Please accept my apologies for the long gap since my last update. Our New Year started with a family funeral, after which a couple of weeks holiday in the sunshine, away from the persistent rain of the UK, lifted my spirits and left me refreshed and full of enthusiasm to resume my duties as Welwyn West’s Independent councillor.
I returned to the UK on 23rd January to find no less than 194 emails awaiting me and most of January 24th was spent on my computer trying to deal with them!
Saturday 25th: I caught up with Welwyn Village news during the day and that night drove through the High Street at 12.30am. There were several people in the street outside a local pub; however, in accordance with my earlier request for surveillance, the police were actually in the village and did address the situation.
Monday 27th: After a busy day, I attended a meeting of Welwyn Parish Council in the evening to discuss in particular the question of Christmas lights. I obtained agreement from fellow Welwyn councillors, and Herts County Cllr Richard Smith, for contributions from their community budgets towards Christmas lights in the village next December, provided that a substantial sum is put towards the cost by the Welwyn businesses and also a contribution from the Welwyn Parish Council. The clerk of WPC has agreed to follow up this proposal.
Tuesday 28th: I spent the morning at the Council offices, mainly in Planning Department where I discussed some applications and procedures with officers. The meetings were very productive and I found the department extremely helpful with some quite complicated issues. That afternoon, I had a meeting with a local resident, together with Cllr Bill Morris of Welwyn Parish Council. Some of the information I had acquired that morning enabled me to answer the questions that arose and Cllr Morris and I agreed to research the problems raised. Parking issues are endemic now to the village and it is likely to take several months to find a solution that will not make the situation even worse. The planning issues are now in hand.
Wednesday 29th: In the never-ending rain, I met with two residents who regularly work voluntarily on Singlers Marsh and waded through the area with them to inspect recent storm damage and outstanding works needed on the site. They raised some very valid points and I strongly support their suggestion that all those concerned with maintaining this beautiful area should meet to share ideas for its best possible future management. A few pictures of the damage are shown below.
Thursday 30th: After looking after my grandson in London during the day, I drove back to Welwyn Garden with the rush hour traffic to attend a Development Management Committee meeting at 7.30pm. I got home around 10.00pm, totally shattered!
Friday 31st: Just over a week ago, I received a phone call from the lady who is organising the Welwyn Heritage Trail, asking for my advice and assistance with their planning application for the project. I met with her at 10.30am for coffee and was able to talk her through the required procedures. These are different from a normal application due to the number of sites on which plaques are to be placed and this was one of the issues on which Planning Department were so helpful during my meetings with them on Tuesday.
Still Friday 31st: Some of you may recall my frustration in trying to help a young family suffering damp problems in CHT accommodation. This afternoon I had a 2 ½ hour case meeting with the Head of the CHT, Sian Chambers, Head of Housing and Community Services, and Cllr Roger Trigg, Cabinet Member for Housing. The problems encountered by the residents were discussed in great detail and I was made aware of just how great the housing problem is in the borough. Not only is the waiting list for homes extremely long, but problems such as damp are a major issue in many properties – particularly worsened by the persistent rain over the past three months. The meeting covered all aspects of the problem and some temporary solutions were put forward to try to alleviate the situation, together with positive advice for the tenants to help rebuild relations between them and the CHT. I agreed to talk with the family and to put forward the suggestions made, whilst encouraging them to keep bidding for a change as their position on the list was higher than they had realised.
Saturday 1st: 1.00am drive through Welwyn Village to check on the High Street. There were no police on this occasion, and all was quiet.
Monday 3rd: A morning meeting at Campus West with a reporter from the Welwyn Hatfield Times to discuss Welwyn issues was followed by a training session on the Council’s new email programme with their service provider. At 7.30pm I attended a Special Council Meeting to present and vote for the 2014/15 Budget. Whilst there were many aspects of the Budget with which I was in agreement, I could not see a specific plan or proposal to reduce the WHBC deficit. This concerned me very much and I therefore did not feel I could give my approval; so voted against. The meeting was attended by several members of the public who demonstrated against the Council’s proposals.
Tuesday 4th: A very early start today as I travelled into Westminster to attend the LGA Licensing Conference. This was an extremely worthwhile and interesting experience and I learned a great deal from the speeches and working groups throughout the day. I was privileged to hear the presentation of a young man who had been addicted to gambling machines and who was now trying to rebuild his life and to warn others of the perils. I knew nothing about the “fixed odds” betting machines that now abound our betting shops. People lose hundreds of pounds an hour; winnings are usually fed back into the machines; the only real winners are the bookmakers who make huge profits on every machine. Families who can least afford to lose everything find themselves in abject poverty. Personal freedom to gamble without restriction comes at quite a cost to society and I wish we could do more to help those for whom the addiction is a genuine illness.
Wednesday 5th: A morning of emails (I was still clearing my backlog of 194 which I had reduced to about 30) and then a meeting with Herts County Council Chairman, Cllr Richard Smith at 2.00pm. There were several matters to discuss and, as ever, Cllr Smith was very helpful and proactive. At 7.30pm I attended a Priority Setting Meeting at Hatfield Police Station. I pointed out that during December and January there had been some vandalism in Welwyn Village, and that I had asked for police monitoring on Friday and Saturday nights, which I would like to be continued. I had also asked for traffic monitoring on the Codicote Road, on which speeding is a constant problem. The reports were that many tickets had been issued and that they were happy to continue both requests for a further three months. I was very satisfied with the police support and response to date.
Friday 7th: I met with residents of Mill Lane who were concerned about a local planning application and was able to offer advice on procedures to put forward any objections they might have. At 5.00pm I met with the family whose problems with damp in their CHT property had been discussed at my meeting on Friday 31st. We had a long and productive talk and I felt that I had given them some positive feedback and some encouragement for future liaison with the CHT. Correspondence received later this month has indicated that this has been achieved.
Monday 10th: I received a phone call from a resident in Parkside concerning a tree problem. I also received an email from a resident in Welwyn who wanted to express concern about the amount of illegal parking in the Village (on double yellow lines and pedestrian crossings). I contacted Parking Services and the Parish Council about the yellow line violations and the police about the crossings. This resulted in increased surveillance of the village by both traffic wardens and the police and many tickets were issued. There has been a marked improvement but obviously there is a need for ongoing surveillance.
Tuesday 11th: After a morning on the computer again, I attended a Safeguarding Training session for councillors and council staff from 2.00 to 4.30pm. This was informative, but very depressing to realise how much need there is for awareness of the risks to babies and young people. Indeed, it was not an easy afternoon to go through. After the meeting, I drove up to Hawbush Rise to check out the complaint received from a resident about damage to the verges around the green.
Wednesday 12th: I had a phone call from friends of a family in Robbery Bottom Lane, Welwyn East, where severe flooding had reached several homes. One household was very distressed as the water had reached their doorstep. The lady of the house was seriously ill and undergoing chemotherapy. The request was for WHBC to help with a few sandbags to prevent the water entering the house. After many phone calls and emails, I was told that it was not WHBC policy to provide sandbags and that the householders should consult the appropriate Government website. The family, their friends and I were amazed at the lack of support on this issue. In the meantime, neighbours and a Knebworth building firm helped out with organising and providing the sandbags. Cllr Richard Smith and Herts CC helped out with clearing the gulleys in the road but, in my view the WHBC response was very poor.
Friday 14th: I received several telephone calls about congestion and traffic light repairs at the roundabout opposite the Roman Baths and Parkside. Thanks to the timely advance notification of these works, provided by Cllr Richard Smith, I was able to answer queries and advise on the status and timescale of the works in progress.
Saturday 15th: Councillor’s Surgery with Cllr Mandy Perkins. We had no visitors on this occasion but used the session very usefully to discuss issues outstanding.
Monday 17th: I had a meeting with the Chief Executive of WHBC at 2.30pm and then spoke with one of the Planning Officers about a current possible enforcement issue in Welwyn. Following my complaints and those received from residents, Grant Shapps MP called a meeting with WHBC and Herts CC to discuss policy over assistance with flooding issues.
Thursday 20th: I engaged in correspondence with WHBC and Cllr Richard Smith about the damaged verges in Hawbush Rise. The damage is extensive and a joint meeting has now been scheduled to discuss appropriate joint action.
Wednesday 26th: I attended the Special Council Meeting to vote through the Council Tax proposals set in the budget.
Thursday 27th: After grandchild-minding duty in London, at 7.30pm I attended the Development Management Committee Meeting. It was a full agenda and, despite general agreement with the officers’ recommendations, the meeting went on quite late and I was glad to finally get home at about 10.15pm.
Friday 28th: I have finally caught up with correspondence and emails. It has been a busy few weeks and March promises to be equally hectic! However, the first two months of the year have passed and a glorious spring has arrived. The water levels have subsided and Welwyn is ablaze with snowdrops, crocuses and early daffodils. We are truly blessed to live in such a lovely place.