WELWYN PLANNING AND AMENITY GROUP
A.G.M. 8/10/12 – CHAIRMAN’S REPORT
This is a departure from normal procedures, in that I am publishing my Annual Report in advance of the AGM. My purpose is to explain how I want to change the way we operate as a Group, and change the structure of your Committee accordingly.
I hope that by so doing you will be encouraged to attend the AGM, and be better prepared not only to comment and criticise (in fair measure I hope), but above all, be prepared to contribute to the debate. My aim as we go forward is that your Committee will not only carry your agreed views with us, but will also start to provide you, members of the Welwyn Planning and Amenity Group, with a better service based upon the provision of selected information which we know will be of interest to you, and perhaps encourage your greater involvement.
That is not to say that the WPAG hasn’t achieved considerable success in the past – we have – but I feel that in return for your Annual Subscription, the Committee should offer a service which better matches the modern lifestyles of our members, including the regular provision of pertinent information online, for those of you who wish to receive it; information on a wide spread of matters covering such broad issues as planning, transportation, environment, community safety and so on.
Some of these issues might not affect Welwyn directly, such as
developments at Luton Airport, or the introduction of Incineration Units in the locality, but these are issues which I feel you as members will have views on, and which you might wish us to express collectively as a body of influence.
The 2012 AGM
On behalf of the committee I offer a warm welcome to this the 38th Annual General Meeting of Welwyn Planning and Amenity Group. This is our first to be held in the New Church House.
Those of you who missed last year’s AGM might not realise that following the resignation of Jon Green, who had been your Chairman for 9 years. I waselected in his place; I follow in his footsteps with some trepidation, noting the long list of distinguished Chairmen and Chairwomen who go before me. We also had to receive the enforced resignation through illness of Dr John
Reay, who had been Secretary for a very long time. Happily he has made a good recovery and can now be seen travelling at speed on the Highways of England (or should I say ‘GB’) on his mobility scooter.
Unfortunately for me, my election coincided with the emergence of personal family problems which are now happily under better control. But by January 2012, only three months after my election to the Chair, I realised that I could not give the WPAG the commitment demanded. Jon Green very generously came to my rescue and kindly agreed to continue as Chairman for a further
three months and I didn’t in fact take over the reins until the July 2012 Committee Meeting.
Inevitably this led to some disruption in the proper management of the WPAG, not least of which is the fact that we failed to provide you this past year with the usual Spring time Newsletter, for which I must take full responsibility. But this failure has caused me to consider even more fully the need to improve the level of communications between WPAG members and your Committee.
I am extremely happy to inform you that since the last AGM Eleanor Lewis accepted my invitation to join the Committee, not only as a full contributing member, but specifically to undertake the Secretary role. Eleanor had been my Secretary for many years on the Danesbury Residents Association, and was Secretary too, to the group led by the late lamented Derek Nash who produced the admirable Welwyn Appraisal, which was a pre-cursor to the
more recent Welwyn Parish Plan that Jon Green has been much associated with.
As usual I will now briefly refer to some background to our past 12 months work
A Year of Unplanned Planning Change
At last year’s AGM, under the above banner, Jon Green addressed the need to keep abreast of the potential effects of new policies and legislation on development planning.
He spoke about White Papers and draft legislation that had been produced in connection with the Localism Bill, and the production of a National Planning Policy Framework, (NPPF) both of which proposed fundamental changes to the powers of a local planning authority and its relationship with the community it serves.
This year we have very recently heard a Statement to Parliament made by the Secretary of State the Rt. Hon. Mr Eric Pickles, that even the newest proposals are now under review.
Mr Pickles sees the need to ‘speed up’ or ‘release’ long-running
development Applications, including a re-assessment of current rules governing ‘Affordable Housing ratios’, which is of specific concern to us in Welwyn, particularly in connection with the proposals for the development of some 196 homes at the Frythe. These are discussed below.
The Secretary of State has also made statements regarding the Green Belt, and we must watch veiled threats to the Green Belt like hawks, and fight them like tigers.
As regards the Localism Bill, last year Jon Green warned us of the likely dilution of local community devolution promises. It is still pertinent that because of the need for the proposed new Neighbourhood Plans to be approved by the Borough Council in accordance with their Local Development Framework (LDF), this will in practice give WHBC the final say in any decisions on the future shape of Welwyn, regardless of possibly strong local support for a different solution. Has anything changed?
We also now know that our involvement in the production of a Local Plan for Welwyn would be very expensive because to meet the above criteria we would ourselves have to involve/employ professionals with the requisite skills and background experience. This would not be a job for amateurs.
WHBC Housing Strategy
A statement from the WHBC of their new Strategy is imminent, and as I write in September, Welwyn Parish Councillors are due to receive a presentation from the WHBC Planners quite soon. It can be anticipated that their work is under frantic review as they interpret the impact of the Secretary of State’s recent Parliamentary statement on the many issues surrounding new Planning and Housing Strategies.
In the year 2010-2011 the WPAG had the opportunity to register our views on the importance of more affordable housing; the need to sustain Welwyn’s economic vitality and local jobs; and the importance of protecting both our open spaces and the historic character of the conservation area.
We still await the publication of the Borough’s Site Selections for
development in our area: we remain concerned to influence what is intended for Welwyn.
Last year the fight against WHBC proposals was very much in progress at the time of the AGM.
We all now know, or think we know, what the outcome has been We await new road lining, and the extension to the times of Waiting Restrictions in the High Street, but whatever the result, and how you as individuals might feel about the question of Residential Parking Permits, there can be no doubt that the way this threat emerged and the potential damage to the community
became apparent, still rankles, whatever our elected Borough Council representatives argue. Although the WPAG didn’t lead on this issue, we were evident as a ‘ginger group’ within the community and worked in close support of the retailers, the Welwyn Parish Council, and principal local personalities in producing a very capable, spirited and well co-ordinated community response
The Clock Motel
Nothing has been resolved regarding the Clock Motel site. We are not aware of any proposals/Applications on the table. It is an eye-sore to say the least, and whereas the WPAG has lent its weight ‘in support of’, or ‘against’ the many proposals put forward in 2011-12, we seem to be no closer to a resolution
Your Committee has two representatives co-opted to the Welwyn Parish Council Planning & Licensing Committee and in September 2012 we once again received a presentation from the developers. There had been delays, over agreement of the percentage of Affordable Housing that should be offered on the site. We gained the impression that the Developers and the WHBC were close to reaching agreement at this stage, but mindful of the Secretary of State’s weighty Statement we might all once again be in a bit of
The WPAG representatives on the WPC Planning Committee have led the fight to improve proposals to provide a pedestrian/cycle access to the Village from The Frythe, on Whitehill side. The projected access point is not close enough in our view to the Public Footpath which crosses the field towards Tudor Road/Hawbush Estate/Welwyn Playing Fields/St Marys
School/Tenterfield Nursery School.
The developers are not unsympathetic to arguments to shorten the route to the village down Whitehill, or across the Public Footpath in order to ensure that the community which will form at The Frythe has good links with the village. But money counts, and whereas County Highways concur with road management changes at the site entrance on Digswell Hill, they will not widen the Whitehill Road to provide a cycle lane.
Danesbury Park Road
You will all be aware that the Application to create a private drive up through the former golf course to serve Danesbury Hill House was refused, and the County Highways Authority have now declared that Danesbury Park Road, from Codicote Road, all the way to Rabley Heath Lane at the Northern end, and North Ride at the Southern (Danesbury Estate) end, is a non-maintained Public Highway. All that remains is a fight to remove the brick piers at the B656 Codicote Road entrance so that the general public and the Emergency Services do not feel inhibited in using the road as they
You will be aware that the Planning inspectorate recently completed a Planning Enquiry into the Travellers’ Appeal against the WHBC decision to enforce the removal of caravans from the site at 17 The Avenue, and the restoration of the site to its former state.
The Appeal has been ‘called in’ by the Secretary of State, who will receive the Inspectors Recommendations, and then determine the outcome by 21st December 2012.
It would be unwise at the time I write this Report to express views on the facts and factors behind this Appeal, nor its implication on the local community, until we know what the Official Outcome is to be.
At the second public consultation run by the WHBC in 2011 the WPAG made a strong case for the inclusion of the protection of Singlers Marsh and the up-stream stretch of the river in any conservation policy and offered our services in drafting the detail.
Over the past year, together with local leading volunteers and Parish Councillors, the WPAG has very effectively lent its weight to a long drawn-out campaign to gain a better response from the WHBC to complaints of mis-management. We now seem to have reached a point where we have a better level of liaison and agreement on such issues as the balance of grazing and mowing, with a target to restore the Northern section to sustainable natural grassland over the next few years.
The WPAG Committee will now place the subject of Singlers Marsh, and the health of the Mimram, on a higher footing and seek to further raise our influence to the benefit of the community.
That concludes my first Report. At last year’s AGM I led an open Forum on ‘What do you want and Expect of the WPAG’. In all honesty this was a fairly sterile debate, as many members were quite happy with things as they were, and not of the opinion that change should be made for change sake.
I do not contest this view at all, but I do believe that the changes that should and ought to concern us, are evident within society at large; changes that are evidently influencing modern lifestyles of both the young and the elderly in our community. To survive, the WPAG has to reflect those changes, and much as it is clear that over many years WPAG successive Committees have enjoyed the full trust of members to look after their interests responsibly,
impartially and with skill, I believe that as members you should question our role in Welwyn as we see it today and ask ‘what we get for our money’.
I plan that your Committee will appoint ‘lead members’ who will report on such matters as Planning, the Environment, Transportation, Community Safety, Heritage etc and on those matters that potentially impact us directly or indirectly I also plan for the WPAG Committee to ‘share’ more of the information and data that comes our way through our many Group links and
Associations, so that as WPAG members you are better informed. For those members who ask for it, we will offer to disseminate this information online, so that you are all even better informed in key issues.
In concluding my report for the past year I thanks once again my
predecessor, Jon Green for his help, and all the members of the Committee, whom I am very pleased have agreed that they will stand for re-election.
19th September 2012