Our Chairman Writes…

 

View of Howardsgate

View of Howardsgate

 

At the recent Society AGM I was honoured to take over the chairmanship of the Society from Tony Grice. Tony did a great job over the last year and at the AGM, I supported his work as vice chairman during that time. I have been on the Society executive committee for some 8 years now and have been involved to a greater or lesser extent in all the campaigns and causes the Society has supported. I was invited to invited to join the committee as a result of the work I had done on challenging the council’s plans to fell all the poplar trees at the Stanborough Lakes car parks in 2009, most of those trees are still standing today of course.

I have lived in the town for 46 years and feel strongly that its unique identity and distinctiveness should be preserved. ‘Clone Towns’ are now endemic in the UK and, as one of only two Garden Cities, we should certainly not let our town be reduced to the anodyne. According to the government statistics the mean age of Welwyn Hatfield residents is 38, an age that it would be safe to say is not the average age of the Society membership. I am keen for the Society to also engage with a younger audience. For the Society to thrive and survive we need to reach out to widest age range by demonstrating the value of the Society to the individual residents and the town as a whole. We plan to take action on this to bolster the future prospects of the Society.

The town has been without a defined housing plan since the High Court overturned the former Government’s East of England plan for 10,000 new homes in 2009. Since then the Core Strategy and now the Local Plan has been developed under new government planning guidelines; the National Planning Policy Framework. What we now have is a plan for 12,000 new homes in Welwyn Hatfield, with the majority of them being bolted on to the edges of Welwyn Garden City in mostly green belt areas. There has been much local opposition to the council’s plan from Welwyn Garden City residents. Its strategy of bolting on urban extensions to our town, rather than developing more rural parts of the borough particularly in the south, have not gone down well. Thousands of residents have spent time responding to each consultation on the subject but very little has changed from the time the process began.

The final WHBC proposed plan currently being scrutinised by the government appointed planning inspector is in essence not so different to the original plan first floated by the council in 2009. The Society has, and is, putting a lot of effort into trying to get the best deal for our town in all this. We will continue to make our voice heard in the right places and to challenge decisions that do not appear to be in Welwyn Garden City residents’ best interests. The Local Plan process is now in its end game and everything is still to play for. The process itself is now over three years behind schedule, largely due to the level of objections and representations made by various groups and individuals around the borough, including ourselves. It is incredibly important for our town’s future that the Local Plan, which will be the blueprint for the enlargement of the town until 2031 is the right plan for the right reasons. Of course, more affordable housing is needed in the borough we would not argue with that at all, but we disagree with the council leadership’s strategy as to where all these homes should be located, for a variety of reasons.

With the centenary of the town around the corner in 2020 what better time to celebrate what we have, and revel in the things that set us apart from all the other towns not lucky enough to be Garden Cities. We fully support the Welwyn Garden City Centenary Foundation and the Welwyn Garden City Heritage Trust and look forward to working with them, as they further develop and devise all the great events and initiatives they are now busy planning for the benefit of all the town’s residents. Centenary Foundation chairman Paul Roberts speaking at our AGM recently was at pains to point out that the centenary celebrations will be for everyone, wherever they live, whatever their age. At risk of plagiarising him, I would say the same about the Society.

I am aware that it has occasionally been claimed that the Society is less interested in the eastern half of the town. We don’t believe this to be true at all, the Society is for everyone in our town and members from any area are very welcome. It is not important where people live, but we hope that it is important to everyone that the best things about our town are preserved, and the worst things improved upon wherever possible. I would ask people to read our website or contact us directly for information or views on current issues, rather than take as read what you might read about us on social media or elsewhere from other sources.

Lastly, the Society was formed in 1947, although it’s predecessor was the Residents Association which goes back to almost the very beginning of the town. Over the last ten years or so it has done some sterling work and achieved some great results, notably in leading the opposition to the original Spenhill (Tesco) planning application for the Shredded Wheat site. The much revised plan that followed has now been given planning consent and is very much more in keeping with the needs of the town centre, as it brings more homes to the place.

Lastly, Society achievements are often a result of the dedication and determination of a small team of friendly and dedicated volunteers, who often build good working relationships with all manner of professionals from a range of corporations and organisations. They do great, and of course unpaid, work, but we are all aware that more could be achieved if we had a few more pairs of hands. If you feel in any way inspired to give something back to our town by joining us then please do contact us (wgcsociety@live.com) to find out more.

Our town was conceived as a “Garden City of To-morrow” almost a hundred years ago by Ebenezer Howard, we see no reason why, with our help, that aim cannot be sustained for the next 100 years.

Will Davis, August 2017.

 

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