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Association of North Thames Amenity Societies

 

Newsletter Autumn 2001

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Civic Trust Chairman Addresses AGM

United Reformed Church
Potters Bar on Saturday 20th October 2001 from 9:30am

Anthony Wethered, Hon Secretary

Martin Bacon, the recently appointed Chief Executive of the Civic Trust, was formerly Chief Executive of the Reigate and Banstead District Council and is a founder member of the English Historic Towns Forum.  Since joining the Trust last February he has shown tireless energy in travelling all over the country, addressing conferences and meetings of civic societies.  We are fortunate in having secured him for our AGM and look forward to a large turnout.  Mr Bacon is an excellent speaker with a message guaranteed to light fires! Coffee will be served from 9:30am by courtesy of the Potters Bar Society.

 

Inside this Issue…

From the Chairman

Community Strategies

The Wendover Society: preoccupations during the last year

Sainsbury’s Edge out of Hoddesdon Centre

West of Stevenage - the fight continues

Potters Bar

 

The Association of North Thames Amenity Societies


President:  Jennifer Moss, J.P., D.L.

Chairman
Dr Peter Diplock

Vice President
Ian Morgan

Hon Secretary
Anthony Wethered*

Vice Chairman
John Davies

Hon Treasurer
Ronald Sims

Vice Chairman
Peter Trevelyan


*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:                              Hemel Copy Print, 102 London Road, Apsley
Hemel Hempstead  HP3 9SD                  01442 212636

 

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

 

 

 

From the Chairman

Dr Peter Diplock

I hope that all member societies will be represented at our Annual General Meeting – our seventh. Our guest speaker is Martin Bacon, the new Chief Executive of the Civic Trust. Thanks to the Potters Bar Society for hosting the meeting – and for the historical background in the newsletter.

Effective communication is very important for ANTAS and our member societies. There are many ways that this happens – some seem to be more effective than others. However, each form of communication – verbal, written and electronic – will be more effective if it is two-way rather than just one-way.

Our newsletter provides information, but also asks for feedback and follow-up. In this issue John Davies talks about the requirement for all councils to establish “Community Strategies”. This not only should prompt member societies to ask “What is our council doing?” and “How are we involved?”, but should also encourage ANTAS member societies to share experiences and not try to keep ‘re-inventing the wheel’. There are contributions from Wendover, Hoddesdon and Hitchin – these might prompt others to say “What can we learn from this?” or “Something like this happened to us – We can help” – I hope that it does! The newsletter, thanks to the contributors and Merrin, is a good read – and it will be even better if people do something different as a result of reading the articles.

Our meetings provide an all too infrequent forum for people to meet face to face – (I like to put a face to a name, it is much easier then to pick up the telephone to talk). The informal contacts that take place at our meetings are just as important as the more formal business. It is for that reason that I hope that all societies will make an effort to come to the meeting. The open forum at which member societies report their current key issues allows follow up after the meeting. We may not spend very much time in the meeting discussing each contribution and resolving each issue, but other people who feel that they can help are able to follow-up after the meeting.

The ANTAS website has enormous potential. Chris Woodman has done an excellent job in providing us with the basis of a very powerful means of both one-way AND two-way communication. How many of you have visited the site? What do you think of it? Have you provided any feedback? It will only get better if you tell us what you would like to see on the site. It will only get better if more people contribute and respond to requests for help. The communication needs to be two-way not just one-way. Share good practice so that other member societies do not have to re-invent the wheel.

I look forward to seeing you all at the AGM in Potters Bar.

 

Community Strategies

John Davies, Vice Chairman

The Local Government Act 2000, as well as providing for mayors or "cabinet government" in local authorities, requires all councils to establish "Community Strategies".  This duty is wide ranging and demanding, as the strategies must relate to economic, social and environmental well-being of the area, as well as contributing towards sustainable development.  Local authorities are required to involve local communities, working with public, business and voluntary groups.

This development is likely to be strongly in line with what a responsible civic society wishes to see in action, and provides civic societies with an opportunity for participating in a more structured and recognised way with the local authority.  Indeed, many aspects of the Community Strategy were foreshadowed in Hertfordshire by the County Council's Whole Settlement Strategy with pilot schemes set up in Potters Bar and in Hitchin during 1995.  Although the two pilot schemes developed in somewhat different directions, they were subsequently held by external consultants to be "ten years ahead of their time".  The scheme in Hitchin was allowed to lapse by the local authority - possibly because it was too difficult for local councillors to handle a scheme that had no statutory basis - but now there is a clear and unavoidable obligation on local authorities to make Community Strategies work.

Individual local councils will be developing their own ways of implementing Community Strategies, but councils will need to resource this activity, probably with officers appointed at a senior level to lead the development.  It is also clear that the Community Strategies will be audited on behalf of central government to ensure that the policies as they are developed do indeed reflect the wishes and views of the local community.  As a measure of the commitment behind this process, it is understood that funding to local authorities will be dependent on successfully audited outcomes.

A further consequence of the Local Government Act 2000 is that with the introduction of "cabinet style" structures for local authorities, the "back-bench" councillors will be free of much of the committee work previously placed on them, and will be looking for a new role.  The evidence is that many of these councillors are already becoming actively involved in interfacing with the communities they represent through the work of developing Community Strategies.

Given the far reaching scope of Community Strategies, it is to be expected that these will have a major influence on land use planning issues and particularly the development of Local Plans which will be increasingly be required to integrate land use planning with transportation issues, as well as with wider environmental questions including waste management and disposal.  It is essential the civic societies rise to the challenge, and make their full contribution to issues of such importance to their communities.

Further information, including government guidance on preparing Community Strategies, is given in the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions website, www.local-regions.dtlr.gov.uk.

 

The Wendover Society – 
preoccupations during the last year

Oliver Statham, Hon. Treasurer, The Wendover Society

At the start of the new millennium, Aylesbury Vale District Council published the consultation draft of its first District Wide Local Plan, which would ultimately replace the existing Aylesbury Town Plan and the Rural Areas Local Plan.  The Wendover Society had put a lot of effort into the drafting of the earlier Rural Area Local Plan culminating in appearing and being represented by counsel at the public inquiry and confident of success.  The inspector’s report recommended that the line of the Metropolitan Green Belt boundary, hitherto unsettled, be drawn tightly around the existing built footprint of the town, protecting Wendover from further large scale development.

Some of the proposals contained within the consultation draft of the local plan gave rise to renewed concern, especially the draft plan weakened existing policies against coalescence of settlements, and particularly, the proposal to build on the former Princess Mary’s Hospital site at RAF Halton posed a significant threat to the character and scale of Wendover.  The Society formed a working party which in due course made written representations to the Council.  The Society criticised the proposal to allow major housing development at RAF Halton.  The redundant hospital lay just within the parish of Wendover but being a brown field site, was not covered by Green Belt restrictions, making it difficult to present a case against redevelopment.  Agents acting for the Ministry of Defence proposed a scheme for over 400 houses whilst AVDC argued for 230 dwellings.

The Wendover Society contended that any development at RAF Halton would impact directly upon Wendover.  Although new housing on the site of old hospital buildings and among refurbished armed forces housing could be argued to be no more than replacing armed services personnel with civilian occupation;  in reality military personnel made little impact on Wendover as their needs were met by the camp resources.  Housing numbers were being proposed solely on the basis of built density, with no regard for the impact that a population increase would have on the infrastructure of Wendover.  AVDC had made no proper assessment of the effect on parking, shopping, health services, schools or community facilities.

Drawing on the Society’s earlier experience when the Rural Areas Plan was being considered, the Society resolved to appear at the public inquiry and to be represented by counsel.  Its positive achievements at the earlier RALP inquiry owed much to the valued advice and guidance that an experienced legal mind could bring to the presentation of the issues and to the professional cross-questioning of the other side’s witnesses. However barristers are expensive.  The Parish Council were expressing almost identical views so it was agreed to make a joint written representation and appearance at the Public Inquiry.  Each agreed to make up to £5,000 available to meet costs.

One way to reduce the cost was for the Society to do as much of the work as possible.  The procedure of instructing solicitors who would in turn brief counsel was dispensed with and the barrister was identified and instructed directly.  Fortunately the barrister (whom the Society had hired for the earlier RALP inquiry) was prepared to take the new brief and he already had considerable knowledge of the town, its planning issues and Society officers.  To proceed, both bodies formed a small working group at which the draft plan was scrutinised, the issues identified and joint policies (where they were at variance with AVDC proposals) formulated.  Meetings were held, trips to chambers undertaken and a site visit for counsel arranged.  As the deadline set for appearance at the public inquiry approached, so Proof of Evidence documentation (the written case) had to be prepared and submitted to the Inquiry.

The Society and the Parish Council eventually made their appearance at the Inquiry on 24th October 2000, and were supported in the public gallery where there was an attendance of 14 persons, the greatest number of spectators attending the inquiry so far.

The Public Inquiry

John Hobson QC opened the case for the joint objectors outlining the special concerns about the sensitivity of the proposed location offered by the MOD for residential development on the former Princess Mary’s Hospital site.  This sensitivity was occasioned by the surrounding Green Belt and AONB and the potential impact on the character of Wendover and Wendover’s facilities.  His only witness was Bryan Smith CBE, the Chairman of The Wendover Society and spokesperson for the Parish Council.

Bryan was led through the written proof of evidence.  The principal points were that AVDC had made no qualitative capacity and impact assessments with regard to areas such as education, health centre provision, shopping, community facilities, tourism, traffic and car parking, before determining the site’s potential capacity. 

There was lack of consultation by AVDC at all stages, notwithstanding that the Parish Council and the Wendover Society had made by far the largest number of representations received about Wendover and were respectively the statutory body and a prominent amenity society.  A Car Parking Survey, commissioned in January 2000 by AVDC, demonstrated the Council’s inadequate approaches to assess the impact of a major development upon Wendover. The Council’s enquiries into the effect on Wendover’s schools and health centre were inadequate.

Counsel for AVDC cross-examined Bryan Smith and defended the Council’s failure to attend a public meeting as they had been overwhelmed by the task of responding to the 8,240 written plan objections.  The Council considered it had done all that was reasonably required by consulting with the relevant authorities such as the Bucks Education Authority and the Bucks Health Authority.  He defended, with the aid of AVDC witnesses, the case for up to 230 dwellings on the PMH site, which accorded with a build density of 30 properties per hectare in the face of current government guidance to build between 30 and 50 dwellings per hectare on greenfield sites and over 50 on brownfield sites!  It was contended the lower build density addressed the special needs of the site, and was an effective response to the Ministry of Defence’s contention that up to 50 properties per hectare could be built. 

In his summation John Hobson reviewed the objectors’ case.  After saying this was a friendly objection brought by the PC and the WS, who were not seeking to prevent re-development of PMH site but to support AVDC in limiting development to what was sustainable once a proper impact assessment had been undertaken, he said that his clients had expected a more co-operative and consultative approach, particularly as one of the bodies was the statutory Parish Council.  He also said that his clients’ real concerns were over the proper contribution that this site should make, and that it was the duty of the planning function exercised by the local authority to take proper account of all the considerations that had been brought in front of the Inquiry.

The site was one of special sensitivity in several regards, by virtue of its location and through the impact the development would have on the character of Wendover, which the Council must accept was an issue of special concern in the light of the previous inspector’s report into the earlier Rural Areas Plan.  He drew attention to the strain on Wendover’s facilities not just from PMH development, but also from a further 300 properties (formerly self-contained married quarters but now belonging to Annington Homes) which would also be released on to the market in the early part of the Plan’s life.

Analysis of all these factors had not been done adequately by AVDC.  A Traffic Impact Assessment was urgently needed and parking was a major problem in Wendover.  Indeed the parking problem had at one time been recognised by AVDC!  The Parking Survey was a flawed document in everybody’s view (other than the authors’) and the shortfall in car parking would only get worse and could adversely effect the thriving tourist role enjoyed by the town and promoted by AVDC.

He concluded by saying that the position of the Secondary School was dire, with an attendance roll twice that accommodated when it had been rebuilt not long ago, and further housing development would only worsen the position if the infrastructure shortcomings were not addressed.  He called on the inspector to make a recommendation in his report that the extent of the development should only be determined once a full and credible capacity analysis had been undertaken.

Determination now awaits the inspector’s report due at the end of this year.  It is unlikely that the new plan will be adopted before 2003.  In the meantime it is disturbing to learn that planning decisions may lawfully be determined as if the provisions of the new local plan were already in force!!

Sainsbury’s Edge out of Hoddesdon Centre

Peter J Lardi, Chairman of the Hoddesdon Society

Hoddesdon people, those who live or work in or near the town, for the past thirty years have used the prime pedestrian precinct, Fawkon Walk, as the focus for their shopping.  Sainsbury’s, fulcrum from the outset and now landlord of the whole precinct, decided not to re-develop the old store, rather to build on derelict factories facing on to the dual carriageway by-passing the town.

Main points in favour of Sainsbury’s planning proposals:

1.               clean up a derelict corner, vacated by industries over a period of years

2.               provide improved stock of foodstuffs range, with in-depth stock levels

3.               avoid bringing heavy delivery vehicles into the centre of town

4.               rejuvenate Hoddesdon by encouraging shoppers in from a distance

5.               add to the total number of car parking spaces in the town.

The down side, as discussed extensively in the ‘Mercury’ local paper, with Borough Councillors, with members of the Hoddesdon Society, the Chamber of Commerce:

1.               the proposed new occupant of the Fawkon Walk store (Aldi) is not yet in, there is now a date of March 2002 when it is hoped the store will re-open

2.               application for a pharmacy being included in the new store by Sainsbury

3.               the walkway linking Sainsbury to the High Street is seriously behind schedule

4.               an application to build houses on half the car park does not encourage additional visitors!

The final chapter has not yet been written , but the story so far shows that the Sainsbury store has more flowers, books, videos and other non-food items, encouraging their customers to ignore the rest of the town.

So Hoddesdon is fighting back!  Posters displayed in Fawkon Walk, in various sizes, some as large as 3' x 4' drew attention to the words of the Secretary of State when granting the application for Sainsbury to proceed with the new store: he specifically forbade a pharmacy or post-office facilities.  That application, in the light of vociferous protest, has been withdrawn.

Also, on the initiative of Helena Spencer in “The Book Centre”, with co-operation from several neighbouring traders, fun events were arranged during August (and all were graced with fine weather!) attracting children and adults for Free Fun in Fawkon Walk.

Every week’s issue of the ‘Mercury’ gave excellent coverage to remind people shopping in Hoddesdon not to forget this corner of town.  The events included a Teddy Bear’s Picnic (with gingerbread Teddies given by the baker) and a Treasure Hunt (requiring the contestants to identify grid squares), and all were given prizes.

New River Action Group came with a display of their maps and booklets, launching the game devised by Toby Spencer, a sort of aquatic snakes and ladders based on the New River.  Line Dancing, Create Your Own Pop-Ups, and The Carnival Court was there to make sure everybody was reminded of this year’s traffic-stopping Hoddesdon Carnival held on Saturday 8th September.

Students of social history with a local flavour will cheer!  “Clean Clothes on Sunday” by Celia Davies, 188 pages plus 39 half-tone illustrations, is just reprinted after being unavailable for several years.  Originally issued in 1974, reprinted in 1976, the whole text of the book, with all the photos, is included: a superior quality paperback published in Hoddesdon and available from The Book Centre, price £10.  Order by phone on 01922 467497. Credit cards (except Amex) are accepted.

West of Stevenage - the fight continues

John Davies, Hitchin
Developers lose in court

There was good news for all opposed to plans to build up to 10,000 houses west of Stevenage in a High Court judgement delivered in mid-July.

As reported in the last ANTAS Newsletter, North Herts District Council decided at the end of last year to withdraw their draft Local Plan, knowing that the provisions for building 3,600 houses on the Green Belt west of Stevenage were non-compliant with the government's new requirements as set out in PPG3.  The developers then, just as expected, took the District Council to court for a judicial review of the Council's decision. 

The Council in withdrawing its draft Plan recognised that any major greenfield development could not go ahead until an Urban Capacity Study had been completed throughout Hertfordshire to establish just how many new houses could be built on brownfield - previously used - land.  And this work is now going ahead throughout the county, closely linked to the Hertfordshire Town Renaissance Campaign.

The developers were of course outraged, and tried to throw the book at the Council.  They then climbed down, withdrawing all their grounds for appeal except one - that a Council had no legal right to withdraw a draft Local Plan no matter how flawed.  They claimed that the Council should have continued with its draft Plan, incurring all the costs of a public inquiry, where it would without doubt have been thrown out for not complying with PPG3.

On 15th July the findings of the judicial review were handed down in the High Court in London.  The judge dismissed the developers' claim, saying that "it would be absurd to require proposals to be put through the statutory procedure … when the local planning authority know in advance that they will not be adopted".

Developers put in Planning Applications

Almost before the ink was dry on the judge's finding against the developers, the same developers delivered boxes of papers to both NHDC and Stevenage Borough Council.  These contained all the documentation for a Planning Application to build no fewer than 5,000 houses on the Green Belt west of Stevenage.

NHDC and SBC now have 16 weeks in which to make a determination of the Planning Application, and objectors have had just a six week period in which to make their formal submissions.  It is probably no coincidence that the application was timed for the summer holiday season causing maximum difficulty for the general public wishing to object, and for local government officers processing the applications.  The closing date for objections was Friday, 21st September; as the application was made both to NHDC and SBC, all objections sent to one authority will be copied to the other.

Preparing objections in just six weeks was a tall order as the developers' documentation was so extensive, giving the illusion of being comprehensive, but in reality containing many flaws and inconsistencies.  Part of the documentation was available on the developers' website - www.weststevenage.co.uk - but much of the detail was not, adding to the difficulties in making objections.

The developers' glossy brochure supporting the application claims that the scheme will be "an exciting new urban extension of the country's first planned New Town - drawing from the example of the Prince of Wales' Poundbury extension of Dorchester".  They claim that a new integrated public transport system will cut peak hour car journeys by 30%, and that an incredible 80% of all travel by the new residents will be in Stevenage.  Electricity will be from a green energy supplier matching usage with power from wind and water.  It's even claimed that the scheme will be a "substantial ecological enhancement".  All this and more had to be challenged through the vital process of lodging objections, no matter how brief.

A comprehensive and powerful objection has been submitted by CASE, the Campaign Against Stevenage Expansion, which has also organised objection forms to be delivered to every household in Hitchin, the surrounding villages, and to much of Stevenage.  These have resulted in several thousand individual objections being made against the scheme.  The Hitchin Society has also made a detailed objection, focusing particularly on the impact the proposed development would have on Hitchin, while the Chiltern Society has also objected.

Now the objections have been made, the matter is in the hands of NHDC and SBC until a decision is made in November.  If the developers do not get their way, they would then be able to appeal, in all probability leading to a Public Inquiry next year.  By that time the factual results of the Urban Capacity study will be out and it will be clear whether Hertfordshire can meet its housing commitments from land in existing towns and villages.

However, quite undaunted, the developers have now submitted a second Planning Application to NHDC and SBC, this time for 3,600 houses.  The trick of making multiple applications is no doubt that the public will become weary of making repeated objections to essentially the same scheme, so the developers will claim spuriously that the public are increasingly supporting their plans.  As far as objectors are concerned, the whole process will have to be repeated all over again, although 3,600 is just a milestone on the road to 5,000 houses and in all probability the original ambition for 10,000 houses on this site.

 

Potters Bar

Arnold Davey, Potters Bar Society

When the Norman kings enclosed Enfield Chace as a royal hunting forest about 1140 and excluded everyone else from this large tract of land, it was inevitable that roads would be formed along the boundaries of the Chace, since even then there was a need to travel and the traveller would not want to be caught on the royal land.  The road from Southgate (the south gate on to the Chace) passing along its southern boundary met the road along the western boundary and at the junction a small settlement grew up, called Potterbare in 1387, the earliest reference we have found.  The name gradually changed to Potters Bar over the years but the ‘bar’ has nothing to do with the turnpike toll gate which is very much later.

As London grew steadily larger, its ‘centre of gravity’ moved westwards and the route to the north, originally the Roman Ermine Street, was slowly supplanted by the route through Hatfield and Potters Bar, which by about 1780 had become known as The Great North Road, in contrast to the Old North Road through Ware.  The Great North Road had become a turnpike, the Potters Bar length coming into force in 1730.

Potters Bar was still a tiny village and was regarded as part of South Mimms, two miles to the west, at that time the larger settlement, and recorded in the Domesday Book. Potters Bar became a parish in its own right in 1835 and opened its first school in 1839.  With the coming of the stage coach there was some passing trade but its location roughly half way between the major staging posts of Barnet and Hatfield meant that there was only a little building of inns.

This peaceful backwater had its first transformation with the building of the Great Northern Railway, opened to Peterborough in 1850.  At its opening a station at ‘Potters Bar and South Mims’ (sic) had started but was not ready to open.  As the railway passed under the Great North Road in a tunnel, the station was built at the next road crossing to the west where the line passed over Darkes Lane.  At the time, this was open country and the only link to the village proper was a track along the line now taken by The Walk.  This is the reason for Potters Bar’s unusual layout of the two parallel High Streets, half a mile apart.

Inevitably development started around the railway station within a decade, but it was very slow and sporadic until the early 20th century.  During the First World War, Potters Bar sprang to temporary fame in 1916 when Zeppelin L31 was shot down, crashing in flames in Oakmere Park’s grounds.  After that war, the total change in attitudes to travel saw explosive growth in the town, with quick service to London by bus and rail.  A distinguishing feature is the high proportion of bungalows, many of them built by a local builder called Hicks, whose high quality and distinctive style has led to the designation of Potters Bar’s first Conservation Area, The ‘Royds’.

After the second war there was a further outburst of house building, a great deal of it overspill from North London boroughs, not always welcomed by the existing residents.  Then in the ’eighties the completion of the M25, so close to the town, led to another boom, this time monster office blocks which have again transformed the appearance.  As the town is very tightly constrained by the Green Belt, building now is largely confined to replacements rather than ‘greenfield’.

In a survey of building in the town, carried out in 1980, it was found that only 3% had been built before 1914, 52% between the wars and 45% since 1945.  For interest the population figures range from: 1841 - 846 (includes South Mimms), 1921 - 3022 (includes South Mimms), 1951 – 17172, 1961 – 23376, 1981 – 24850.