Apr 202019
 

Sir

I note that in his letter to the Herts Advertiser (New Hospital Fight, Thursday April 18, 2019) John Wigley, Chairman of the St Albans and Harpenden Patient Group challenges each of the political parties to write to the Herts Advertiser stating its views about the future of local hospitals.

It may therefore be helpful to know that at the meeting of the St Albans District Council on 20 February 2019, the Labour group moved a motion asserting our support for the retention of the City Hospital.  This was amended by the Conservative group to include mention of Harpenden Memorial Hospital and was passed unanimously reading as follows:

“This Council notes the current public engagement on the future of hospital services in West Hertfordshire and the options under consideration. This Council recognises the importance of retaining local accessible services in the three major population centres in the west of the county and therefore calls upon the Herts Valleys Clinical Commissioning Group and the West Herts Hospitals NHS Trust to retain a range of health service provision at St Albans City Hospital including planned surgery, an Urgent Treatment Centre, Midwife-led services, out-patient and diagnostic services.

This Council also notes that the provision of a Health and Wellbeing Hub at the Harpenden Memorial Hospital site has been on the agenda for nearly 10 years, and that after lengthy consultations has been accepted as an important part of the way to deliver local outpatients, diagnostic and wellbeing services to our ageing population and families in the north of the District. We therefore call upon all the NHS Commissioners in the area to work together to bring about this much needed resource.”

The local Labour Party recognises the urgent need to upgrade acute hospital services in the west of the county but considers it vital that we retain a range of services within this District to allow ease of access for many of our residents who struggle to get to other NHS sites.  We have campaigned consistently on this position and launched an online (and paper) survey so that residents can demonstrate their support.  The online petition can be reached at https://www.ipetitions.com/petition/save-st-albans-nhs-services-3 .

Yours faithfully

Roma Mills

St Albans District  Labour Group leader

Apr 062019
 

HOUSING

Housing is a priority for Labour at both national and local level.

Locally, the Council has failed to deliver enough homes for decades – especially enough affordable homes. In fact, it has only met its own target of 200 affordable homes per annum once since 1994.

This madness has to end. It is driving families apart, forcing many of those who work in the city to live elsewhere, and doing nothing to address the growing problem of homelessness in our District.

Labour would end this by implementing a housing policy which reflects local need and places public good above private profit.

Labour will:

  • Launch a five-year plan to tackle the historic shortfall in affordable homes, which the new Local Plan ignores. We will bring together key stakeholders in a district-wide approach which integrates with Labour’s national strategy, gearing housing delivery to local need.
  • Build the right size of housing – this means more smaller properties, and fewer 4- and 5-bed ‘executive homes’.
  • Build the right type of housing – addressing the mix between private ownership/ privately rented/ Council and other “affordable” solutions.
  • Build houses in the right places – striking a balance between greenfield development and increasing densities in existing towns and villages.

Specifically, as the Council’s own analysis shows that ‘more than 75% of all housing need in the District is for affordable homes’, we believe this should mean a minimum target of 75% affordable homes on sites of 10 dwellings or more.

The Government’s definition of ‘affordable’ covers a range of options. Labour wants the split to reflect local need. The Council’s own research indicates this as 81% social housing (up to 60% of full market rate), 16% ‘affordable rent’ (up to 80% of full market rate), and 3% shared ownership and other forms of subsidised housing.

Labour backs proposals in the recently-submitted Local Plan to release around 1% of the Green Belt for new housing and community facilities, between now and 2036. This means around 80% of the District will remain in the Green Belt.

Housing: a commitment to council building and responsible management

The recent removal of the ‘borrowing cap’ means the Council can invest in building the social housing needed by our local communities. But that requires a step-change from the present-day drip-feed of new Council-built housing, which barely offsets the loss of Council housing stock because of Right-to-Buy.

Labour is committed to:

  • Making ‘borrow to build’ a priority, not a marginal add-on. We oppose the way other parties “solve” housing issues by resorting to out-of-district B&B accommodation. We will tackle the shameful problem of homelessness locally.
  • Making Council land available for new housing, especially for those on Council waiting lists, and speeding up such projects significantly.
  • Making the best use of the existing Council house stock to benefit local people, and make the bidding system for allocating housing stock fairer.
  • Improving the quality of our Council houses, so that tenants benefit from good standards of accommodation.

Housing: a commitment to private renters

Labour believes that the high standards it expects of the Council in managing its properties should also apply to those who profit from renting out homes in the private sector.

Labour will:

  • Press for a system of landlord accreditation to supplement the existing private sector housing enforcement policy, which seeks to ensure reasonable standards of accommodation.
  • Support national Labour policy to end insecurity for private renters by introducing controls on rent rises, more secure tenancies with three-year tenancies as the norm, landlord licensing and new consumer rights for renters.
  • Push to end the scandal of empty homes, ensuring that all existing housing is brought back into use, including through compulsory purchase where owners continue to keep homes empty and in disrepair.  

Housing: a commitment to address homelessness

In an affluent district such as ours, it is unacceptable to have increasing numbers of homeless on our streets. The spiralling rise in street homelessness results directly from decisions made by the Conservatives on pay, housing, mental health and social security.

Labour will:

  • Ensure there is adequate winter shelter provision.
  • Prioritise direct access accommodation locally, to avoid use of B&B provision, particularly where this is out of district – with the inevitable disruption and stress this causes for those needing such services.
  • Look to provide a shelter with linked services to help those with alcohol or drug addiction, who are often excluded from existing provision.

CHANGING THE FACE OF OUR CITY AND DISTRICT

Town centres are changing as our patterns of shopping change. Labour believes we should be creative in re-inventing our town centres as centres for retail and entertainment – a bold vision that can enhance what our district offers to young people, while also exploring scope for bringing housing back nearer our town centres.

Labour will:

  • Look to use local planning policy to safeguard existing retail and entertainment uses
  • Pursue a creative response to retail challenges, by embracing opportunities to enhance the leisure/entertainment offer such as ten-pin bowling, mini-cinema, ‘Quasar’ games area, “youth café” with games area.
  • Enable and encourage street entertainment and central ‘street events’
  • Liaise with local business-owners to review all costs related with doing business in the town centre/local centre such as business rates, parking and parking charges and rental costs.
  • Reassess the use of controlled parking zones

Our city and district: a commitment to local employment

The Local Plan promotes building a business zone adjacent to Hemel Hempstead, but offers little or nothing for St Albans, Harpenden and London Colney. Policies that deliberately force people into longer commutes are illogical and unsustainable.

Labour will:

  • Look to identify employment land closer to our main centres.
  • Seek to provide some part of this as ‘start-up’ offices and entrepreneur (small venue) space, with smart planning so that the workspaces themselves are flexible and provision organised in combination with useful ‘wrap-around’ services, such as childcare
  • Use the Local Plan as a basis for developing a high tech business park in St Albans which can allow local tech businesses to grow and thrive.
  • Work with telecoms providers and other interested stakeholders to look to develop St Albans as a 100% fibre broadband city.

Our city and district: a commitment to healthy, integrated communities

National planning policy requires Councils to promote healthy and safe communities. Labour will use its influence to champion the health, wellbeing and safety of our local communities and bring back some civic pride.

Labour will:

  • Push for the reintroduction of manned police stations, at least one with a custody suite, reflect local concerns about a rising crime rate and the increase in late night licensing
  • Promote strong policies on where fast food takeaways are located
  • Push for toddler play areas to be provided locally
  • Demand that existing green spaces are enhanced and new ones are delivered in all new housing developments
  • Require new development to include well-maintained options for walking and cycling as part of the master planning process
  • Support the provision of more Places of Worship and additional cemetery facilities in the District

Our city and district: a commitment to local transport

We welcome the various references in the Local Plan reference to new public transport initiatives, but don’t understand why local communities should wait many years until they are delivered.

Labour will:

  • Push for the urgent restoration of cut local bus services, to end the social isolation those cuts have caused for local residents
  • Demand significant improvements in the Thameslink line, and look for our fragmented and dysfunctional rail services to be re-nationalised under a Labour Government.
  • Push for improvements to the Abbey Flier line, to make it a genuine alternative option for commuters and a better service for less frequent travellers.
  • Require Herts County Council to repair our crumbling road network
  • Insist on improvements to key junctions before significant housing developments are allowed.

THE ENVIRONMENT

The Labour Party recognises the need to care for our environment at every level, from the local to the global.

While we can all make an individual contribution and commit to help solving environmental problems, we also need to make collective choices about how we live and about funding choices that support sustainability.

The drive for profit above the need for public good has brought us to where we are. We need to challenge this at every turn.

We need planning, funding and imagination for a sustainable future. Only the Labour Party will take the political and economic decisions that allow this to happen.

Labour will:

  • Work towards a zero carbon buildings objective including introducing solar panels on the Council’s housing stock, saving tenants money and benefiting the environment for all.
  • Tackle the District’s high emission zones where air quality is poor. We know where these areas are; the existing anti-idling measures need strengthening. We will introduce low emission zones to stop heavy polluting vehicles making matters worse.
  • Ensure that new development contributes infrastructure (roads, schools and community-based facilities) and sustains long-term, good public transport connections.
  • Ensure that cycle/pedestrian routes are designed into new housing areas, so that it benefits not just the new home-owners but the whole community.
  • Introduce 20 mph areas in residential areas and around schools and encourage children and parents to walk to school wherever possible.
  • Offer community grants for local people to improve their environment by adopting areas where they can plant and tidy up these open spaces, helping local people to have a say in their local environment.
  • Encourage and recognise local businesses who develop green initiatives.
  • Deliver a partnership deal between the Council and a green local energy provider so that we use local energy to benefit local people and businesses.
  • Look for new ways to partnership with the County Council in expanding recycling services for local residents and businesses.
  • Introduce measures to alert the Council when waste bins are full.
  • Ensure that funding is in place to deal with the effects of adverse weather events.

OUR LEISURE SERVICES

Many leisure centres across the district are private or run in partnership with the local Council. Labour believes we can do better with the money the Council has available to it. 

Prices are unaffordable to many. Labour will review the cost to local community groups of booking venues for community activities, ensuring that there is a wide range of activities on offer for people of all abilities.

Labour will:

  • Fight to ensure that the Council’s leisure budget provides leisure activities for all
  • Push for the urgent improvement of grassroot sporting facilities, particularly playing pitches and changing rooms
  • Work to ensure the provision of flexible childcare facilities at leisure centres
  • Consult local residents regarding the type of equipment they would like to see in our parks.
  • Support local community clubs and youth activities and, where possible, work with the Youth Council and schools to do so.
  • Provide services where they are needed and create links with local schools, creating volunteering opportunities for students
  • Continue to support regular leisure events like the local fashion week and film festival.
  • Protect our local community pubs from closure.

OUR LOCAL ECONOMY

Labour is ambitious for our local economy. We want the local Council to act as a facilitator for local businesses and create the right environment for local people to work locally. We recognise that not everybody wants to work in London.

Labour will:

  • Work closely with the Chamber of Commerce, businesses and the local Colleges and University to turn the District into a gateway to London for those that want to do business in the Capital but not be based there.
  • Work to strengthen links between businesses and the University of Herts, the Building Research Establishment in Bricket Wood and Rothamsted Research Centre in Harpenden, to turn the District into the scientific/hi-tech hub of Hertfordshire and grow green jobs and technologies locally.
  • Champion a new business park in St Albans to sit alongside the longer-term development around Hemel Hempstead.
  • Encourage local businesses to engage with social enterprises such as the Credit Union to foster better business and community links.
  • Work to promote the local Credit Union, to help less well-off citizens so they no longer need to turn to payday loan companies.
  • Continue Labour’s work on the real Living Wage by engaging with local businesses over the issue and promoting the benefits (better staff retention, less absenteeism and a boost to local spending) to our local community.
  • Have a Capital Plan that focusses on investment in the most neglected areas, rather than primarily in areas that will contribute funding.
  • Seek to create a cultural quarter around the new museum and make St Albans more visitor-friendly in the evening, to support and expand our tourist business.
  • Work with local businesses to play on our strengths, such as our Historic City status, our links to the Ryder Cup and our association with the sporting success of those teams who train and play near the city.

LOCAL COUNCIL SERVICES AND DEMOCRACY

The Council should be a positive engine of growth, innovation and support, using its resources for the public good.

Labour will:

  • Encourage local groups to apply for grants to improve local areas where residents are willing to undertake those improvements.  
  • Focus on delivering services where there is greatest need, greatest utility and most social deprivation.
  • Ensure that the Council’s efforts at localism meet the needs of local residents, and continue to review the Council’s efforts to make the Council more accountable to local citizens. 
  • Review the Council’s policy of not changing highways/parking matters unless 60% of residents agree on a particular course of action.
  • Set up a Fairness Commission, headed by a local independent person, to review the types of services we offer to our local citizens and how effective the Council is at delivering them.
  • Look at different ways to engage the public more in Council meetings, and webcast all public meetings so that residents who are unable to attend them are still able to scrutinise policy-making.

HEALTH.

The District is a key stakeholder in the decision-making process of our local health services.

Labour will:

  • Continue to campaign for a full A&E services in the District
  • Fight to retain and expand NHS services across our District.
  • Campaign to scrap excessive parking charges at local health facilities.
  • Seek to upgrade health facilities for the elderly, disabled and mentally ill within our community, as Labour believes they are not getting a fair share of the resources.
  • Engage with local sports/health facilities, so that these are made more accessible to younger people.
  • Work with GPs and local sporting facilities so that less well-off residents who need to return to health via sporting activities can do so at an affordable rate.
Oct 232018
 

St Albans Labour Party Group Submission to the St Albans Draft Local Plan 2020-26 Public Consultation, Sept-Oct 2018

Members of the St Albans Labour Party met on 3rd August 2018 to consider the soundness of key policies in the St Albans Draft Local Plan, during its Regulation 19 Consultation, Sept-Oct 2018.

The Council’s consultation notes suggest that it be would prefer to receive a Group Submission rather than lots of identical submission. As a result, this Group Submission is being made on behalf of 24 members who attended. Members who did not attend the meeting or who wish to add their own points on other policies will still be invited to do so.

In respect of the way the Plan was prepared, noting the supporting information provided with the Plan and also that the Council is acting as part the South West Herts Group of districts, working together on a Joint Strategic Plan, we conclude that the Local Plan is:

  • Legally compliant; and
  • Complies with the Duty to Cooperate

However, it was the general view of the members’ meeting that a number of Policies in the Local Plan are not Sound. As required by the Consultation, which allows the submission of an attached document, we set out the reasons why the Policies are Unsound and also what Modifications are required to make it Sound.

Policy L3 – Provision of and Financial Contributions towards Affordable Housing

The members were concerned that the percentage of affordable housing sought was too low and that the mix of affordable housing types did not reflect the evidence base.

Percentage requirement

The Policy seeks to achieve a minimum of 40% affordable homes on sites of 10 or more dwellings.

However, Appendix 6 states that the Strategic Housing Market Assessment “shows more than 75% of all housing need in the District is for Affordable homes”.

If the need is for more than 75% affordable housing, we believe it is only reasonable that the minimum target should be 75% affordable homes on sites of 10 dwellings or more.

Affordable housing type requirements

Of the affordable housing contribution, the Policy seeks a split of 30% social rent, 30% affordable rent and 40% subsidised home ownership.

However, Appendix 6 refers to Table 4.5 of the SHMA Update 2015. An examination of this Table shows that the split was actually: 81% social rent, 16% affordable rent and 3% shared ownership.

If taxpayer-funded evidence has identified the manner in which affordable housing need is split, we believe the Local Plan should reflect that evidence.

Consequently, we have concluded that Policy L3 is Unsound because:

  • it has not been Positively Prepared as it is not seeking to meet the needs of the District as identified in the SHMA; and
  • is not Justified, because it is not based on proportionate evidence

The modifications required to make Policy L3 Sound would be:

  • to raise the percentage of affordable housing required; and
  • to change the split of affordable housing types to reflect the evidence.

Policy S5 – Economic Development Strategy and Employment Land Provision

The members were concerned that the Local Plan promoted the building of a business zone adjacent to Hemel Hempstead but nothing specific adjacent to our own District’s main urban areas of St Albans, Harpenden and London Colney.

St Albans, in particular, is home to a high number of digital employers (earning the moniker “Silicon Abbey”), and the Members believed the Local Plan should include a digital business park and associated high quality, fast internet office space in or adjacent to the city to build on this success.

Consequently, we believe that Policy S5 is Unsound because:

  • it has not been Positively Prepared as it is not seeking to meet the economic development needs of the District in the right location; and
  • is not Justified, because it is an appropriate strategy

The modifications required to make Policy S5 Sound would be :

  • to identify employment land close to St Albans to add a second specialist business zone.

Policy L22 – Community, Leisure and Sports Facilities

 The Members were concerned that the Local Plan lacked ambition when it came to the provision of key community facilities.

The Local Plan is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to shape our district to reflect the needs of its local communities. The members thought that whilst Policy L22 was right to seek to deliver more Places of Worship, to protect our Public Houses, to extend Cemetery facilities and to support the principle of a new stadium for St Albans City FC, there were also major deficiencies in this wish list.

Members thought the Local Plan lacked ambition as it had no explicit reference to delivering, for instance:

  • a new General Hospital with full A&E facilities – the need for which will only increase if another 14,000 households become resident in the District;
  • one or more manned police stations, at least one with a custody suite, to reflect local concerns about a rising crime rate and the increase in late night licensing; and
  • improved grass roots sports facilities, particularly in respect of the changing rooms at the District’s parks and open spaces.

Consequently, we consider Policy L22 to be Unsound because:

  • it has not been Positively Prepared as it is not seeking to meet the health and safety needs of the District;
  • is not Justified, because it does not provide appropriate strategies for health and safety; and
  • is therefore not Consistent with the National Planning Policy Framework which devotes an entire Chapter to “Promoting Healthy and Safer Communities”.

The modifications required to make Policy L22 Sound would be:

  • to identify land in the District for the provision of a new General Hospital with 24/7 A&E, police stations in St Albans, Harpenden and London Colney and grass roots sports facilities that actually do justice to what we’re told is one of the wealthiest Districts in England.

Policy L18 – Transport Strategy

 The members were concerned that the Local Plan lacked ambition when it came to improving sustainable transport options.

Whilst measures to improve opportunities for cycling are welcome, Members were concerned about the lack of ambition and detail in respect of other transport issues. This was considered particularly important given the additional strain on the transport network that another 14,000 households will produce.

Public Transport

The reference to increased frequency of trains on the Abbey Flyer was welcome but where is the detail: how, where and when will it be achieved? Members would like to see ambitious proposals to make the track dual rail throughout, as well as proposal to integrate with existing services in Watford, offering continuous transport in to London as a viable alternative and back up to the Thameslink line. As a minimum, members would like to see specific reference to the Bricket Wood Passing Loop proposed by the Abbey Flyer User Group.

Improved bus services are always welcome but as they have been cut so dramatically in recent years what, specifically, will the Local Plan to do to ensure services will be enhanced?

Improved accessibility at Harpenden Station is welcome but how will the Thameslink services be affected, first, by several thousand more households seeking to commute to London and, secondly, if the Rail Freight goes ahead?

Roads

Again, our already-congested roads will become even busier when several thousand new households take to their cars. Where are the specific measures to reduce congestion via improvements to key junctions and/or Park and Ride schemes?

Consequently, we believe Policy L18 is Unsound because:

  • it has not been Positively Prepared as it is not seeking to meet the sustainable transport needs of the District; and
  • is not Justified, because it does not provide the detail to demonstrate that its strategies are the most appropriate

The modifications required to make Policy L18 Sound would be to

  • provide specific detail on how, where and when the Abbey Line will be enhanced, how bus services will be improved and guaranteed and how road congestion will be eased.

Policy L21 – Education

 The members’ meeting welcomed the delivery of new schools at the Broad Locations and the new primary school for St Albans Central Areas but were concerned about the lack of a new secondary school to meet existing/growing needs within St Albans.

Members also criticised the lack of any specific provisions for Extended Learning facilities.

Consequently, we submit that Policy L21 is Unsound because:

  • it has not been Positively Prepared as it is not seeking to meet the full educational needs of the District; and
  • is not Justified, because it is not, therefore, the most appropriate strategy

The modifications required to make Policy L21 Sound would be to:

  • identify specific land close to St Albans that could provide a secondary school to serve the Central Area, as well as potential locations that can deliver Extended Learning opportunities.

 Policy L25 – Energy and Environment Performance of New Development

 The members were concerned that the Local Plan lacked ambition when it came to delivering zero-carbon development through self-generation.

In a District which is home to the Building Research Establishment, Members were concerned about the lack of specific detail on demanding targets for environmentally-friendly new development. The Local Plan, it was thought, should be a leader in the provision of zero- carbon initiatives.

Consequently, we believe that Policy L25 is Unsound because:

  •  it has not been Positively Prepared as it is not seeking to meet the sustainable energy needs of the District; and
  • is not Justified, because it does not provide the detail to demonstrate that its strategies, for instance for wind and solar energy, are the most appropriate

The modifications required to make Policy L25 Sound would be to

  • provide specific detail on minimum targets for the production of sustainable energy sources.
Aug 292017
 

Research by the Campaign for Fairer Gambling has shown the impact of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals on people in St Albans. These machines differ from traditional fruit machines found in pubs by allowing £100 to be gambled on a single spin. In the last 8 years it’s estimated that £11.6m was lost in St Albans and £16.8m lost in St Albans district as a whole on such machines. Last year alone almost two and a half million pounds were estimated to have been lost on FOBTs in St Albans district.

In our general election manifesto Labour promised to reduce the maximum stake from £100 to £2 and to increase the minimum time between spins to make these machines less addictive.

St Albans Labour Party Spokesperson and District Councillor Roma Mills said “With Fixed Odds Betting Terminals – people can place a £100 bet every 20 seconds and lose frightening amounts of money in a few minutes. FOTBs are dangerously addictive and cause real harm, often to vulnerable people and their families. The only gainers are the bookies and the Government – we don’t want to raise tax by causing such misery and the Labour Party is committed to taking action to stop it.”