Here I am again, writing up October on Guy Fawkes Eve, and can hardly believe how fast Christmas is looming upon us. I have now come to realise that all months will be busy! So here goes:
Thursday 4th: 6.30pm meeting at Campus West to discuss the Core Strategy emerging from the Council’s Cabinet Housing and Planning Panel’s meeting that I attended on 27th September. This meeting formed the start of the process for setting out the Council’s preferred strategy for the Borough to 2029, including how many homes should be built, releasing land from the Green Belt and strategies for jobs and economy. Public consultation is scheduled to take place between 12th November 2012 and 18th January 2013.
Friday 5th: Spent half of the day on emails and general correspondence.
Tuesday 9th: Discussed a ward planning application with the handling Planning Officer and also chased up a TPO application. Later that day, I received a request from a resident of Welwyn Garden City for help and advice on setting up and funding a local community project. I explained that I was a Councillor for Welwyn West and that she should really be asking her two local councillors in Handside ward. I made a few suggestions, which I hope were helpful, and provided her with the appropriate names and contact information. I hope she has been successful as her idea for a Complementary Therapy Group Drop-In Centre for WGC appeared to be a very good one.
Wednesday 10th: I received a letter this morning from a company in Welwyn who had been writing letters of complaint to Serco about damage caused to property by their vehicles since October 2011. No acknowledgement of any correspondence had been received! Copies of the correspondence and photographs of the damage had been sent to WHBC Chief Executive, Leader Cllr John Dean, Cllr Colin Couch, and me. I raised this matter with all officers concerned and copied in the WHT on the situation.
Thursday 11th: Planning Control Committee Meeting at 7.30pm. Unfortunately, I was not allowed to sit on the Panel that evening as I had attended a meeting with Lands Development, the company handling the Frythe project in Welwyn, which made me ineligible to vote. As a “new Councillor” I had been unaware of the implications of responding to their request for a meeting; which I attended on Council premises, accompanied by a local member of the village Planning and Amenities Group. I had, however, consulted with local people and businesses, as well as the Parish Council, and prepared a 3 minute presentation in support of the project – whilst stressing the absolute need for the necessary infrastructure to be in place before building is completed. The village needs young people and new residents to grow and prosper; keeping its businesses vibrant and supported. However, the local school is already at capacity, as is the sewerage system and the road links to the A1(M) so these factors will have to be given due consideration as the building progresses. All in all, it is an excellent project and promises to be extremely attractive on completion.
Saturday 13th: At 9.30am I joined a group of fellow councillors at Campus East and we set off in a minibus for a “Planning Training Tour” of Welwyn Hatfield. The morning’s session comprised of visits to the University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield and the Royal Veterinary College at Potters Bar, both organisations having recent development projects that had been approved by the WHBC Planning Control Committee. It was the most interesting and informative tour and I enjoyed every moment of it, although I was frankly surprised by the relative lack of interest from other councillors – only 7 bothered to attend, most of whom were members of the Planning Control Committee! For something so important and relevant to what WHBC is all about, I would have thought that a Saturday morning would be a small price to pay for the amount of information the trip provided. The University of Hertfordshire’s new buildings were truly awe-inspiring, in particular the Law Court Building: only a year old; zero carbon; self-heating; self-regulated lighting; natural ventilation; water efficient with rainwater harvesting and soft landscaping that requires no irrigation. It has a merited award for the most sustainable construction in 2011 and a BREEAM excellent rating. The roof has a cover of sedum, providing top ecological value, as well as solar panels that provide the heat and power. I could have spent the day there! Sadly we had to move on, but I plan to return on an Open Day to see the rest of the campus.
The next stop was the Royal Veterinary College. This is obviously a much older site, with certain developmental limitations. However, we inspected the new student accommodation blocks and were much impressed by both the design and energy-saving features, together with excellent security measures that were combined with a peaceful and pleasant ambiance. It had been many years since my last visit to the RVC and I was delighted to see how much the site had improved and developed.
Sunday 14th: I was about to go out to enjoy a Sunday Carvery Lunch in a local hostelry, when my telephone rang! Some young lads had decided to play “water bombs” with the contents of the Dog Litter Bin on Hobbs Hill and had literally splattered the surrounding area of roadway, pathway, cars, houses and gardens, with dog excrement. As this pathway leads directly to St Mary’s Primary School, there was no question of leaving the matter unattended as the children would have to negotiate the debris in the morning. Having lost the appetite for lunch, I got on the phone, firstly to WHBC’s “out of hours” service – to discover that this is for social housing emergencies only! My next course of action was the local police and then County Council Highways, who were absolutely marvellous and cleared the whole mess by 4.30pm when I went back to inspect. Considering what we pay for Serco, I think we should have an emergency call out number to them, don’t you? Fortunately, this kind of incident is pretty uncommon in the village, which the police confirmed. I don’t blame the children who did it – I blame the parents who raised them with no consideration for their home environment or their fellow man, and no comprehension of right or wrong doing.
Monday 15th: At 7.30pm I attended a Welwyn Hatfield Highways Liaison Meeting at Campus West, Chaired by Herts County Councillor Richard Smith. This provided details of the successor arrangements for the Highways Joint Members Panels and an update on the Herts Local and Highway Locality budgets. It was a useful and informative meeting, which was encouragingly very well attended by councillors and Parish councillors from throughout the Borough.
Wednesday 17th: I received a phone call concerning another “tree” problem at Parkside and made an appointment to visit. I also received a letter from a resident of Panshanger, raising a serious complaint about a Hatfield matter. I telephoned to explain that this was not my ward, but was told that a copy had been sent to all councillors – and that I was the only one who had responded! I made an appointment to visit. Much of the remainder of the day was spent on emails and paperwork!
Thursday 18th: At 10.45am I visited a lady in Parkside to follow up on the problem raised with me yesterday. This is a tricky one, in which the Council has a minimal involvement. There is little I could do other than to sympathise and offer suggestions as to a course of action to be followed. There is an enormous Oak Tree in her garden, the roots of which have rendered quite a large wall cracked and dangerous. It has to be taken down and replaced by a supported, flexible wooden fence. The tree could also do with some pruning and reduction. This means a planning application for both aspects of the work and, even if the tree work is granted, it will only grow larger again in a few years. I am afraid this is yet another example of developers building properties too close to mature, protected, trees, which then invariably cause problems to walls and other buildings after a few years. Until such time as a law is passed instructing Planning Committees to refuse development permission to builders unless they make adequate provision for future projected tree damage, it is beyond our control. Meanwhile, people will continue to suffer the effects of trees that, at the time of property purchase didn’t present a problem, but 10 years down the line were causing serious problems and major expense.
At 5.00pm, I visited the lady in Panshanger who had written to me and discussed the matter in more detail. The details are confidential at this stage as it is likely that they will be taken further. I will report more on this when I am able to.
At 6.30pm I went on to a meeting with my website manager and Shaun O’Reilly, Chairman of the Welwyn Garden City Society. It was very interesting to get an update of WGC’s problems and projects and to see how active the Society is in the protection of its environment.
Friday 19th: I spent a very frustrating morning trying to access my WHBC website, which was down again and I particularly needed some important information from my own files on the site, for a meeting that day. At lunchtime I went to the new Welwyn Hatfield Times offices in Campus West to take some further information and paperwork about “bin complaints” to one of the reporters. I also stopped by the premises of a company in Welwyn to hand-deliver my response to their letter of 9th October concerning damage caused by Serco and to advise of the action I had taken.
Saturday 20th: 10.00 to 10.45 am – My monthly Councillor’s Surgery at St Mary’s Church House, Welwyn. This time, Cllr Mandy Perkins and I had no visitors and used the time usefully to update on current issues. County Cllr Richard Smith joined us at the end of the session.
Monday 22nd: I attended the Independent Group Annual Conference in Westminster. This time there were no “incidents” en route! I spent the most rewarding and stimulating day with other Independent Councillors from all over the UK. I learned of the problems encountered in the Isles of Scilly, and on the Isle of Wight, and was thrilled to discover that many Borough Councils have several Independent councillors, who are treated with respect and consideration. I wish I could say the same for WHBC, where the Leader has made my position as difficult as possible since the day of my election! The event was attended by a group of students, studying Politics at De Montfort University, Bedford, and small group sessions took place in a “speed-dating” format. Some questions raised were very useful and it was good to get one-to-one input from young people. After lunch, there was a “Speakers Corner”: giving an opportunity for 8 councillors to tell the Conference attendees what “challenged, inspired and frustrated” them in local government. Unexpectedly, I was given a slot and didn’t have time to be nervous, or to prepare what I was going to say! Just as well – it then came from the heart! The person who spoke before me was incredibly funny and was a tough act to follow, but from the applause I received, I guess I must have done OK! My Challenge: Living up to my own standards and ideals and achieving what I had set out to do. My Inspiration: Finding that it is possible to effect change and to really make a difference. My Frustration: Party politics – both in the community and on the Council! At the end of the day, there was a Reception with Lord Laming, Convenor of the Cross Bench and Independent Peers in the House of Lords. His talk, together with that of a colleague, was very enlightening. There was also an abundance of food as the students had been catered for also but, due to a misunderstanding, had not attended! All in all, it was an amazing and thoroughly enjoyable day. I can’t wait for next year!
Tuesday 23rd: At 7.30pm I attended a meeting updating the progress on the appeal to protect the River Mimram from over-abstraction by Affinity Water (formerly Veolia). This was held at Digswell Village Hall and was well attended. Further action is needed and your support is vital. Details are on The Friends of the Mimram website under whotolobby.html. Please help by writing to Richard Bienfait, CEO of Affinity Water, stating why a reduction in abstraction from the River Mimram is important. A copy should go to Regina Finn, CEO of OFWAT and to Grant Shapps MP. This needs to be done by mid-December at the latest.
Wednesday 24th: At 12:00 noon I attended a light lunch followed by the AGM of the Welwyn Hatfield Women’s Refuge. There was a most informative talk by a speaker from HM Foreign and Commonwealth Office Forced Marriage Unit, and I learned much from my discussions with those who help and support the Refuge. I was honoured to be asked to volunteer as a Trustee and will be pleased to help out in any way I can, but not in a formal capacity this year!
At 2.30pm I donned chunky wellies, a hard hat, yellow high-viz jacket, and set out for an informal visit round The Frythe development site. The site manager, Deny O’Leary, gave me an excellent tour and I am excited at the prospect of what a very beautiful place this will be when completed. The majority of trees have been retained and it will be a very special place to live, bringing new life to the village and hopefully continued prosperity to its businesses.
Thursday 25th: The throat and chest infection, which started on Tuesday afternoon, finally took hold of me and I had to cancel my proposed visit to the Private View of the new Maynard Gallery at Campus West, which I had been looking forward to attending that evening.
Friday 26th: At 11.00am, in the pouring rain and still feeling really ill, I attended the arranged photo-shoot with the WHT of the new fence between Lockleys Drive bungalows and the Welwyn Allotments. Due to the very inclement weather, I was only able to persuade one resident to come out for a photo, and there were no gardeners working on the allotments that day either. This gentleman was the first person to report the fallen fence – last December! What amazes me still is that the replacement fence, at a fraction of the cost of the old one, took only one and a half days to erect; but took over 10 months to approve and instigate and, without my constant nagging, would probably still be an item “on the fence”! The new fence offers a better outlook for the residents and more light for the allotment holders, as well as being very cheap to maintain compared to the old one – so it’s a win-win situation all round.
I went back home to bed and had to cancel my planned attendance at the Welwyn Anglo-French Twinning Association event at Welwyn Civic Centre that evening.
The weekend found me equally “indisposed” and on Monday morning, October 29th, weighed down with antibiotics and cough remedies, I went off for a much needed week’s holiday to Sardinia.