May 2024 Local Elections: WHBC Welwyn West

Each year when there are local elections for WHBC ward councillors, WPAG asks all the candidates what they think about various local issues that we know are of interest to our members. We publish their answers in full, with no preference to any candidate. WPAG is a charitable entity that does not get involved in political campaigning.

This year, elections are on Thursday 2nd May, and Welwyn West has four candidates standing. We asked three broad questions of all the candidates. These questions are given below, along with each candidate’s response. We then asked some specific questions which we know concern WPAG’s members, and those answers follow below.

As information, Welwyn West covers Welwyn Village, and part of Oaklands and Mardley Heath. It does not include Digswell.

Please be aware that one of the candidates has responded with statements about the Singlers Marsh Village Green application that WPAG strongly disagrees with. WPAG has extensively researched the merits of Village Greens for over four years, working with national bodies such as CPRE and the Open Spaces Society, as well as specialist legal counsel. We believe that becoming a Village Green would give Singlers Marsh strong protection against development. The candidate states that a possible “deregistration” (removing Village Green status) would allow development, and used the same example in a letter to WHBC last September (available on the parish council website). At the time, WPAG wrote explaining how that example was not relevant. There also seems to be some confusion of the process of a Local Plan Inspection with that of a Planning Inquiry.

To see the full text below, scroll left-right within your screen.

Q1. Ignoring national politics/policies, what are the local issues relating to amenities, environment, infrastructure and planning that you think most concern Welwyn East/West residents, whether within their communities or the locality ?
Alex Bardett (Conservative)As current Chair of Welwyn Parish Council I’m aware of a number of areas that concern the residents of the Parish and the wider Welwyn West area.
Residents in Welwyn are concerned about Singlers Marsh asking whether it will be a village green or whether it will be built on (It won’t be, but that’s a common misconception). Residents are also interested in if and when the 20 mph scheme will happen in Welwyn Village
In Oaklands the Marsh isn’t really an issue for the residents, concerns are about traffic / flooding on the B197 at the shops, speeding traffic on it and Cannonsfield Road and the cycleway / new road crossing proposed at the school.
Up in the Ayots the largest issue is the solar farm proposal for the supply of power to a WGC data centre
Sarah Butcher (Green)Singlers Marsh becoming a village green is still a very important issue for many people, not least as it will prevent overdevelopment nearby and protect our precious chalk river. I have consistently supported the application from the beginning of the campaign, when the Conservative-led Council initially opposed the application. For reasons never fully disclosed the Council still oppose the application and are intent on committing tens of thousands of pounds of local taxpayers’ money to a legal battle against the will of residents. Village green status will not jeopardise any activity that takes place on there already, including the Welwyn Festival, but will protect it from development nearby. Green support for this issue has encouraged some councillors from other parties to change their mind on this application. The 240 house development that is planned adjacent to the Marsh would change the nature of that area forever and the resulting traffic and strain on local services would be huge. Welwyn housing has grown by over 30% since I’ve lived here which is considerably more than many other small villages in the Borough. It is time for the housing quotas to be spread more fairly.
Lots of people mention the litter and I have run the village litter pick (Welwyn Rubbish Action Group) for the last 14 years or so. There always seems to be plenty to pick up in Welwyn, but also the rural lanes and main road towards Oaklands can get quite bad. Maybe we need to expand operations outwards. 
Fix My Street app makes it easy to report all broken lighting, manhole covers, fly-tipping and potholes.
Although I am not on the Parish Council I have liaised with them on the drafting of the Neighbourhood Plan. Specifically our green spaces and nature reserves which surround our ward.
Other issues are; reducing traffic noise, parking, overgrown and narrow pathways, safer walking routes to local schools and Welwyn Garden City and better road surfaces.
Rhiannon Richardson (Lib Dem)It’s difficult , or nigh on impossible to ignore national issues when it comes to environment and planning in particular, as legislation and national policy is at the heart of decisions made locally and shape or frame local decision making. However, the issues that I think most concern local people are those of local transport infrastructure (or the lack/reduction of it); protection of Welwyn as a village and settlement in its own right; development and the character of new developments and protecting the environment in and around Welwyn.
Andrew Osborne (Labour)No answer received (we tried three times to get a response)
Q2. Could you let us know what your stance is on these issues, and if/how you’ve been engaging with them over the past year ?
Alex Bardett (Conservative)With regards to Singlers Marsh I support WPAG’s application for it to be a village green. As Chair of WPC I have met with the leader of Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council (who own the Marsh) and walked Singlers Marsh with him to try to understand why WHBC are opposing the village green proposal. At Parish Council level we responded to the Hertfordshire Highways consultation, proposing that they moved their 3 suggested positions for raised crossings to 1. Opposite the doctors surgery, 2. Across Prospect place at the White Hart for pedestrians going up and down the hill to safely cross and 3. Across School Lane at Hobbs Hill for children to safely cross
In Oaklands I supported the consultation for the crossing and cycleway at the school, unfortunately Hertfordshire Highways didn’t get the funding this year to carry them out
The Ayot solar farm issue is a waiting game at the moment, it was expected that planning application would be put in sometime ago but it hasn’t materialised as yet. There is some speculation that the developers are waiting to see if there is a change in Leadership at WHBC at the local elections before it is put in.
Sarah Butcher (Green)I am in contact regularly with the Singlers Marsh Action Group and attend online meetings with updates on the campaign and legal challenge. 
Litter picking takes place once a month in Welwyn village but there still seems to be a lot of litter. I liaise with the Council about bins and fly-tipping especially around the recycling area at the Civic Centre.
I have reported several quite dangerous man-hole covers which have since been mended, a school sign on School Lane reinstated, numerous fly-tips cleared up and helped with getting the lighting fixed on London Road.
I have liaised with the Parish Council who is helping put together the Parish Neighbourhood Plan. This is a new power which enables the Parish to influence more strongly the future type and location of development within the Parish. My main input has been on the Green spaces section.
Rhiannon Richardson (Lib Dem)As a Lib Dem I believe in a green, fair, and caring society and as such I am very much in favour of working to improve transport (as much a s borough councillor ever can), ensuring development remains appropriate for its surroundings and is not detrimental to its place, and working to keep Welwyn a unique and special place. As a candidate who has just stepped in I have not engaged greatly over the past year but plan to do so and of course would immerse myself should I be elected.
Andrew Osborne (Labour)No answer received (we tried three times to get a response)
Q3. How would you work to address or support these local issues if you are elected, being realistic and practical about what can be achieved ?
Alex Bardett (Conservative)To some extent I am already involved in the first two issues at a Parish Council level, and am up to speed with the solar farm at the Ayots, having attended the Ayot St Peter Parish meeting last week. If elected for Welwyn West I will be able to apply more pressure so that the residents’ concerns are addressed.
Sarah Butcher (Green)If I get elected to Council I will lobby for the Singlers Marsh application to be passed immediately. It is in the Council’s power to grant village green status right now and not one councillor has explained why it has not been granted. It is a colossal waste of money to fight this in the courts, taxpayers money that could be much more profitably spent elsewhere. If the council still refuse I believe it would be a good next step to have a public meeting about this matter.
Expansion of Welwyn Rubbish Action Group to Oaklands and rural roads around Welwyn East and West.
Roads and crossings are not the responsibility of the Borough Council but I would like to lobby for safer routes to school from Welwyn village. Due to the road layout walking towards Welwyn Garden City from Welwyn is particularly hazardous. I support 20mph in Welwyn and lower speed limits elsewhere around the ward.
I would like to explore the possibility of getting more solar panels on schools, businesses, and public buildings. I have already made contact with a group in Hertford who have helped schools in Hertford install solar and am initiating a conversation with the local primary school. Also trying to find out if a community energy project might be possible.
I want to thank the Planning and Amenity Group for helping us get our message out to local residents.
Rhiannon Richardson (Lib Dem)As a councillor I would seek to work with residents, groups, the council, and all parties to ensure that the town and its people have a strong voice. With the Lib Dems currently leading the Joint Administration, a great deal can be achieved, and I would seek to ensure that it would be.
Andrew Osborne (Labour)No answer received (we tried three times to get a response)
More Specific Questions
Local Plan
The Local Plan is expected to be re-opened after this election.  What type and amount of further development do you support around Welwyn, both in general and at specific sites?  Do you have a position on sites Wel1/Wel2/Wel6/Wel15, Wel16 and Dig1?  How would you act (if elected) to support those positions?  What else can be done to preserve the character of Welwyn Village – eg what is your position on WHBC’s change to the Welwyn Conservation Zone?
Alex Bardett (Conservative)I believe that Wel1, Wel2 and Wel15 will be brought back to the table when there is a new call for sites later in the year. On the WPAG website you summarised how the previous Conservative led council made the decision not to put these into the local plan.
We expect that land owners will re-submit many of the sites that were unsuccessful in the previous selection process.  Some of those sites (including Dig 1 and Wel 1/2/15) had actually been deemed suitable by WHBC’s planning officers, and it was only a councillor-level decision to keep them out of the plan.  With a different administration now in place following last May’s elections, a repeat of the councillor-level decision looks unlikely.”
I would not support a Labour / Liberal led council putting these sites forward. Voting to return Conservative councillors across the Borough in this and the next local election to lead the council will be the best way to prevent development on these sites.
With regards to preserving the character of Welwyn village the Parish council is in the final stages of issuing its neighbourhood plan, this will be read in conjunction with the local plan and allow the Parish and Borough Ward councillors have a say in how planning is interpreted locally.
Sarah Butcher (Green)Welwyn has grown by 30% since I have lived here (from 1999) and that is much more than some of the neighbouring villages in Welwyn Hatfield which have better access to bus and rail. Traffic around Welwyn and Oaklands is already becoming very congested, especially during rush hour. I would be glad to see other areas taking a bit more of the housing burden in future and so I will be trying to lobby for this to happen. Also Welwyn Hatfield do have a number of empty houses. These could be bought back more quickly by the council and used for affordable rental which is desperately needed. There has been a recent consultation on empty homes by the Council and I will be interested to see the results.
Obviously the character of Welwyn is why many people come to visit and love living here. I’m sure the Welwyn Conservation Zone as it is now will preserve it for the future. Change sometimes will be needed, for instance planning applications for the installation of solar on roofs which at present is often refused in conservation areas. In order for WHBC to meet its climate targets, rules will have to be relaxed and permissions granted.  I have been liaising with the PC on the development of the local plan.
Rhiannon Richardson (Lib Dem)I cannot profess to have extensive current knowledge of the adopted local plan. However, should I be elected, I would liaise and work with my colleagues on the relevant Cabinet Planning Panel and Planning Portfolios to ensure that Welwyn is adequately and properly represented at all times. Regarding the Welwyn conservation area change, I believe that this was supported by the sitting Councillors and that very few responses were received to the consultation and few objections, so it seems that this was supported by residents.
Andrew Osborne (Labour)No answer received
Singlers Marsh
WPAG believes that Singlers Marsh will be directly affected for the worse by nearby developments such as Wel1. 
Do you think this should be guarded against? 
Alex Bardett (Conservative)The statement above doesn’t say in what way WPAG believes the marsh will be directly affected, presumably the assumption is that development equals more traffic therefore more air pollution (NO2) and potential groundwater pollution from surface water traffic run-off
Sarah Butcher (Green)Yes and I believe I am the only candidate who has actively supported this view from the beginning.  I have highlighted this issue in every newsletter I have produced since November 2022 and speak about this to residents on the doorstep.
Rhiannon Richardson (Lib Dem)Similarly to my answer above, without expert knowledge in the legalities of the situation or in planning policy it is not possible for me to give simple answer to this. Rather than just tell you what you’d want to hear, I cannot give you a considered opinion as I would need to research this in depth to take a position on it.
Andrew Osborne (Labour)No answer received
If so, which approach do you favour for robust long term protection against development, ie beyond the current Local Plan? 
Alex Bardett (Conservative)A leading question – protection measures do not exclude development
Air quality, N02, in Welwyn Hatfield is pretty good and in general improving year on year, due to vehicle improvement and implementation of WHBC’s Air Quality Action Plan, and in Welwyn (Codicote Road and Clockhouse Gardens) it’s at around 20μg/m3 which is half of the 40μg/m3 first level trigger point. It’s therefore very unlikely that additional airborne traffic pollution due to a development would be statistically significant or of harm to Singlers Marsh Welwyn Hatfield 2023 Air Quality Annual Status Report
Surface water run-off pollution could be an issue though if it wasn’t guarded against. Currently surface water from Fulling Mill Lane / Kimpton Road hill does discharge directly into Singlers Marsh, this will contain pollutants from vehicles and an element of nitrates from the fields. A significant increase in traffic from a development would certainly increase the pollution level if left unmitigated. If the Wel1 (etc) development was “imposed” on the village I would work hard to insist that a condition of planning was that a Sustainable drainage system (SuDS) be implemented and monitored for a period of 5 years post development to ensure that any pollution from a new development was less than current levels Sustainable drainage systems . This has the additional benefit of increasing biodiversity to the area.
Sarah Butcher (Green)Only Village Green status can fully protect the marsh.
Rhiannon Richardson (Lib Dem)See answer given above
Andrew Osborne (Labour)No answer received
How can you help deliver this protection (if elected)?
Alex Bardett (Conservative)See answer given above
Sarah Butcher (Green)Lobbying council for Village Green status. Trying to find out why they will not grant it as they have the power to do it immediately and liaising with the Parish Council to have a stronger support of WPAG.
Rhiannon Richardson (Lib Dem)See answer given above
Andrew Osborne (Labour)No answer received
If your answer to the previous question is to register Singlers Marsh as a Village Green, what would you do (if elected) to secure the registration?  Would you:
·  Work to get WHBC to drop its opposition to the application at the public inquiry?
·  Seek to make WHBC voluntarily register the land as a Village Green?
·  Support the community in ensuring that WHBC fully understands what a Village Green does, and does not, entail?
Do you support registration of the entirety of Singlers Marsh as a Village Green, or just a part of it? 
If the latter, can you set out why?
Alex Bardett (Conservative)· Work to get WHBC to drop its opposition to the application at the public inquiry?

·  Seek to make WHBC voluntarily register the land as a Village Green?

· Support the community in ensuring that WHBC fully understands what a Village Green does, and does not, entail?

Do you support registration of the entirety of Singlers Marsh as a Village Green, or just a part of it?  If the latter, can you set out why?
Yes I support registration for the entirety of Singlers Marsh.
It needs to be recognised however that WHBC would still be the owners of the marsh. If they are minded to include Wel1 in the local plan then they are likely to apply to the planning inspectorate to have a small section 190m2 of the village green de-registered to allow 1. for widening or a new bridge at the start of Fulling Mill Lane and 2. To provide a safer dedicated pedestrian access and crossing point for users of the marsh. There are precedents for de-registering as per Hailsham VG35 in the link below.
Hailsham VG35 Application Decision
I believe that the Inspector would likely find in favour of de-registering the small section as it would be in the; “interests of the neighbourhood” and “public interest”– to redesign the bridge junction in order to deal with current and future traffic flows and reduce the environmental problems caused by slow or static traffic… and provide pedestrian and vehicle segregation for users of Singlers Marsh …
 I’m sure that it isn’t what WPAG’s members want to hear but I don’t believe that Village Green status will stop widening works to Fulling Mill Lane if Wel1 is added to the local plan by a Labour / Liberal led council.
Sarah Butcher (Green)· Work to get WHBC to drop its opposition to the application at the public inquiry?

· Seek to make WHBC voluntarily register the land as a Village Green?

· Support the community in ensuring that WHBC fully understands what a Village Green does, and does not, entail?
Yes. If it is not granted within the next few months I believe a public meeting might be a good idea to inform residents of the update and plan for the upcoming legal challenge.

Do you support registration of the entirety of Singlers Marsh as a Village Green, or just a part of it? 
All of it.
Rhiannon Richardson (Lib Dem)See answer given above
Andrew Osborne (Labour)No answer received
Local Infrastructure
Welwyn’s population has grown substantially in recent decades, along with that of nearby villages such as Codicote and Knebworth.  Welwyn’s services and infrastructure have not expanded in that time, leading to increasing strains on school places, the road network, GP appointments, parking, and so on.  Although not all of these are within WHBC’s power to directly address, how will you work to improve these challenges if you are elected?
Alex Bardett (Conservative)Well I don’t have a universal panacea to sort all ills, but I’d be happy to listen, talk through problems and try to find / forge solutions to the issues brought before me
Sarah Butcher (Green)This is a real issue everywhere, not just in Welwyn. It is a problem that Codicote and Welwyn share Bridge Cottage Surgery and both villages (especially now Codicote) are growing in size and population. Maybe a growing Codicote will have to build a new doctor’s surgery for their needs? 
My understanding is that the primary schools are able to service Welwyn West at present but would not be able to offer more places if we have an influx of family homes; a consideration that needs higher priority.
Too many cars are a nationwide problem, Planning committees need to give more emphasis on parking places on developments which is not always the case around Welwyn.
Rhiannon Richardson (Lib Dem)Highways issues are very much within the remit of the county council, and therefore as a borough Councillor my influence to directly affect these issues would be limited. However, I would seek to lobby, cajole, push, badger and influence the County Councillors and the County directly to work on behalf of Welwyn residents. 
Andrew Osborne (Labour)No answer received
The pressure on the local road infrastructure is well known to local residents.  What can you do in office to encourage Herts Highways to address the very real challenge posed by increasing road traffic all around Welwyn?
Alex Bardett (Conservative)As above and working with County Councillor Tony Kingsbury to address Highways issues in the area. I’m keen to support measures that improve the local roads and make the roads better for all users, such as the proposals for the B197 in Oaklands
Sarah Butcher (Green)We live next to a major motorway, we cannot change our proximity.  There must be a way to dissuade drivers from using the high street as a cut through.  I think (and hope) the 20mph limit might reduce some of the traffic through the village. At least if it does come through it will be at slower speeds. However,  that is not going to stop all the traffic coming from Codicote and beyond, especially in rush hour. I do think encouraging more bus use by really low fares is good. Improving walking and cycling routes to WGC/Hatfield will also help.
Someone once suggested to me that it would be a good idea if Welwyn High Street was pedestrianised from the main car park to the corner opposite the church. That will stop the through traffic and make the High Street more attractive to walkers and shoppers.
Someone else suggested we run a shuttle bus to Welwyn North Station from Welwyn/Oaklands. It’s a good idea, but again it needs volunteers and a bus!
Encouraging car sharing is another idea.
All of these problems need open discussion and direction which I would do my best to encourage and facilitate.
Rhiannon Richardson (Lib Dem)See answer given above
Andrew Osborne (Labour)No answer received
Shopping and Local Businesses
We continue to see shops closing down on Welwyn High Street.  Why do you think they are shutting, and what will you do about this (if elected)?  We believe that the lack of a local post office continues to hamper local businesses.  What can you do to encourage a new post office to open in Welwyn?
Alex Bardett (Conservative)High Street businesses are under constant pressure from increasing rents, insurance and utility bills which when coupled with reduced footfall due to online sales often forces closure. Welwyn though with its free parking and relatively affluent population does offer opportunities and we usually see new businesses coming along filling places recently vacated. It would be great to get a post office back into the village, an idea could be for a community post office, I see this very much as a project that WPAG could get its teeth stuck into and take on Post Office Community Case Study I’d fully support this as I’m sure would the Parish Council – I’d be happy to discuss this further with your members
Sarah Butcher (Green)This is also something that is happening all over the UK. This is partly due to shopping online where goods are often cheaper. This reduces footfall, and eventually financially it is not possible to stay open. The energy crisis has not helped. I think in places where towns/villages have managed to keep a vibrant and interesting mix of shops this is down to resident pressure and lower business rates to encourage smaller shops in. Perhaps that is something that can be introduced by the Council. It would be good to ascertain what shops (apart from a PO) people would like to see and perhaps a local questionnaire might be an idea? Perhaps we could investigate a mobile PO? Or a community-run Post Office? Or a small part-time Post Office in one of our restaurants/cafes as we seem to have plenty of those! With some ingenuity I’m sure this one could be temporarily solved. It also would need volunteers to make it work but I am confident that schemes like this will keep our sense of community.
Rhiannon Richardson (Lib Dem)Sadly, I think we are all aware that the high street issue is one that is familiar in villages and towns across the country. However, there are success stories, and I would be very keen to champion a campaign for a Post Office in Welwyn, we know how these outlets can be and are a focal point of a town and community and are sorely missed if not in place. If this means working with the MP (whoever that may be in 6/12 moths) then great, it’s not a political issue, it’s a town issue.
Andrew Osborne (Labour)No answer received
Other topics
What other topics are of concern to Welwyn residents, and how will you engage with them if you are elected?
Alex Bardett (Conservative)There are a couple of areas in Welwyn and its surrounds where green spaces are under threat, If elected I would support local residents to protect these areas.
Sarah Butcher (Green)I am keen to see some more solar in and around the village. I would like to liaise with the local schools (Oaklands and St Mary’s) to see if it is something they have considered and would be interested in pursuing. Also some of the local businesses maybe able to put some solar in. I am also interested in a community energy project, a way to reduce bills for the whole community. I am working with WHPC Climate Emergency Committee to look at our premises to make them more energy efficient.
People have spoken to me a lot about safer routes for children walking to school especially those walking to Monks Walk under the underpass. There are relatively few crossings around the by-pass and link roads in Welwyn and Oaklands. I want to engage with HCC to see if we can’t improve our walking and cycling access towards WGC.
Potholes. Ongoing.
Where we live matters to us. Green spaces, strong vibrant communities, with good local facilities and diverse affordable housing. I think residents and all levels of Council (Parish, Town, Borough) have to be involved in projects that will make their communities work better. In Welwyn and Oaklands we do not have a central space where people can meet and share ideas and perhaps that might be a good idea – a community shop/centre. Where people can come and ask for help, meet like-minded people and throw around ideas and suggestions and where I could hold a regular surgery.  I want people to know me and know that I care about our community.  Strong communities like this can be really successful and make a real difference to the locality. There are many associations and groups in Welwyn and Oaklands, all doing wonderful things in the community. Perhaps we need to join it all up a bit more and strengthen the ties between them all?
Rhiannon Richardson (Lib Dem)Being a councillor is wide ranging and the topics of concern for residents range from housing maintenance, council services (such as grass-cutting, refuse collection etc), planning, parking, to identifying and helping those with very serious issues such as people becoming homeless or suffering domestic abuse. As a councillor, I would be available, engaging, empathetic and efficient – I believe these are the keys to being effective in the role.
Andrew Osborne (Labour)No answer received