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Association of North Thames Amenity Societies

 

 

Newsletter Autumn 2000

 

 

AGM

At
Hertford

 

21st October 2000

 

Election of Office Bearers and Proposed Changes to the Constitution

 

Guest speaker -Mr Paul Palmer, Local Authority Executive for the Empty Homes Agency

 

 

 

Pictured above is the portico of No 2 North Road, Hertford built in 1827 by architect and County Surveyor Thomas Smith.  Drawn by John Dixon for the local civic society publication ‘Buildings of Hertford’.

 

Hertford is a county town important since Saxon times, that has many old buildings as well as the Castle.            

 

 

Inside this Issue:

An Officer and A Gentleman

Central Railway’s Impact on the ANTAS Region

From the Acting Chairman

New Local Government Structures

Railtrack and Permitted Development - the problem recognised

West of Stevenage - PPG3 to the rescue?

 

 

 

The Association of North Thames Amenity Societies


President:  Jennifer Moss, J.P, D.L.

Chairman

Ian Morgan, D.L.

Vice Chairman

John Davies

Hon Secretary

Anthony Wethered*

Hon Treasurer

Ronald Sims

*Correspondence to:  Remnantz, West Street, Marlow, Bucks, SL7 2BS
email:  wethered@remnantz.freeserve.co.uk

 

ANTAS Newsletter Produced, Published and

Edited by                          Merrin Molesworth

Telephone:                       01494 773381

Email:                                merrin@lineone.net

Printer:                              Henel Copy Print
102 London Road, Apsley
Hemel Hempstead  HP3 9SD
01442 212636W

 
Member Societies

Amersham Society

Hitchin Society

Aylesbury Society

Hoddesdon Society

Beaconsfield Society

Marlow Society

Buckingham Society

Potters Bar Society

Chesham Society

Radlett Society

Hertford Society

St Albans Society

High Wycombe Society

Stony Stratford Community Association

Hitcham & Taplow Preservation Society

Wendover Society

Reciprocal Membership

Chiltern Society

London Forum

 

 


 


Registered with the Civic Trust

 


From the Acting Chairman

Ian Morgan

Another year and another Annual General Meeting–the sixth, and the last at which I will be in the chair.  I am very glad to say that Peter Diplock, a friend of long standing and a former and quite excellent Chairman of the Marlow Society, has indicated his willingness to stand for election at our forthcoming meeting and, subject of course to the approval of the assembled members, will take over from me once elected.  He will, I know bring a wealth of experience and an ability to control fractious meetings politely but firmly–not that he is likely to face such an ordeal with ANTAS!

Text Box: An idea perhaps?
Exchange your newsletter with another society from the ANTAS group, or send one to each of the 18 member societies (see inside front cover).  Anthony Wethered reads, appreciates and circulates all newsletters he is sent, but this editor would like some more please!
During the year we supported Hitcham and Taplow Pres­ervation Soc­iety (and Tap­low Parish Council) in their object­ions to proposals by South Bucks Dis­trict Council; in conjunction with the restor­ation and con­version into flats of two Edward­ian villas beside Maidenhead Bridge, the Council sought permiss­ion to build another block of flats on adjoining land, on the river bank and in a conserv­ation area.  Regrett­ably our efforts, which also had the support of the local Member of Parliament, were in vain and permission was given.

It is fortuitous that we are to have a talk from a represent­ative of the Empty Homes Agency – I am looking forward to that and I am sure we will all benefit from the expertise that agency has built up in providing help and advice concerning this thorny and infuriating problem.

I must thank the High Wycombe Society for giving ANTAS a pat on its collective back in their latest newsletter – yes Roger, I do read it and very interesting and informative it is!  I read any others I receive as well, though it is timely to remind member societies that copies of their newsletters would be much appreciated.

In the Autumn 1999 Newsletter I thanked everyone, and especially our President and the officers, for all the help, guidance and advice they had provided to me and I make no apologies for repeating those thanks – it really has been a privilege to work with you and them.  Whatever the current century has in store, it will derive incalculable benefit from the efforts of societies such as ANTAS and its members.

West of Stevenage - PPG3 to the rescue?

John Davies, Hitchin

Campaigners against the massive house-building scheme on the Green Belt to the west of Stevenage in Hertfordshire have a spring in their step - although that may prove to be short lived.

Until March of this year it seemed that the best that could be hoped for was some limitation in the scale of the whole wretched scheme.  Instead of the 10,000 houses on 2½ square miles of countryside called for in the County Structure Plan, North Hertfordshire's District Council was willing, on legal advice, to try and limit this to 5,000 houses in their new Local Plan.  But even 5,000 houses is still a massive scheme by any normal standards, and in the sensitive landscape and settlement pattern of North Hertfordshire, it would still do immense environmental damage.  And once the infrastructure is laid in to serve the development, including dual-carriageway bridges across the A1(M) motorway, all the pressure would be on for the scheme to be expanded to the full 10,000 houses originally envisaged.

However, just at the end of the consultation period of the new Local Plan, the revised Planning and Policy Guidance Note - PPG3 - was published by central government.  Campaigners recognised immediately the conflict between the provisions of PPG3, and what is planned for West of Stevenage.  Clearly, PPG3 is a more robust defender of greenfield (and Green Belt) sites than was ever expected, calling for 60% of homes to be built on brownfield sites by 2008, and for a strict sequential test on the availability of brownfield land before consent is given to building on greenfield sites.  PPG3 also requires Urban Capacity Studies to be carried out to assess the potential for building on previously used land in towns and cities.

All this is in stark contrast with what happened at the planning stage of West of Stevenage.  The attempt to assess the potential for building in existing settlements was superficial in the extreme, and offered a wide range of possible outcomes.  The mid and upper values showed no need for West of Stevenage, but the Chairman of the Examination in Public insisted

on taking the minimum figure, thereby forcing through the scheme.  The "sequential test" was just not applied, and West of Stevenage therefore does not conform with PPG3.

Objectors such as CASE (Campaign Against Stevenage Expansion), CPRE and the Hitchin Society all made this a key part of their objections to the North Herts new Local Plan.  But the District Council's initial reaction was to "tough it out".  After all, council officers had invested a large amount of effort in promoting a highly unpopular policy, and it was of course thought that a District Council had no discretion but to implement the policies of a formally adopted County Structure Plan.  However, eventually the strength of the argument became clear, and the Council recognised that they had no alternative but to the obtain a definitive legal ruling on this issue.

So in July of this year, the District Council obtained legal advice from one of the leading planning barristers in the country, Mr Lockhart-Mummery QC.  His opinion makes remarkable reading for its directness and clarity, and the full text of his advice may be seen on various websites, including www.case.org.uk.  His opinion makes it clear that West of Stevenage is non-compliant with PPG3, and that PPG3 is intended to be retrospective; even adopted Local Plans would need to be reviewed urgently.  He stated "Here we are at the much earlier stage of emerging draft proposals; they are hugely controversial; it is contended (correctly) by objectors that the…Plan is non-compliant with PPG3.  In those circumstances, it cannot be rational to pursue non-compliant proposals to an inevitably hotly contested local plan inquiry a year hence, when the whole position can….be reassessed in accordance with PPG3."

Faced with the prospect of having to withdraw the draft Local Plan, local Councillors appear to be defending their plan, claiming it would be a "monumental step" for it to be withdrawn.  We would just suggest it would be a truly monumental step to consign such a large area of green belt to housing when there is no need for it, and when they have in their hands the power to stop it.  CASE and other objectors have written strong letters     

emphasising the legal advice obtained by the Council, and stressing that local people just will not understand if the Council now decides to continue with West of Stevenage despite their election pledges of only a year ago to stop the scheme if at all possible.

Objectors have also reminded Councillors that it would be hazardous to continue to spend public money on a Plan known to be non-compliant with PPG3, as the District Auditor may consider this to be improper, with all the consequences that might flow from this.  The comment has been made that it is a foolish Council that commissions legal advice and then ignores it.

Crunch time for the current draft Local Plan providing for West of Stevenage will be on 17 October, when the Executive Committee of North Herts District Council make their decision to withdraw or to continue.  Despite such strong local feelings, it is still not clear what will emerge.

Meanwhile, the County Council is preparing for a replacement County Structure Plan, hopefully without a West of Stevenage.  They have now commissioned an Urban Capacity Study throughout the county and this is forms part of an Urban Renaissance Campaign.  The Campaign is being co-ordinated by a group which includes representatives of the Civic Trust (Eastern Region) and CPRE.  This is intended to be a fast moving exercise and, if it delivers, there will be much more to report in a future ANTAS Newsletter.

 

 

Saving The Ewelme Watercress Beds

Hugh Hunt, the Chiltern Society

Earlier this century watercress production was a thriving industry in the Chilterns, based on the chalk streams.  Many local residents still remember the numerous watercress beds as a feature of our countryside.  Today because of commercial pressure watercress beds have almost completely disappeared from the Chilterns.

Watercress has probably always grown wild along the Ewelme Brook in Oxfordshire, as with other chalk streams, but in the late1800’s the existing beds were constructed.  They operated until 1988 but once commercial production stopped the extensive system of wide shallow beds was left uncared-for.  Watercress rapidly gave way to rank weeds like the six foot tall Great Willowherb, whose roots damage the structure and whose woody stems choke the beds.  Also the low wooden dams forming the gradually descending flights of beds began to rot and disintegrate.

In 1991 the people of Ewelme asked the Chiltern Society to help them save this important feature in their small village.  Work continued with the permission of the owner until 1997 when he asked us to stop because he was applying for permission to build on part of the site to recover his original investment in the beds.

The beds are rapidly becoming overgrown again and if not cared for the stream will revert to a deeper, narrow channel, doing irreparable damage as it does so.  It is important to maintain the structure of the beds, which are of regional, and possible national importance, not only for their historic interest but because the site now provides a number of scarce wetland habitats.  Kingfishers, snipe and moorhens nest on the site and there is a colony of water voles, which is an endangered species.

The Chiltern Society has (over the last 18 months) collected £45,000 from a fund-raising campaign and obtained grants from the Onyx Environmental Trust (50,000), the South Oxfordshire Community Trust Fund (£37,500)

and the Heritage Lottery Fund (£17,500) to buy the beds and restore them for their heritage and wildlife value.  Very shortly, when the legal formalities are complete, a professional survey will be carried out and the work of clearing and restoring the beds will begin.  With the help of local people and the Chiltern Society Conservation Volunteers this important feature in the centre of the historic village of Ewelme will again be enjoyed by residents and visitors alike.

New Local Government Structures

Reactions to St Albans District Council’s first consultation exercises

Pam Martin, Chairman of St Albans Civic Society

I was invited to attend a simulation exercise organised by the Improvement & Development Agency for the local Council.  I am no expert in the changes proposed so can offer only a personal reaction to what turned out to be a stimulating and amusing day – particularly since it took place on April 1st – a point not lost on any of the50 people who took part!

We were told that the event “aimed to”:

§         Familiarise and immerse Members in an executive/ non-executive decision making environment which was non-threatening

§         Test how stakeholders (ie. us) can be involved in the new models and obtain their views on them

§         Pick up learning points for St Albans as we develop new political management arrangements.

Council Members took part in a Cabinet-style Executive group, a Scrutiny/Policy group, an Area Committee, or the Full Council.  Council officers and members of various Statutory groups (such as Health or Police etc or County Council) had their own groups and I was part of the Community Group – each playing our normal type of role.

We were then given two problems to address – the first being to draw up a community plan and the next to deal with a proposed establishment of a mental health facility.

Our group quickly decided what we wished to see addressed in the local plan, but found it difficult to find a way of expressing our views to the Council.  Did you go to the local Area Committee for what was a city-wide issue – or did you go the Policy/Scrutiny group – or was it possible to go directly to the Executive?  We tried all of them in turn and ended by turning to the Officers – a familiar route!

When it came to presenting our views on the second issue confusion still existed and was made worse by all the groups (who had been told off for not consulting the community enough) rushing over to us consulting like mad!

Meanwhile the problem of where power lies in such a structure had become apparent.  The Cabinet had decided to meet in public but neither they nor the Council were clear as to the way in which decisions should be arrived at and the use of both Area Committees and the Policy group in achieving this.  At all levels communication was difficult.

This usefully revealed points which will have to be sorted out as plans are made for St Albans.  We are used to a very open style of local government here and it has been relatively easy for the public to approach committees and speak at meetings both at committee level and indeed on occasion at full Council meetings.

The great bonus on the simulation day, was that councillors were so busy trying to solve problems, particularly in the cabinet, that party politics disappeared altogether!  If only real life could follow this pattern think of the benefits!

This autumn the next attempt to involve the community in the new possibilities came with a light-hearted debate on the issue “St Albans needs an elected mayor”.  I went along to hear the arguments as I am not at all

clear whether and how this would work in our city.  I can’t say I am any clearer having listened!  I found myself agreeing with the views expressed by those proposing the motion as to the defects of the present system ie. local issues being taken over by national party politics and decisions being made by a very unrepresentative group following local minimally supported elections.  But I could not see how an elected mayor would solve them.  Surely s/he would be elected through the same party machinery and would probably have dangerously enhanced power?

Text Box: Local amenity groups need to be aware of how the new structures will help or hinder their work.It was interesting that not only was the motion defeated, but a further poll showed that most people were not happy with the present system - including those council­lors who were present!

It would be interesting to hear of any other consultation exer­cises being held.  I feel that local amenity groups need to be very aware of how the new structures will help or hinder their work.  For example, how easy will be it be in your area, to pursue planning problems?  Not only small ones but planning affecting the whole town?  How open will decision-making be and where will the main decisions be taken?  What checks and balances will there be?  How truly democratic will it be?

Local Government Bill - the Editor’s Gleanings

Merrin Molesworth

The Local Government Bill gives a new power to local authorities to promote economic, social or environmental well-being and community planning, new decision-making arrangements (including directly elected mayors and cabinets); a new ethical framework; and other measures.  Local authorities’ role will be at the heart of a joined-up approach to delivering better and more sustainable services for local communities.  The bill sets

out the separation of powers between executive and overview and scrutiny roles of councillors. Broadly speaking, the Executive will take all major decisions within the policy framework agreed by the Council. Guidance and regulations will clarify the respective roles.

Executive functions can be delegated to area committees, joint committees and other local authorities as appropriate.

New models of political management arrangements are set out in the bill:

§         directly elected mayor with council manager;

§         directly elected mayor with cabinet;

§         or leader and cabinet.

The Secretary of State can also determine further structures. Some council functions, such as planning and licensing, will not be subject to new executive arrangements but will continue to be carried out under existing arrangements.

Frequency of local authority elections, and years in which these are held will be altered. Three schemes are:

§         all out elections every four years;

§         elections by half every two years;

§         and election by thirds three years out of four.

However perhaps we should be concerned that the bill removes the statutory right of press and public to attend our local council's decision-making meetings; to get agenda papers in advance, and to inspect the minutes when the decision is taken.

 


Central Railway’s Impact on the ANTAS Region

Bernard Meldrum, the Chesham Society

Central Railway is promoting a 400 mile railway service designed to take freight, which currently uses very large lorries on our motorways and trunk roads and put them onto trains. They anticipate taking several million HGV journeys off our congested roads each year.  The line starts at Liverpool Docks and is routed via the Channel Tunnel to Lille in Northern France. It is not an entirely new line, it will mainly use existing railway lines or restored disused lines (largely following the old Great Central route to Nottingham and South Yorkshire).

Because the loading gauge of standard British railway lines is smaller in height and width than the continental standard, continental trains cannot operate over our network. This means that to enable trains carrying articulated lorries onto our railway lines bridge heights and track widths will have to be increased.

The new trains are expected to be 800 metre or half a mile long and to travel at around 70-80 mph, perhaps at ten minute intervals. They will have a roll-on-roll-off facility, making loading and unloading easy and fast.  Central Railway anticipate that 40% of current cross-Channel heavy lorries will use the new services.  Although there is a standard width between the rails throughout the UK and much of Europe, the UK has a more restricted height and width restriction than the continental system. As a consequence double-decked commuter trains, common in many parts of Europe, cannot operate here. An eight-carriage double-decker train can carry the same number of passengers as a twelve-carriage standard British train. Antas members who visited the Sydney Olympics may have travelled in comfort on their modern electric double-decked Tangara stock. 

Some local correspondents have been critical of the Central Railway scheme because it will require updating of stations and bridges. Some criticise the very parts of the scheme that should be encouraged.  If this

critical view dominates we will never succeed in moving significant volumes of traffic back onto the railways.

If the British government is really serious about getting more traffic on our railways and off our roads then all new or restored lines should be built to the revised standard. Any new or replacement bridges over existing railway lines should also be designed to the same standard, then gradually, over a period of many years, we will have a network capable of relieving congestion on our over congested roads.

A recent tenderer for the replacement South West Trains franchise proposes building a new line in a tunnel from Wimbledon (via Wandsworth, Chelsea, Victoria, Tottenham Court Road, and St Pancras) thence northwards, avoiding the congestion at Waterloo (and the need for passengers to change onto the Underground). This line (proposed by a consortium which includes the Dutch Railways) would be built to the continental standard and permit double-decker rolling stock as used in Holland, ie. the same loading-gauge as proposed by Central Railway. If CrossRail (another new scheme) is to be built the new tunnels should be built to the same specification, ultimately permitting operation by double-decker trains. The current proposals are for twelve-carriage conventional UK units, each train capable of carrying 1,800 people in crush hour conditions and needing excessively long platforms.  Thameslink 2000 (a third scheme) is also being planned and currently at the inquiry stage – but can it accommodate modern double-decked rolling stock?  The Shadow Strategic Rail Authority (sSRA) should demand the application of the continental standard across Britain. 

Central Railway have stated that they will give their through freight trains precedence over any passenger services. Concern comes from their apparent desire to monopolise existing passenger lines for their freight trains.  This relegates passenger services to merely tolerated, reluctantly allowed to operate, no faster and no more frequent than services offered today. The Chiltern Clubman passenger trains travel at 100mph, exceeding

the 70-80mph maximum proposed for Central Railway trains which they could be following. This situation can never be tolerated.

Other parts of the existing railway network and proposed new works and developments will be adversely impacted. Chiltern Railways have just been granted a twenty-year extension on their franchise, on the condition that they plough their profits back into service enhancements such as installing passing loops. (They are also committed to restoring the rail link between Princes Risborough and Oxford, and reinstating passenger services, on a little used freight line between Aylesbury and Milton Keynes.) Adrian Shooter, the MD of Chiltern Railway, says that their services will be incompatible with the Central Railway scheme on the existing twin track lines.  Four tracks will be necessary.

Text Box: Useful or Interesting Web Sites
http://www.chilternsociety.org.uk/   or  http://www.chilternsociety.freeserve.co.uk/
http://www.highwycombesociety.org.uk/
http://www.civictrust.org.uk/
http://www.greenchannel.com/cpre/     (Council for the Protection of Rural England)
http://www.woodland-trust.org.uk/
http://www.detr.gov.uk/
http://www.case.org.uk    (Campaign Against Stevenage Expansion)
To increase rail use to Heathrow to more than 50%, BAA and BA, together with Railtrack, have published proposals to develop a new passenger rail line. Known as Airtrack it will go from Heathrow to Staines where it will connect with the mainline to the South West (the course of the former West Drayton to Staines rail link). The £60 million Airtrack project will provide

two trains per hour between the Heathrow terminals and the following stations: Reading via Bracknell, Guildford via Woking, and Waterloo via Richmond. The services are expected to relieve roads of  4.0 million passengers a year. If Central Railway’s proposed freight line is allowed to dominate the link between West Drayton and Staines this scheme to enhance the environment cannot come about.

The question of night time noise disturbance must be addressed. Central Railway claim that most of their traffic would be operating during the day, so would they be willing to accept a complete ban on night time operations, as happens during the small hours at Heathrow? As few as one or two trains an hour in each direction throughout the night will ensure that many thousands have disturbed nights sleep each night.

“I would encourage all who have an interest in the proposals to make their views knows to the company, so that it can have regard to those views in preparing its submission.  It is in an applicat’s own interests to consult as widely as possible before making a Transport and Works Act application, particularly it it is likely to be contentious.”  Keith Hill, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Department of the Environment Transport and the Regions, 24 August 2000

Although the final application has not been published yet, it will need a debate in both Houses of Parliament, and if carried, there will then be a series of local planning enquiries. Will ANTAS  make a study of the Central Railway proposals? I hope that member societies will be sufficiently flexible to ensure that ANTAS can speak with one voice over the strategic aspects of this proposal. All the MPs with constituencies along the effected route should be made aware of the ANTAS view before the debate in the Houses of Parliament.        

Full details of the scheme are to be found at www.central-railway.co.uk  or write to Robert Raffety, Central Railway Plc, 17 Cockspur Street, London SW1Y 5BL  (but don’t hold your breath for a reply).

Editor’s Comment:  Will home owners adjacent to the line jeopardise the existing passenger services by objecting to four tracking?  People might object to the mile-long road/rail terminals when their locations are announced.  This country needs less motor traffic and we must try to facilitate endeavours to that end.

Railtrack and Permitted Development - the problem recognised

John Davies, Hitchin

In the last issue of the ANTAS Newsletter, the problem was highlighted of statutory undertakers having the surprising ability to bypass the planning system.  Individuals and private companies are as a matter of course required to apply to the local authority for planning permission to put up new buildings or make significant alterations to existing ones.  However, Railtrack enjoys special powers to do virtually what it wishes on railway land without going to the local council for approval.  This came to light over plans for changes at Hitchin Station, when it was said that the local council was powerless to intervene.

The issue has now been raised centrally through the Civic Trust, and an interim response has now been received from DETR.  Although defending the need for permitted development, the Department acknowledges that concern exists, and indeed commissioned its own independent research into how these powers are used, and whether there is any case for change.  The research led to recommendations for better guidance, codes of practice and improved consultation.  However, there is not as yet any commitment about the timing of any policy review.

Meanwhile, questions have now been asked about the research, and whether the conclusions are to be published.

A further point has however emerged from all this.  Local authorities are perhaps not as completely powerless as they claim when permitted development plans threaten amenity or the environment.  The lesson is that

civic societies faced with such a threat should stiffen the resolve of local councils to challenge and negotiate for changes to any damaging scheme - councils have the power to do so!

 

An Officer and A Gentleman

Anthony Wethered

When Ian Morgan arrived at Sandhurst for officer training at the beginning of World War Two, he learned that the designation "Gentlemen Cadets" was to be reserved for those seeking permanent commissions.  "We civilians in uniform were to be known as Officer Cadets," he says.  "Officers but not gentlemen, I suppose".

Of course it is precisely those gentlemanly qualities of tact and good humour that have characterised Ian's leadership of ANTAS during its first six years.  As Chairman and then Acting Chairman of the Association, he has conducted our meetings with what can only be described as executive charisma.  He has also done his share of casework, using his exp­erience in local government to help societies with their planning problems.  And in his many mess­ages "From the Chairman" he has set a tone and a purpose for ANTAS that will continue to serve us well in the years ahead.

Ian tends to be reticent about his war service.  As Major Morgan he commanded a tank squadron in the Burma campaign, and he admits that "I was shot at a few times."  But perhaps the hairiest moment was when his tank came close to diving over a cliff.  Ian and his crew were only saved because one of the vehicle's tracks came off, stopping it just in time.

After the war, having qualified as a solicitor, he joined the Colonial Service and went to Kenya to oversee land transactions on behalf of the Government.  Since then he has occupied a variety of interesting positions, including legal adviser to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission

(1964-82).  In this connection he recently led a campaign to provide a long-overdue honour roll for Marlow's World War Two dead; this took the form of a beautifully engraved panel which today may be seen in the parish church.  He has also served as Chairman of the Thames and Chiltern Tourist Board.

In 1977 Ian was elected to Berkshire County Council, representing St Mary's Ward in Maidenhead where he and his wife Audrey were then living.  (The two had shared a piano teacher in younger days, and had met as a result of being made to play duets together.)  He was Chairman of the Council from 1983-86 and the following year was appointed Deputy Lieutenant of the County.

Until her death in 1983, Ian and Audrey shared the flat at Tierney Court in Marlow where Ian lives today.  Its spectacular view over the river and the bridge also takes in the Compleat Angler Hotel where they spent their honeymoon in 1945.

For his contribut­ion to ANTAS over the past six years Ian deserves the gratitude of all our member societies. Although he is standing down as Chairman we can be certain that he will continue to take a keen and friendly interest in our affairs.