Report Harassment and Misogynist Abuse

Letter to Welwyn Hatfield Times

16/07/2018

Dear Sir,

I was dismayed last week to hear from a friend, a young professional woman who lives near the city centre of Welwyn Garden City, that she'd experienced two separate incidents of abusive behavior within the past two weeks.

The first was whilst jogging in the afternoon, a group of pre-teenaged boys on bikes yelled obscene suggestions. The second, similar but more sinister, occurred as she walked home late in the evening, when four men in a car slowed down to yell, again, a highly offensive sexual comment not fit for print in this newspaper.

Her initial response was to do nothing, because she didn't feel there was anything that could be done. She said "I know this happens everywhere all the time, I just felt dispirited."

My reason for raising it here, is that we must take action, or risk this misogynistic, hateful behaviour becoming the new norm.

My advice to any woman or girl who encounters such abuse is to report it via the police non-emergency number (101), every time. Although it may not result in any immediate action, it helps to build a record of troubled areas and repeat behaviours, which the police can act on.

In both the instances above, it is likely that my friend was not their only target. But if none of the women they harassed reported it, the police have no reason to increase patrols in the area. And if the perpetrators went on to commit a more serious offence, the additional information provided by those who encountered them might provide valuable evidence.

Don't downplay the seriousness of this behaviour. This is not harmless catcalls and wolf-whistles, it is highly offensive and threatening anti-social behaviour. So if you encounter this kind of abuse, take note of details, take a photo if you have your phone and can do so without putting yourself at risk, get a registration number, whatever little bits might help to build a record. And report it. Because their next victim may not be as strong as you.

I am gathering evidence to scope the extent of the problem in Welwyn Hatfield. If you have recently experienced misogynist verbal abuse or harassment and you are willing to share your story, please contact me at barbara@welhatlibdems.org.uk.

Sincerely yours,

Cllr Dr Barbara Gibson,
Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate

16/07/2018


We Want Trains, Not Empty Promises

Letter to Welwyn Hatfield Times

09/07/2018

Dear Sir,

Perhaps our MP should be offering a month of free taxes to compensate Welwyn Hatfield constituents for the ineptitude of his party's government when it comes to ensuring a working transportation system.

Last week's front page was another free publicity opportunity for Mr Shapps, taking credit for an achievement that hasn't happened, with sketchy detail.

I have a few questions:

When it is absolutely clear that Chris Grayling has failed the British public spectacularly, our MP was silent in the Parliamentary debate on a motion of no confidence in the Transport Secretary. How does Mr Shapps justify having voted along party lines rather than standing up for Welwyn Hatfield residents?

The "promise" of compensation is currently still just political hot air, and likely applies only to season ticket holders. It does nothing to alleviate the huge inconvenience suffered by the rest of us, who travel frequently but irregularly. It does nothing to compensate businesses for the lost productivity, or self-employed people for the loss of income or any of the other expenses we are all incurring. What will Mr Shapps and Mr Grayling do for the rest of us?

Most importantly, when will we be able to count on any published train timetable again? In the last three weeks, there's been a problem with every single journey I've taken, and the message to "check before you travel" is ludicrous, since cancellations are often only announced too late to choose an alternative. Every fellow passenger I've spoken with tells the same story.

We don't want empty promises of compensation. We want trains that run as scheduled, with reasonable frequency at all times of day, and we want it now, not months from now.

Sincerely yours,

Cllr Dr Barbara Gibson,
Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate

09/07/2018


New "interim" timetable no better than failed one

"The new so-called improved interim train timetable, set to start on 15 July is no better than the current one that is failing so badly" says LibDem councillor and rail champion Malcolm Cowan.

"The current 2 ½ hour gap in trains from Kings Cross in the morning - 0921 followed eventually by the 1151 is an insult. There is also a 90 minute gap in the evening, and a 90 minute gap going into London just after lunch. Yet again, none of the faster Govia trains that rush through are being called in to stop, when there must clearly be spare track capacity given the number of trains not running.

"On Saturdays, it is a 50% service all day, including on the Moorgate line where there are no new trains and no driver training needed. We are becoming a Cinderella service despite the sky high fares. Maybe we should have a 50% fares cut.

"And all this assumes Govia can actually do what they promise - does anyone have confidence in that? After all, the spring edition of their magazine Connections has the banner headline 'The Golden Age starts in May'. Candidate for quote of the year?"

08/07/2018


The Train Approaching Does Not Stop Here!

Letter to Welwyn Hatfield Times

01/07/2018

Dear Sir,

I had hoped that by now we would be seeing some improvements on the local rail services, but we are not. In fact, the problem is not lack of trains, it is lack of trains that stop at WGC or Hatfield - the vast majority thunder through.

Given that the current timetable has a 2½ hour gap between trains north in the morning, one would hope that faster trains would call in, as they did in the now discredited days of British Rail. But it seems that is too difficult. In the 2½ hour gap, there appear to be 8 Great Northern/Thameslink trains rushing through, that could be made to call here. But no, let the people wait.

Even worse is the comparison with the St Albans line. In our 2½ hour gap, around 18 trains serve St Albans. We really are the poor relations in Welwyn Hatfield. I suggest this is nowhere near good enough.

Yours sincerely

Malcolm Cowan,
LibDem councillor

01/07/2018


Why is Grant Shapps defending Failing Grayling?

Train Indicator: Cancelled

That is the question many local rail users are asking, after a motion of No Confidence in Transport Minister Chris Grayling was defeated with not a single Conservative MP breaking ranks in the vote, despite many of them expressing their extreme concern in the debate. And Grant did not speak at all in the debate unlike MPs for Stevenage, for Hitchin and for North-East Herts, the areas sharing our pain.

Grant has made much of his dissatisfaction with the failure of rail services since the failed new timetable, but has concentred his fire on operator Govia and infrastructure owner Network Rail. In fact, most observers have concluded it is the Department for Transport, headed by under-fire minister Chris Grayling who seems to be at the heart of the problems.

Firstly, Grayling was the one who reduced the number of timetable planners at Network Rail, just as they were having to organise and approve the new timetable with its thousands of changes. And secondly, he refused to allow the changeover to be put back, despite requests from rail insiders, when it was obvious it could not be delivered in time.

"Grayling's mucky paws are all over this; he is the one who made it impossible for the changes to work, and then blames everyone else. I would have hoped Grant would have realised this and made him accountable" said local rail user champion Malcolm Cowan.

"But rather than fighting for his beleaguered constituents , Grant meekly toed the party line and closed ranks in support of a failing party colleague."

24/06/2018


Govia boss resigns

It has been announced that Charles Horton, head of Govia, has resigned.

Malcolm Cowan, Liberal Democrat councillor, says "This is not before time. He has presided over chaos on Southern, through the attempt to force in Driver-Only Operation, and now brought chaos to our line and Thameslink through the botched timetable change, in which Govia were major culprits. Great Northern regularly features as bottom or close to bottom of all the rail franchises for performance while charging sky-high fares. And all the time, it has been someone else's fault, like when he blamed delays and cancellations on Great Northern, on work at London Bridge even though our trains do not go anywhere near there. The timetable changes have been majorly oversold when for many of us they represent a worsening, even if they were actually to run.

He has been grossly overpaid at half a million pounds a year while the hard-pressed staff who are on the front line of passenger anger get a fraction of that. I suspect his legacy will be that he took the railway backwards when it was supposed to be going forwards."

15/06/2018


Continuing Chaos Leaves Travellers in Dark

Train cancellations affecting Welwyn Hatfield have continued, with just a 50% service over the weekend of 2nd/3rd June and multiple cancellations on weekdays.

However, a joint letter from Network Rail, Govia and Northern has laid wide open that the chaos was known to be coming. Part of their statement says:

"To accommodate the extra services being introduced, six out of 10 services nationwide had to be retimed. The time of all GTR and most Northern services had to be changed. All of these new journeys needed to be individually approved by Network Rail to ensure the national rail network runs safely and smoothly.

As a result of the sheer number of changes required and the late running of some engineering improvements, the process took longer than anticipated, approvals for service changes were delayed and some timetable requests were changed. This meant that train companies had much less time to prepare for the new timetable meaning specialist training required could not be completed in time for drivers to learn all the new routes, or operate different trains for operators to address all the logistical challenges.

Malcolm Cowan asks: "Why, if everyone in the rail industry knew there would be chaos, from both the lack of approval for the new trains timings and the lack of trained drivers, did no-one bother to tell the passengers? Govia continued to shout about how wonderful it would be when they knew failure was coming down the track with the speed of an Inter-City, but the signals to those who pay and get a lousy service was set to green when they should have been red. For this alone, Govia should lose their contract. The whinging about lack of drivers has been a constant noise form Govia from the day they took over, but they still haven't got their plans working."

04/06/2018


Sorry, we forgot to empty your bin... 34 times!

Serco's failure to provide a proper bin emptying service is shown up by the appalling record at flats in Duncan Close WGC - 34 failures in less than 30 months.

Missed Bins in Duncan Close, WGC"That's 12 flats not getting a proper service" says local LibDem councillor Malcolm Cowan, who has often been asked to intervene. "To add insult to injury, the flat dwellers had to pay to get recycling bins supplied, unlike people who live in houses. Quite why the council makes it so hard by discriminating against flat-dwellers is beyond me" he adds.

"Then, when I ask the council why the bins keep getting missed, they say it is the first time - they have no record of previous failures. I am totally disgusted. They can't improve if they don't know that they have failed in the past."

Resident John Fogarty (pictured with Malcolm) who organised for the flats to get recycling bins, and regularly chases the council says "I think we are due a refund - we paid to get the bins and we pay for them to be emptied but the council does not carry out its side of the bargain. No-one learns, no-one supervises. It is a disgrace".

24/05/2018


Panshanger Community Hall Closure

Letter to Welwyn Hatfield Times

14/05/2018

Dear Sir

The sudden and unannounced closure of Panshanger Community Hall after the council demanded a massively increased rent was a shocking betrayal of the community, the groups who used it and the local population. At the protest meeting, we were told by senior councillors that the issue had been being discussed for around 3 years.

What exactly did the local councillors do in that time? Nothing was claimed on their behalf, but to add insult to injury, a defeated Tory candidate has apparently claimed that we, the Liberal Democrats, knew about the threat all along and kept quiet. Not only totally untrue - if we had, we would have intervened to try to get some common-sense inserted - but crudely trying to avoid the question of what they did as councillors. Noticeable that none of them spoke at the protest meeting. Not good enough. No wonder local people voted them out.

Yours sincerely

Malcolm Cowan,
LibDem councillor

14/05/2018


A Triumphant Night for WelHat Lib Dems

It was a triumphant night for Welwyn Hatfield Lib Dems in the local elections on May 3rd. We held on to three seats and gained three new seats, giving us eight seats on Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council: our strongest representation in the Council's history.

A triumphant LIib Dem Team on election night 2018 (Picture courtesy of Chris Flanagan, Welwyn Hatfield Times)

Malcolm Cowan said: "We gained seats from both Labour and the Conservatives, we now represent the majority of Welwyn Garden City - four out of seven wards - with our biggest group ever. The Tories are in retreat and have held on by their fingernails."

We'd like to take this opportunity to thank anyone and everyone who held in any way towards achieving this amazing result, and hope we can count on you to help us make the Tory retreat complete in 2019.

In Summary:

Handside [hold]: Siobhan Elam
Panshanger [gain]: Ayesha Rohale
Peartree [gain]: Tamsin Jackson-Mynott
Sherrards [gain]: Jean-Paul Skoczylas
Welham Green & Hatfield South [hold]: Jaid Caliskan
Welham Green & Hatfield South [hold]: Helen Quenet

04/05/2018


Tory Rent Hikes Trash Community Services

Council Rent Hike Forces Charity into Insolvency, Closes Panshanger Community Centre

Panshanger Community Centre: CLOSED!Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council has effectively run a local charity into the ground and obliterated a number of community activities and resources by attempting to exorbitantly increase the rent on the Panshanger Community Centre, in Moors Walk shops, Welwyn Garden City.

Panshanger Community Hall Trust Limited, the charity that has operated the centre on the Council's behalf since 1994, challenged the Council's proposed increase of the rent from £200 to £20,000 per year, which was based on the Council's decision to charge rents for community facilities based on 'market value'. The case has dragged on for years, draining away the charity's financial reserves to pay for legal fees, and preventing the Trust from making improvements to the hall pending the outcome.

Following a judge's decision on 10th April that set the market value at £15,000 per year, the charity dissolved and informed community groups that have used the hall that all bookings were cancelled.

The abrupt closure has left many in the lurch, including Panshanger Church, who lease the rest of the building and utilised the hall for a number of essential community activities, including a weekly Parents & Toddlers group that serves 100 families, coffee mornings, food bank collection, debt advice, wellbeing programmes, youth club activities during school holidays, and more. Other groups utilising the hall had provided support groups, dance and karate classes, badminton, and Weight Watchers. The hall was also booked by a number of area residents for things like children's birthday parties, and the short notice of cancellation has left them without a venue.

Liberal Democrat spokesperson Barbara Gibson said "This is the direct result of a bad Council decision that ignores the value to our community of charities, churches and other community resources that are providing essential services that the Council doesn't provide. They seem to see this community centre, as well as others across the borough, as potential cash cows, rather than the community assets they are supposed to be. These buildings are owned by the tax payers and should be serving their local communities. The Council should be investing in and supporting these groups, not hiking up their rent to commercial levels.

Read More...

01/05/2018


Tories "Dumb-down" Building Control

Housebuilding

At the Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council meeting on Monday 9th April, the Conservative controlled Council finalised their decision to transfer their statutory building control functions to Three Rivers District Council, in the face of strenuous opposition from both the Liberal Democrat and Labour parties. Three Rivers District Council will now carry on this function on WHBC's behalf.

One excerpt of the document under consideration read as follows:

"the original proposal of retaining a qualified building surveyor… to carry out 'sign-offs' and other competent functions has been revised. Instead it is now proposed to employ a non building control qualified individual to carry out such 'sign offs' but with a series of effective checks and balances to ensure quality control is maintained."

Liberal Democrat Councillor, Siobhan Elam, strongly believes this decision to be a mistake. "This is simply not acceptable. The point of a supervisor is that they should know more than the person they are overseeing, not less. They should know the job in question inside out. We have all seen in other national organisations how the introduction of less qualified supervisors has led to a reduction in standards. You cannot effectively supervise work by ticking boxes. Despite the soothing noises made by Conservative councillors that this has been done elsewhere and all will be well, this is another example of the eroding of proper standards in the name of efficiency and cost cutting. In the arena of building control, where people's lives are potentially at risk, and where we have the awful example of Grenfell Tower before us, this should never be contemplated. I urge the Council to think again."

15/04/2018


Council says walk more, drive less - unless you plan to shop at Aldi

How exactly does a Council for a Garden City, that claims to want us all to drive less, allow a major new supermarket to open that has no pedestrian access? How does the County Council's Highways department, which bears the responsibility for reviewing access and travel plans and raising any problems, also fail to notice?

The new Aldi store in Welwyn Garden City opened recently to great fanfare, but residents arriving on foot immediately realised there is no safe way into the site for pedestrians. Customers on foot, wheelchair or mobility scooter are forced to brave the two lanes of traffic entering and exiting the car park.

Lib Dem Councillors responded quickly to concerns raised by residents, speaking with Aldi management and querying both Councils to determine how such a serious oversight could occur. Cllr Malcolm Cowan is leading the push for enforcement action be taken by Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council to remedy the situation immediately.

The planning application, approved in September 2016, includes a drawing that shows a footway that does not exist - Aldi have failed to provide it, indeed have fenced off where it should be. Other documents submitted, however, do not mention the footway, and the officer's report fails to address pedestrian access at all. The Herts Highways' initial response seemed to rely on access via the vehicular access or the pub.

The entrance to the footway shown on Aldi’s planning applicationThe entrance to the footway shown on Aldi's planning application
Sign at entrance to the pub car park which shares vehicle access with AldiSign at entrance to the pub car park which shares vehicle access with Aldi

The pub does, indeed, have a separate gated pedestrian entrance, but it does not give access to the Aldi car park, and is currently roped off to prevent use.

This is a case of triple failure:

  • Aldi's plans showed a footway, but they failed to provide it;
  • The County should have picked up on that, but they either missed it completely or simply disregarded the safety of pedestrians; and
  • the Borough Council ultimately approved the application, and allowed the store to open without the footway shown in their plan drawing.

Hopefully it will be remedied before any mishaps occur. But both Councils need to examine their policies and practises to ensure that future planning applications put pedestrians higher on the priority list.

County Cllr Dr Barbara Gibson
Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Public Health & Community Safety

11/04/2018


Full of Holes

Experienced Liberal Democrat councillor, Malcolm Cowan, writes to the Welwyn Hatfield Times to point out that not only are our roads and paths falling apart and full of holes, so too are the tired excuses offered by the Conservatives for their failure to address these widespread problems. These are failings that could potentially put lives at risk.

Letter to Welwyn Hatfield Times

09/04/2018

Dear Sir

Having served 12 years until last May as a LibDem county councillor, specialising in highways issues, I have been following closely the efforts of the local Conservatives to say by implication that potholes only occur in LibDem-held areas and it is in any case the county councillor's fault.

Of course anyone who drives far will see potholes all over Herts and in other counties as well. And there are plenty on the motorways which are run at arms length by the government. So no monopoly of fault.

It is of course totally cynical for a ruling party (the Conservatives) to blame the opposition for anything when it is the budgets, control systems and contractor chosen by the ruling group that dictate performance.

The end of every winter nearly always brings an explosion of potholes, caused by rapid freezing and thawing and we have just had some very cold spells this winter. Or do the Conservatives wish to blame opposition parties for the weather? Add in inadequate maintenance and an almost total lack of supervision of much highways work; and who is responsible for that?

In the case of the highways service, the problems go far beyond potholes - look at the widespread areas of road and footpath flooding every time it rains. Most of the flooded areas were reported as a problem up to 10 years ago, but the highways contractor told me "they are not a priority for us", in other words don't expect any action.

At a slightly smaller level, look at how many zebra crossings and mini-roundabouts have almost lost their markings, bringing a safety risk.

I left the county council very frustrated at the lack of money and poor supervision of the contractors. The chickens have come home to roost this winter and it is those in control who must take the blame, not try to pass it on to those in opposition trying hard to improve things.

Yours sincerely

Malcolm Cowan,
LibDem councillor

Addendum: There is now a guide on what to do if you see or hit a pothole on the Fix That Hole! page on this site

09/04/2018


Slower not Faster:
New Rail Timetable under Fire

Class 365 Networker Express in Great Northern liveryThe new rail timetable starting in May and just published has plenty of disadvantages for WGC and Hatfield travellers, says LibDem councillor Malcolm Cowan.

"First, the so-called fast trains from Kings Cross will take a new record slow time of 35 minutes compared with 26 or 27 minutes at present; this is a massive slow down with no explanation. Ironically the poster in the cafe on platform 3 at WGC shows pre-war trains taking 23 minutes, so we will be 50% slower from May.

"Secondly, we are losing all trains to and from Peterborough from May. We knew this was coming and it has been widely criticised by the county and borough councils because it will make getting to InterCity trains more difficult and slower. It was supposed to be linked to having our trains go through London to the south via St Pancras, but this will not happen until December 2019, so for 18 months we are doubly disadvantaged.

"Thirdly, unlike now, departures from Kings Cross on Sundays will be at a very different time from other days - 2 minutes past the hour on Sundays, 21 and 51 minutes past the hour on other days. This is bound to cause confusion.

"Because the timetable has been released at the last possible moment allowed (timetables have to be published 3 months before they take effect), there is no chance to get it changed until December. I really did not expect such a bombshell from Govia" he added.

19/03/2018