Our chairman writes…

The Society’s new chairman for the current year, Will Davis, has written an introductory article the our website which can be read by clicking HERE.

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Society AGM – a successful evening.

Thanks to everyone who attended our AGM on the 26th. It was encouraging to see such a good turnout, which in itself is a sign of civic pride in our town. The committee took on board the points raised on the night and will consider them carefully over the coming months. Special thanks go to our guest speaker, the chairman of the Welwyn Garden City Centenary Foundation, Mr Paul Roberts. Paul gave an engaging and enlightening talk, explaining the Foundations’s plans for celebrating the town’s 100th birthday in 2020. The Centenary Foundation has it’s own website which is also very informative on the subject, that can be found here: http://www.wgccentenary.org

The Society looks forward to the coming year and continuing its work on existing projects and new.

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Young activist launches a petition over Splashlands

The Society is supportive of a young man by the name of Bailey Nash-Gardner, age 12, from the Woodhall area. Pro-active Bailey decided to start his own petition asking the council to at long last get on and build a Splash park or similar as a replacement for the much loved Splashlands which was closed 18 years ago next month and was soon after demolished.

Bailey’s petition has so far amassed over 2,300 signatures between online and offline, he’s hoping to get a few thousand more before he hands it in to the Leader of the Council Mr Dean. Bailey is hoping to organise a get together at the former site in August to raise awareness of the matter, to help galvanise the council into spending the £2.3 million that has been set aside for some years for the project. It’s very encouraging to see such a young resident of our town taking such positive action to turn the green empty space where Splashlands once stood into something the town can once again be proud of. You can sign his petition online here: https://goo.gl/a5acwc

Bailey at the former Splashlands site recently.

The Society is happy to support his efforts to finally get a replacement amenity for Splashlands that represents what residents actually want, and one that is not prohibitively expensive to use. There is a bit more on this story in our current members newsletter.

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Thoughts on Tarmac’s recent public exhibitions for Birchall Garden Suburb

Local landowner Tarmac held two public exhibitions of its proposals for Birchall Garden Suburb which includes 2,500 new homes, schools, recreation and employment land. The site covers the former Cole Green/Holwell Hyde landfill site with much of the area also falling under neighbouring East Herts Borough.  The former landfill site accepted waste from London and beyond over 70 years, until 1990.

Birchall Garden Suburb site

Cole Green c.1980. Photo supplied under the terms of the public sector information license, under the Open Government Licence v3.0.

The Society, and other local groups, are very concerned about these plans and have objected to them. Our key concern is the apparent lack of investigation into the landfill operation and the amount and toxicity of the waste buried below much of Tarmac’s proposed site. We can find no evidence that WHBC has done any investigation itself as to what lies beneath the ground and how it may impact human health if  housing, schools and employment sites are developed across the site as proposed.

We compiled a list of questions that could be asked of Tarmac concerning the former landfill operations there. None of the promotional material we have seen for Birchall Garden Suburb comes close to answering these questions. You can download our list of questions for Tarmac by clicking HERE.

Feedback we received following the Tarmac exhibitions is curious. Apparently some residents were told by Tarmac’s representatives that the Environment Agency’s map and data showing the extent of waste dumping on the site is incorrect, and that Tarmac’s own data on the site is the accurate record (not that this has ever been placed in the public domain as far as we know). For completeness you can see the EA’s map below, and for comparison below that the latest maps by Tarmac of their proposed Birchall Garden Suburb.

Environment Agency map of historic landfill 1920-1990.

Environment Agency map of historic landfill 1920-1990.

© Environment Agency copyright and database rights 2017.

Below is the map presented by Tarmac showing their view of how much of the area was previously landfill. You may notice some contrasts between the map above and the one below:

 Extent of Former Landfill

Tarmac map showing extent of former landfill

Finally, below is Tarmac’s latest “Illustrative Masterplan” for the site. Moneyhole Lane Park is also shown but that already exists of course and is not part of their plan.

Tarmac Illustrative Masterplan

Tarmac Illustrative Masterplan as presented at their Exhibition

Radio 4′s flagship investigation programme, File on 4,  this week focussed on this very subject and was titled What Lies Beneath? The programme is both illuminating and worrying and largely describes what we are now seeing at Birchall Garden Suburb. The programme posits that many contaminated landfill sites around the country are now being brought forward for development, at a time when Local Authorities and the Environment Agency no longer have the capacity to properly investigate or challenge proposals from developers, as is their duty. This being due to ongoing funding cuts as a result of austerity measures, according to the experts contributing to the programme. The programme is extremely informative and relates strongly to our local situation, you can listen to it here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08v09y2

 Our own “What Lies Beneath?” document is still available further down this page. It will be updated again in coming weeks as we have further worrying information to share with local residents regarding the scale and types of waste we’ve been told may be down there. We hope the Planning Inspector currently assessing this site as part of the Local Plan will also consider the concerns we have raised about this proposal for some time now.

Please download our list of questions for Tarmac By clicking HERE.
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Updates to our website

May 15th 2017. We have now updated the Newsletter Archive page of the website and you will now find Newsletters from 2014-2016 available to read/download. More recent newsletters are only available to subscribed members and are posted out in high quality print format when they are they are published. The archive can be found here.

We have also published on the website our informative brief paper called “PLANNING AND WELWYN GARDEN CITY – A lay person’s guide.”

 You can find this on the page menu on the right or by clicking here. It is also published in PDF format in the Newsletter Archive section.

The current status with the Local Plan for members information is that it has been agreed at a full council meeting that it should now be passed to the government appointed Independent Planning Inspector for appraisal/approval. The Society and many other local groups and individuals has raised many concerns regarding the soundness of the proposed plan.

In our case we particularly highlighted the potentially high level of ground contamination on and near the proposed Birchall Garden Suburb site known an WGC5. Despite submitting our concerns into the final consultation, and submitting our  paper “What Lies Beneath” to WHBC leadership, and to the consultation, the proposed plan has been approved by the majority of Councillors and will now be passed to the Independent Inspector. To date we have not had any response from the council about our paper, and the questions it asks about the landfill waste facility that operated across the site for 70 years until 1990.

You can see a set of photographs taken at the site over the years here: http://welwynhatfield.co.uk/wgc_society/?page_id=1965   If you know of any others, or have information/memories about the operations there please do get in touch. The Inspector will hold local hearings during the examination of the Local Plan, the Society very much hopes to attend the hearings and present our findings and objections to the Independent Planning Inspector.

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Poster Booths Update

The poster booths that stand in Howardsgate have a complicated legal history. Currently, the land on which they stand has reverted to the Crown Estate.  This explains why they have been neglected for so long and complicates any proposal about their future. The Society believes that their loss to the town as an act of vandalism.

Poster Booth in Howardsgate

Neglected Poster Booth in Howardsgate

However, these structures were designed by Louis de Soissons and represent something that is different about the town centre and the Society believes they should be retained to explain the town’s history and origins. The Society is supported in this regard by the Chamber of Commerce and the Town Centre Partnership The Society concluded a long time ago that there was no point in looking at these structures from a commercial viewpoint as, in its opinion, there was no appreciable commercial return that could be had from these structures other than scrap metal.  These structures have no sale value other than a nominal one as their removal cost, and restoration of the pavement, would exceed their scrap value. The Society determined that the best way forward was to mount a bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund to acquire these booths and refurbish them so that they carried the story of the town and explained its place in the whole garden city movement. It is proposing that faces of the booths be replaced in such a way that the form and bulk of the poster booths remains the same.   The refurbished four faces of each will be replaced with separate “interpretation” boards highlighting aspects of the town and its brief history and its significant impact. The bid is complex as the standards required by the Heritage Lottery Fund are demanding as regards the refurbishing of heritage structures of this sort. Further, it is proposed that the bid supports a walking programme around the Town Centre for all school children in the area as part of the curriculum that gives them a practical view of their town’s local history. The outcome is one where structures designed by Louis de Soissons, the town’s designer, are not just retained but used to shout about the place – something the Society thinks is lacking in the town centre. The design of our town centre is unique and the refurbished booths and their interpretation information will give visitors to the town centre good insight into why the town appears how it does today, that is, unlike any other. We are proposing to refurbish the two remaining poster booths, there were others around the town, however they removed entirely some years ago.

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JD Wetherspoons 22 Parkway application

JD Wetherspoons have until February 22nd 2017 to appeal their planning application which was refused by WHBC  in August 2016. It is currently unknown if JD Wetherspoons intend to put in an appeal.

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Revised version of our ‘What Lies Beneath’ paper on Cole Green dump

The Society has updated its document published in the Autumn about the former landfill site covering much of the site now being promoted for “Birchall Garden Suburb’. The original document (available on this site) was submitted into the WHBC Local Plan consultation which closed in October. It was sent separately to relevant people within WHBC but no acknowledgement or comment was ever received. This development is being jointly promoted to East Herts and is also part of their draft Local Plan consultation. To that end we have updated our original document and submitted it to their consultation, now also closed. The key difference being the document now includes photos dating back to the 70′s and 80′s showing the vast scale of the landfill dump and the waste that was being buried in the ground there. It  had of course already been operating as a landfill dump for some 50 years before these pictures were taken, taking in waste from across London. We will endeavour to show all these pictures separately on this site in due course, they are available under an open licence and can be published freely. They paint an informative picture. The updated full document is available by clicking on the thumbnail image below. It may be of interest and concern to residents.

In the paper we also question whether this development proposal is appropriate for the area considering its history as a landfill site with many categories waste being dumped there over many decades. We ask why this site is favoured over other parts of the borough that would have no such concerning history?

Birchall Garden Suburb, WGC5

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Councillors reject J D Wetherspoon’s application to turn 22 Parkway into a Pub

You may have heard that the application by J D Wetherspoon to turn 22 Parkway into a pub was again unanimously rejected by councillors on the Development Management Committee (previously known as the Planning Committee) at a meeting held on Thursday evening.

This second application was notable for the fact that it did not specify the number of people who might frequent the proposed pub at any one time and for the proposed erection of a fifteen foot so-called acoustic wall to shield the occupants of Asquith House from the noise of the drinkers in the rear garden.  All this in a Conservation Area and on a site specially zoned to ensure that only low key activities (such as doctors, dentists and lawyers) should be based, so as to protect the residential area from noise.

This was also the first time many will have seen the interior of the new Council Chamber.  There were a number of gremlins in the sound system for those that had to sit in the Reception area as the main chamber is too small to hold large numbers.  Despite this minor inconvenience, the outcome was satisfactory.

Once again, we would like to thank all those who contributed to this decision directly or indirectly, who lobbied their elected councillors, again registered their objections on the Council’s planning system or came to the meeting itself. It all contributed towards the Planning Officers comprehensively recommending refusal of the application, and the Councillors’ unanimous decision to refuse. We are very appreciative of the effort and support the Society received.  Nor should we ever underestimate the persuasive effect of a packed audience in helping our councillors make sensible decisions.

After the last refusal, J D Wetherspoon waited nearly six months before making a second application.  This time, we rather think the company may seek to appeal, as some of the documentation it has submitted in support of this second application is in a better condition than the first.  Despite this, the content of the application still fails, in our opinion, to make planning sense.

The Society always needs new members and we especially need people who like to get stuck in and make things happen.  We need people who can write good text, who can communicate with the press, lobby councillors and who can help with the management of our web site.  The latter is increasingly important as the need to have a greater presence in the digital world is now vital.

It is easy to join by contacting the Membership Secretary, Gerry Crux, on 01707 323352.  Alternatively, you can contact the Society through its web site:  wgcsociety@live.com. We can also arrange for someone to call around, if you need to speak to someone directly.

 

 

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Access to Panshanger Park

Over the years we have been applying pressure on Tarmac to open up Panshanger Park as they are duty bound under the terms of a planning permission granted to them by Hertfordshire County Council to extract gravel from the park. Slowly the park is being opened up but ever so slowly.

This photograph shows members of the Society Committee as well as other local groups at a gate which is usually locked and which leads into one of the most beautiful walks in the park. This goes from Welwyn Garden City into the park along the Rover Mimram all the way to Thieves lane in Hartford. We are pressing for this to be opened not later than the end of the year.

 

Panshanger Park

MP Grant with Society members and other local residents

Panshanger Country Park is a wonderful public amenity for Welwyn Garden City residents, offering picturesque walks through the Mimram Valley, the park is English Heritage Grade II* listed.

Two years ago our MP Grant Shapps visited the park and at that time he commented “I’m delighted that it has finally been brought back into use for all. I hope Lafarge continue to act on their promise to open up the rest of the park for locals to enjoy”. Our MP has been very supportive of the Society’s position.

Two years on and the key access route from WGC remains closed to the public. This week Grant Shapps, MP accompanied the WGC Society on a visit to see the still closed area. The Society, the local MP, and the Friends of Panshanger Park all want to see this section of the park opened up as soon as possible so that residents can enjoy this beautiful new amenity, which is supposed to be an open access Country Park.

This time around Grant Shapps made it clear that Tarmac should be listening to local people rather than single interest groups from around the country.

Residents of the town are disadvantaged by not having the route along the Mimram valley open. The central path across beside the Mimram, remains closed. This denies WGC visitors an easy access route into the park, a route that offers one of the finest walks in the park, with the best views.

A year ago Tarmac stated in a press release that “Other trails will be opened up during the summer”. This didn’t happen, we have sought to establish from Tarmac a date by when it will happen, but nothing is forthcoming. We have indicated that Tarmac is hiding behind the environmental lobby to delay or stop access whereas the Society is adamant that there is room for both wildlife and people.

Panshanger Park

Panshanger Park Mimram valley view

 

 

Group 1

Our group during the visit

 

Panshanger Park

Tarmac management explaining their position to MP Grant Shapps

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