The final consultation on the Welwyn Hatfield local plan has now closed and our Liberal Democrat group submitted comments which are available to view from the links on the right, or on the Welwyn Hatfield Planning Consultation Portal, but this is a summary of what we think of the draft plan.
Sadly our council has shown no vision in trying to meet the need for new housing, especially affordable housing. They have washed their hands of any leadership role, and rely on local landowners to bring sites forward. There has been scant regard for the required infrastructure, whether existing or future.
Our council has accepted an estimate of 12,500 houses required in the Borough by 2032, but we question the projections that lead to such a high number. For one thing, the increase in student numbers and housing on the old BAE airfield site have skewed the statistics. For another, Hertsmere Council, immediately to the south of Welwyn Hatfield, have had their local plan accepted with only 6000 new houses as they have argued against destroying their Greenbelt. Why have Welwyn Hatfield council seemingly just accepted the housing numbers and the loss of greenbelt?
As a result, WGC is at risk of being overwhelmed by an increase in size of over 50%. In addition to the brownfield sites in the town, major housing sites are planned to the east of WGC, where our Council has accepted the building of 1350 homes by East Herts Council on the edge of our garden city, on the Panshanger airfield and Hillyfields Meadows site, and big developments around Hatfield Garden Village and (new to this plan) the proposed new village of Symondshyde to the west of WGC. Most of these will be built on the council's so-called "Strategic Green Corridor".
The Panshanger and Hillyfields site is particularly ill advised as it accentuates the sprawl of the town to the NE, whilst destroying a well-loved airfield and open areas valued for their rich wildlife habitat. Residents around the Hillyfields meadow will lose a valuable area of open recreation space in an area where many of the green spaces have already been built on.
There are serious alternatives that the Council have ignored. Engagement with North Herts and other neighbouring authorities on a new garden city is one very significant measure that could reduce the load on WGC. Our Liberal Democrat councillor on the relevant committee, Malcolm Cowan, has consistently urged the council to consider this option, but they have not taken it seriously. Malcolm has also been the only councillor to stand up and vote against the proposals in the plan whilst the Conservative and the Labour members (up until the last meeting) just voted it through, even though their electors had told them in no uncertain terms that it was unacceptable. Our Council has also chosen to ignore thousands of responses to previous consultations and other solutions to spreading the development around the borough more evenly.
We are in favour of more housing, and some of the proposals being brought forward are sensible, but it is a question of scale, impact and better planning. School places, transport and the environment are all serious issues that are not adequately covered in the plan. We believe our community deserves better.
AS the party conference season draws to a close with both Labour and Conservatives talking about an early General Election, Welwyn Hatfield Liberal Democrats have selected local campaigner Nigel Quinton as the Liberal Democrat candidate in any snap election.
Nigel has a strong record of fighting for local people having served as a local Councillor in Handside Ward, and campaigned on a number of local issues, including a leading role in the Hospital SOS campaign, and the fight against the Hatfield Incinerator.
"I am really proud to have been selected as it would be a huge honour to represent this wonderful area.
"Nationally the country is in crisis. Both the Conservatives and Labour are focused entirely on in-fighting while the economy worsens, threatening jobs and public services, and the environment is threatened like never before.
"Our 'do nothing' Tories have let us down dreadfully in Welwyn Hatfield and at County Hall. We need politicians who listen to the public, not pander to the tabloids, and provide the vision and leadership to build better communities. The draft local plan threatens to destroy the character of our area without delivering any of the affordable homes we desperately need.
"I will be campaigning for more school places, integration of health and social care, and better bus and train services to serve our growing communities."
Local Liberal Democrats are in buoyant mood following a significant by-election win in Hemel Hempstead last week, the 18th gain in a long run of excellent results since the May local elections, when the Liberal Democrats made more gains than any other party. In Welwyn Hatfield they made three gains, their strongest showing ever.
Says local chair Cllr Paul Zukowskyj:
"Since the referendum we have signed more than 20,000 new members nationally, and we have doubled our local membership since 2015. The Conservatives have destroyed their reputation for economic competence, with investment plummeting, putting jobs at risk. Labour has given up even trying to speak to the British people, and is engaged in a vicious fight with itself.
"Only the Liberal Democrats are an open, optimistic and united party committed to spreading opportunity for the next generation and focus on re-building the British economy to protect jobs and services."
We the undersigned residents of Hertfordshire call upon the County Council to reverse their decision to make cuts in the precautionary salting routes, especially to schools. We believe the small savings are outweighed by potential risks and adverse effects on our ability to get around in bad winter weather.
On the 15th September we were celebrating the 76th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, which united British and Polish pilots in the common struggle against the ominous Nazi threat. The fierce aerial battle between the RAF and the German Luftwaffe was crucial to the Allied triumph over the Third Reich. During those events Polish pilots established an unparalleled reputation for courage, commitment and extraordinary effectiveness in combat.
We, the undersigned, believe that all EU citizens settled in the Welwyn Hatfield borough on June 23rd 2016 should have the right to remain in the UK. We call on Grant Shapps, as our MP, to lobby the Government for their right to remain under the same conditions that applied prior to the referendum.
The recent demand from Herts County Council for the site of the WGC fire station in Bridge Rd East to be designated for housing has now been rejected by the borough council. The county council's previous hope was that both WGC and Hatfield fire stations would become housing sites, forcing both stations to close and one new fire station to replace them.
Time for Hertfordshire to benefit from London-style bus operating
Sandy Walkington, Liberal Democrat transport spokesperson on the county council, gained unanimous all-party support when he proposed a motion that the county council seize the bus franchising opportunities offered by the Bus Services Bill.
Cllr Stephen Giles-Medhurst has welcomed the county council's letter to new Rail Minister Paul Maynard MP calling on him to get a grip on the appalling rail services offered to Hertfordshire commuters by Govia Thameslink on the St Albans and Welwyn-Stevenage routes.
"This letter was prompted by LibDem questions at County Hall," Stephen said. "Enough must be enough for our hard-pressed commuters. And the same company's disastrous performance on its Southern franchise leading to huge cuts in scheduled services has had a knock-on effect for Watford through to Tring as well."
LibDem transport spokesperson Sandy Walkington added, "Govia needs to go figure what running a passenger railway is about, or it's time for the Government to step in and remove the franchise."
Liberal Democrat Leader Cllr Stephen Giles-Medhurst called on the council to publicly condemn all acts of racism and hatred and to ensure that local bodies and programmes have the support and resources to tackle the issue. The motion received unanimous support.
The Conservatives seconded the motion and the Labour Group Leader spoke in support of it. All county councillors present voted in favour of it.
Cllr Stephen Giles-Medhurst said, "I am proud that here in Hertfordshire and the UK we live in a diverse and tolerant society in which racism, xenophobia and hate crimes have no place.
"We wanted to reassure all people living in Hertfordshire that they are valued members of our community, irrespective of their beliefs, nationality or ethnic origins, or gender. They all make a great contribution to this diverse and vibrant area and they are very welcome here.
"We also wanted to make clear that should there be any acts of this nature, they should be reported and the Police Commissioner has assured residents that any reports will be taken very seriously and acted upon.
"Any of us who sees or witnesses any example of intolerant attitudes has a duty to say it's unacceptable in this day and age and will not be tolerated," Cllr Stephen Giles-Medhurst concluded.
The Liberal Democrats at Tuesday's County Council meeting called for the Conservative administration to think again about its proposals to cut support for people with homelessness problems.
Lib Dem spokesperson County Councillor Ron Tindall said: 'The homeless in our society are not voters, they often exist in the twilight of our communities, isolated, and often difficult to reach.
On Monday 4th July, newly elected Cllr Helen Quenet attended her first Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee.
As someone used to working with statistics, after 16 years of client work in the NHS and also as a local secondary school governor of 6 years standing, she was very surprised that the reports given to Councillors are far below the standard she would have expected.
Liberal Democrats have expressed concern about the County Council's plans to cut day services for some groups in the county, on which it has begun consulting.
Liberal Democrat spokesperson on Adult Care Services County Councillor Ron Tindall comments:
'I urge all users and carers to respond to this consultation and demonstrate the overwhelming need for day services to improve, not be cut. We know that Government cuts have forced the County Council to look at where to spend their diminishing resources, but we call upon the Council to fund day care services fully from the millions they are tucking away for a rainy day: Conservative councillors need to wake up - it is already raining.