, and Knebworth Parish Council.