Due to volume of work and time restrictions, I have combined two months this time. I apologise for the long read, but hope that you find it interesting and informative!
Thurs 3rd: I attended the first Planning Control Committee meeting of the year and on the 5th I went away for a much needed week’s holiday in warm sunshine – returning to Luton Airport on 13th January to -2 degrees and snow!
I spent almost a week catching up on emails and correspondence. Fortunately, most meetings were cancelled due to the heavy snow, so I didn’t have to miss anything important. As soon as the snow cleared a little, it was back to work as usual:
Wed 16th: I received an email from a Parish Councillor asking me to assist two social housing residents with problems they were having over redecorations. I contacted the CHT and await their response.
Sat 19th: Email from social housing resident in The Crescent who was having problems with pot holes and surface break-up of his access road. Started communications with CHT.
Tues 22nd: I attended the full Council Meeting at Campus West at 7:30pm.
Wed 23rd: I attended a 3 hour meeting at Campus East to go through queries that my Lib Dem Group Members and I had raised on the proposed WHBC Budget. That evening I was due to attend a Public Meeting about the Mimram in Bayfordbury, but started flu’. After 2 days in bed, I started working again and there were many issues raised by email: The theft of salt from salt bins in Welwyn West; queries about rough sleepers in the bitter weather and what was being done to help them; problems with the School Run and traffic on the London Road, to select just a few! I spent the 26th and 27th working on these issues.
Mon 28th: I attended the Holocaust Memorial Day Ceremony at the Reiss Memorial in Welwyn Garden City from 11.00am to 12 noon. It was a moving occasion and Mayor Helen Bromley released two white doves to symbolise the wish for peace. That evening I attended a meeting at The Synagogue in WGC and appreciated the very interesting talk given by a Holocaust survivor. I took the opportunity to share some experiences and information that I had gained from a visit to Poland.
My recycling bin was also stolen that day!
Tues 29th: Visited sites for PCC meeting on Thursday evening.
Wed 30th: Full day of emails, phone calls and correspondence, following up on issues raised earlier.
Thurs 31st: 7:30pm Planning Control Committee Meeting at Campus West.
Fri 1st: 4:00pm meeting with the Lib Dem Members of my Group and Bob Baldock at WHBC.
Mon 4th: 9:30am meeting with PC Ben Satchfield to discuss recent issues and to update on outstanding matters.
At 7:30pm I attended the Special Council Meeting at Campus West. This meeting was to approve the Council’s Budget proposals and was indeed very confrontational. There was a police presence for security as the public area was also full on this occasion! I had read the proposed budget very carefully for, as an Independent Councillor, I felt it very important to have my own views and to be true to them. I made the following speech, which I would like to share with you:
“I would like to state that, although part of a Group within the Council, I am a totally Independent Councillor and, as such, am not bound by any party influences, party line or party whip. I am the only Independent Councillor WHBC has at the moment.
I feel that independent thought should be paramount when casting a vote, regardless of the origin of a proposal. I also feel that criticism of a proposal should not be made unless accompanied by an alternative suggestion.
The Budget presented this evening is the result of many hours of very hard work. It is also produced under constraints that are almost unworkable – as time may well prove.
On the whole, I think this Budget could be far worse and, although there are some aspects with which I do not agree, there are many points that I do find acceptable.
I only hope that, if on a future occasion I raise a query in respect of one of the former, I am not told: ‘You can’t complain because you voted for it.’ So, with some reservations, I give my support to the proposal.”
There was a lot of antagonism and criticism bandied back and forth during the meeting, but not one person put forward any sensible or coherent alternatives to what had been proposed. It was just objection for the sake of it and I would have been delighted to hear some positive suggestions instead of negativity and aggression!
Tues 5th: 9:15am meeting at Parkside to meet a senior Planning Officer to discuss an ongoing problem involving a wall and an oak tree! A solution seems to be possible and the officer was extremely helpful. The resident had been extremely stressed by the situation for several months and the outcome now looks positively hopeful.
Wed 6th: Morning meeting with a resident in Hollybush Ward. She had two major issues needing assistance and I promised to pass these on to the appropriate councillor for her ward.
2:30pm Meeting on the access road to Danesbury Park with Herts County Cllr Richard Smith, officers from WHBC Environment and their opposite numbers at Herts CC. This was to search for a solution to the lack of a signpost problem which was causing damage and inconvenience to the property of Danesbury residents. It was an extremely cold and windy corner, which perhaps, after considerable discussion, contributed to a satisfactory conclusion being reached and speedy action promised. I am delighted to announce another happy outcome, facilitated by working together, for the good of the community with Herts County Cllr Richard Smith.
Then back again to Campus West at 7:00pm that evening for a Planning Training Session on Enforcement. This was very interesting and well worth the time.
For the next 2 days I concentrated on getting some of the outstanding issues sorted out, including information for two planning applications in which I have become involved. I was also contacted again by a resident of Panshanger, asking for further assistance with an issue she was raising over the Hatfield Swim Centre. I had previously suggested that she contact two other councillors for her ward, but she still felt the need for the help of an Independent.
Fri 8th: Visits to Planning Officers at Campus East to discuss current issues. I was contacted by a resident of Brookmans Park concerning WHBC’s Core Strategy and was asked to contact others on his behalf who might be able to assist. This I did.
Sun 10th: Further contact from Brookmans Park. I spoke to fellow councillors and forwarded responses to the BP resident.
Sat 16th: SURGERY at St Mary’s, Welwyn. We had a busy morning and, for the first time, not even a moment for a coffee! Two gentlemen, representing a local residents association, came to raise concerns about inappropriate development in their road. We discussed this at length and it was decided that immediate action was needed. I undertook to follow up. We were also visited by a resident who was complaining about the condition of the rear car park and bin storage area of the Tesco store in Welwyn Village. Following the surgery, I inspected the rear of the Tesco store and arranged a meeting with the Manager for Monday morning.
Sun 17th: I visited both areas of concern raised at the Surgery. The inappropriate development was indeed so and I spent the afternoon writing to all departments concerned at WHBC and North Herts District Council as the property falls into the catchment area for both. I also spoke with the planning portfolio holder at North Herts, who was extremely helpful. The matter is now receiving the full attention of enforcement and planning officers from both councils and the residents are reassured that prompt and adequate action has been taken on their behalf.
Mon 18th: I met with Cllr Mandy Perkins at 8:45am and we inspected the area to the rear of the Tesco store. We found it to be clean and tidy, with minimal litter other than cigarette ends, which were well away from the road and path. We went in to meet the store Manager, David, at 9:00am. We discussed the complaints in detail and found the Manager to be co-operative and very helpful, especially as some of the issues raised had been minimal or no longer valid. He agreed to install a cigarette bin at the rear of the property and to encourage his staff to use that and not the ground for used butts, as well as ensuring that no dirty water is washed down into the roadway on future occasions. Cllr Perkins and I agreed to report back to the resident who had raised the complaints in due course.
2:30pm Meeting at Whitehill Car Park with Parish Councillors; Herts County Cllr Richard Smith and WHBC Planning Officer to discuss problems with planning application for security and lighting in the refurbished car park. Due to the restrictions of the site being in the Green Belt, problems had arisen but, after much discussion, a possible compromise was proposed and a new application will be submitted by the Parish Council asap.
Tuesday 19th: In the late afternoon I visited the social housing tenants who had raised queries in January via a Parish Councillor concerning redecoration of their homes. One had been completed, but the other is still on a waiting list, after 2 years, so I am actively pursuing the matter with the CHT.
Wednesday 20th: A resident of Hollybush ward complained to me about a Hippo Skip full of rubbish that had been left on the grass verge outside a CHT property since before Christmas. It had been reported to WHBC but no action had been taken. I passed the information to the ward councillor and asked for this to be investigated.
Friday 22nd: Visited sites in Welwyn East and Hatfield that were on the Agenda for the next Planning Control Committee meeting.
Sunday 24th: I joined the Welwyn Village Clean Up Group at 11.00am in the village’s central car park. The group was founded in March 2008 and is made up of local volunteers who are keen to keep their lovely village as clean as possible, improving the environment for residents, pets and wildlife. Organiser, Sarah Butcher, distributed collection sacks and pickers and routes planned out. The temperature was only just above zero, but this in no way affected the warmth or enthusiasm of the group. I was deeply impressed by the support shown on such a cold day and was amazed at how much 10 people could achieve in a couple of hours. In just over an hour I had a bag so full that I could barely carry it! It is sad that so many people don’t think when tossing things out of car windows, or just throwing cans and bottles on the ground when they are empty. I would like to instigate a litter awareness campaign throughout the Borough and would ask Serco to rethink their policy of not picking up plastic bottles and tin cans from verges before mowing them. I found so many mangled and flattened pieces of plastic and metal which don’t decompose, they just stay there until someone picks them up. If Serco did their job properly in the first place it would make a huge difference!
The Welwyn Village Clean Up Group meets every month. If you would like to help, please check out the website http://www.litteraction.org.uk/welwyn-village-clean-up-group
Monday 25th: I spent some time during the day preparing papers for Thursday’s Planning meeting and also answering correspondence. In the evening I attended the Welwyn Parish Council meeting at 7:30pm, not getting home until well after 10:00pm.
Tuesday 26th: I followed up on the Hollybush rubbish skip complaint, as no action had been taken.
Wednesday 27th: I attended the Special Council Meeting at Campus West at 7:30 pm where the Council Tax proposals for 2013/14 were accepted by vote.
Thursday 28th: I spent the day finalising material that I needed for the evening’s meeting. This was my first time of “calling-in” applications and my two had come up on the same Agenda today. I was a little nervous and anxious not to do anything wrong, so asked advice from a couple of members on procedure. I then discovered that I needed to have reasons and conditions ready to submit, in the event that they were required, so made last-minute calls to Planning Department to get the information I needed. I was also totally confused as I had been under the impression that I could not participate as a member of the committee as I had called in the applications, but had been told by a senior officer that I was allowed to do so. This was then confirmed to me by another senior officer, so I left my papers for a 3 minute speech unfinished and went to the meeting prepared to take part as usual.
I arrived for the meeting at 7:15pm for 7:30. Just 5 minutes before the meeting was due to start, I was told by the Head of Planning that I could not take part! The rest of the story is subject to an official complaint, so I won’t go into details. Suffice it to say that I had an absolutely horrendous evening. Democracy was most definitely not in action. Information was poorly presented and inaccurate, resulting in the refusal of an application that was, in my view, totally unjust. I went home absolutely seething and spent a sleepless night! The saga of this episode will continue into March and I will report the outcome in my next update.
As you may have noted, I get quite a lot of requests to assist people who are not in my Ward. This would indicate that more Independent Councillors could be a very good thing for Welwyn Hatfield and I would be delighted if like-minded residents of WHBC would consider standing when future ward seats come up. Think about it, please!