My experience of the Station Pub in Knebworth is not one that makes me want to go back. The pub is cold, noisy and rarely populated by anyone I know. This is a pity, as it’s a very short distance from where I live. A few months ago, word went out that it had been advertised for sale. There were a few discussions about it in the Parish Council, where we decided that we’d better apply for it to be listed as an asset of community value. Planning applications to develop a very high density development of flats have been received for the site across the road, which have so far been refused, but eventually will result in some residential development happening. In spite of the fact that this is not something that anyone who lives in the village want to see built.

On Thursday, heard that the pub had closed its doors, and the staff had been redeployed in other Greene King pubs nearby. A flurry of activity happened, which resulted in:

  • a new Twitter account was set up to tweet the latest news about the pub,
  • a new Facebook being set up that rapidly went from zero to around 600 members by the end of the weekend,
  • a new website being created, which has received hundreds of hits,
  • a mailing list being set up to collect pledges and offers to help with a campaign.

You can see the website here, where you’ll find links to all the aspects of the campaign’s web presence.

What is quite astonishing is how rapidly the residents of Knebworth could be alerted to the closing of the pub and the existence of a campaign to save it. I have always been an advocate of local politicians using social media, usually in the face of extreme skepticism from the assembled company. Although I’d like to think that this example would persuade them of the effectiveness of the web, my experience is that people can be very obdurate in their views.

The Station Pub, Knebworth

I was contacted yesterday, in my capacity as ward councillor, about the closure of the Station Pub. This is the only pub in the village, and, since it is right in the centre, was very visible.

I recommended creating a Facebook Group. I had a meeting, and someone else set up the group.

Today I found that hundreds had already joined, and a further three hundred were queing up to join today.

The rate of joining this group was astonishing. I am now convinced that mailing lists are comprehensively obsoleted by Facebook.

Some people do not use FB, but the ease of adding someone to a group is so great that there is no other medium that can work so quickly. The problem is that this only works when the campaign is something that people are seriously affected by, or at least interested in. A cause that nobody cares about much will go nowhere.

My experience of the Twittersphere

I’ve been on Twitter for a long time. Since 2007. From a time before Stephen Fry discovered the medium, and many years before Donald Trump did so. I’ve mainly used it passively. I kept my account private, and followed only those authors whose work interested me. A lot of libertarian comment and analysis, some humour, especially the dark side. I have a number of followers, but get virtually no engagement with them. They are either people I follow, and feel that it is only good manners to follow back, or people who somehow have the email address linked to the account in the address book they have handed over to Twitter Inc.

Although I have never tweeted anything very incendiary, and do not follow anyone I wouldn’t want my mother to know I was following, I decided that when I was elected I’d better start a new account for the political me. This happened in 2014, and I’ve been quietly tweeting since, without much traction.

Of late I’ve decided to integrate a bit more automation, using ifttt.com, and simply linking my Twitter account to a FB page. I’d previously auto tweeted from my Tumblr blog, but that never seemed to do any good.

Anyway, for reasons quite beyond me, my follower numbers seem to be accelerating. The threat to close the Station Pub seems a catalyst. Maybe it’s just that my odd retweet is enough to create a sustaining wave. I confess to paying a magnificent £10 to promote one tweet, but I don’t think I’ll be doing that again in a hurry, as there seems to be no way to localize the audience, in contrast to FB.

Rail Services from Knebworth - Timetable Consultation

Consultation has finished.

The consultation for the timetable for Govia Thameslink Railways is on-going but will close at 17:00 on 8th December. The proposals represent a significant change to the current service for Knebworth as the stopping trains will now all come from Cambridge (rather than alternately Cambridge and Peterborough), and become Thameslink services going into St Pancras. Most significantly, this would mean Knebworth would not benefit from the fast services as present, although there are some suggestions that GTR have already had second thoughts about this. Evenings and Saturday services may be significantly reduced and proposals also suggest that Knebworth goes back to having only one train per hour throughout the day on Sundays.

Our MP, Stephen McPartland, has made a formal response, available on his website, and the Parish Council is actively preparing one, which should be available on their website also. Full details on the proposals and how to respond are on the Great Northern Thameslink website: http://www.thameslinkrailway.com/your-journey/timetable-consultation

North Herts Leisure Centre and Council Offices Refurbishment

Work is progressing on refurbishing the North Herts Leisure Centre in Letchworth. Much of this work was essential to keep the facility functioning safely, but a new pool and cafe are included in the works. This centre, which is operated by Stevenage Leisure Ltd on behalf of the council, produces revenue for the Council, which will go up under the agreed contractual arrangements once the work is complete.

The project to refurbish the Council Offices will soon be underway. It is expected that the work will start in the next month or so, and that staff will be relocated to other offices around the area. The work is being project managed by local firm, Wilmott Dixon. All staff will be ‘decanted’ from the existing District Council Offices to Town Lodge over the course of this month. Town Lodge is also in Gernon Road, but opposite the Broadway Cinema.

NHDC Planning Portal

The council’s planning portal is being upgraded, to a more functional system. This will continue to be supplied by Idox PLC., the current operator. A number of you have noticed how unsatisfactory the current system is. I encourage you to try the new one and send your feed back to me or to NHDC at service@north-herts.gov.uk.

you when I have more details.

NHDC Local Plan – Public Consultation Period 19th October

to end November

The local public meeting ahead of the Parish Council meeting went ahead as planned on Wednesday 12th October. The hall was full, with many of those attending having to stand. The only occasion I can recall coming close to this level of attendance was the meeting to discuss the NHDC Preferred Options, in the fourth quarter of 2014.

Paul Ward delivered an excellent summary of the Local Plan process. This set the context and enabled members of the public to understand better how they could participate effectively in the Local Plan consultation process. Both of your District Councillors were present, and did their best to answer the questions addressed to them.

The Parish Council, in its regular meeting after the public meeting, decided to allocate a budget to cover the cost of a planning consultant to help it produce its response to the Local Plan consultation which started on the 19th October and will run until the end of November. All residents are encouraged to read the Plan, which will be available in the Library, and online, and to submit their representations. A new improved online system for recording representations will be accessible via the District Council’s website, or an email to localplan@north-herts.gov.uk, or a letter to Planning Policy, Local Plan Consultation, North Hertfordshire District Council, PO Box 480, M33 0DE. Please ensure that you make it very clear which section of the Plan your representation relates to. As I have explained previously, these representations will be collated by NHDC and submitted to the Planning Inspector ahead of the Public Enquiry, which is currently expected to take place in the second quarter of 2017.

NHDC Revised Grants Policy

The revised Grants Policy, now adopted, has reduced the total amount of money available for grants from the Council, and restricted the groups which are eligible. One of the big changes is that ‘precepting bodies’, such as Parish Councils are not allowed to ask NHDC for grants. The basis for this is that they already have the power to raise money from local residents via Council Tax. Historically, parish councils have been a big recipient of NHDC Grants, so even with a reduced budget there is an opportunity for local community groups to obtain funding. The grant-awarding committee which covers Knebworth, Codicote and other southern parishes is Southern Rural. It still has a budget of around £18,000 to spend by the end of the Civic Year, so now is the time to write your applications ready for the next committee meeting, which is on 1st December.

Note that there is a separate committee which overseas capital grants for village halls, community halls and the like. This is the Community Facilities Capital Projects Fund. The current four-year programme has one million pounds to disburse for capital projects. Parish councils are permitted to apply for capital funding from this fund.