Liberal Democrats Applaud PCC's Withdrawal of Hostile Takeover of Fire Service

Sustained Opposition Forces Re-Think

Hands off our Fire service!

In a joint announcement issued today with Herts County Council, Hertfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner David Lloyd agreed to abandon his proposal to take control of the Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service, leaving the service under the governance of the County Council.

Responding to the news, Liberal Democrat Councillor and Opposition Spokesperson for Fire Service, Barbara Gibson said "This is long overdue, but very good news. How much time and money has been wasted by the PCC trying to railroad through his empire-building plan in spite of unanimous opposition from every county councillor, including those in the PCC's own party. In addition, most district councils have passed Motions opposing the move.

"The takeover bid should never have been submitted. Our sustained campaigning on this issue has saved the Fire Service from being asset-stripped and weakened. Lib Dems will continue to fight to put community safety first."

06/09/2018


If at first you fail, try, try again

"That seems to be the motto for Wetherspoons at 22 Parkway" says LibDem councillor Malcolm Cowan. "While it is smaller than the 2 previous attempts which were turned down unanimously by the Development Management Committee, much of the harm that was identified then continues. And how disappointing that they have chosen to reveal their plans during the summer holidays when so many people are away."

Site of proposed Wetherspoons on Parkway, Welwyn Garden City

"It still has no parking either for customers or deliveries - Parkway will again bear the brunt; it is still fails to conform to the zoning for office-type use and it still looks like a large bar is the main feature. This is a pub by any other name. Yet there are far more suitable sites within the town centre - why don't Wetherspoons go for one of these?

"The plans Wetherspoons have submitted show the bedrooms are so small that the bed would be up against a wall in most rooms - hardly likely to attract many customers beyond the stag night crowd, and the worry is the hotel use will be dropped after a short while and Wetherspoons desire for a mega boozer will come about.

"You only have to look at the state of the building and grounds now to see the company cares not one bit for local opinion or sensitivity to the surroundings. Owner Tim Martin has repeatedly failed to reply to letters to him, showing his lack of interest in the town, just a desire to make a fast buck and let us face the consequences."

17/08/2018


Recycling Rethink Required

Letter to Welwyn Hatfield Times

08/08/2018

Dear Sir,

Twelve years ago as a Borough Councillor I was able to persuade our Council to start the process of a Climate Change Strategy and, after years of pressure from LibDem colleagues, to see positive moves towards increased recycling rates. Sadly, under our Conservative administration, the Climate Change Strategy withered on the vine, but I was pleased to see recycling rates increasing year on year to achieve 53% in 2016/17. This despite the ridicule I received from certain Conservative Councillors that 50% recycling would be totally unachievable.

Back in 2005 local LibDems ran regular collections in the URC church car park where residents could bring their plastic waste, which at the time the council refused to collect. Cllrs Skottowe, Quinton and Cowan with young ‘volunteer’ Jennie Quinton.

In 2005 local LibDems ran regular collections. Residents could bring their plastic waste, which at the time the council refused to collect.

By comparison, LibDem-run Three Rivers Council (in Rickmansworth) is achieving 63%, so there was still room for improvement, but now we hear that Welwyn Hatfield has dropped from 53% to 43.4% recycling rate in a single year. This fall in performance is due almost entirely to the Brown Bin Tax introduced last year, as many of us argued would happen at the time, which has massively reduced the amount of garden waste being recycled.

It is not even clear that the change of policy, which was pushed through by the Conservatives despite massive public opposition, has saved much Council Tax payers' money.

It is surely time for the new Conservative leadership at the Council to rethink this policy and start leading our community towards a greener future.

Nigel Quinton
Liberal Democrat County Councillor for Handside & Peartree

08/08/2018


Bungled Brown Bin Charge Rubbishes Welwyn Hatfield Recycling Rates

  • Dramatic Drop in Recycling Rate Puts WHBC Bottom of Herts League Table
  • Tory-run Council Sending 15% More to Landfill

Cllr Malcolm Cowan: Don't Rubbish the Environment!With reporting now complete on the first year since Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council rolled out a £35 charge for garden waste collection, the borough's overall recycling rate has plunged from 53% in 2016/17 to 43.4% for 2017/18. This sharp decline puts Welwyn Hatfield near the bottom of all Hertfordshire local Councils. At the top of the Herts league table is Liberal Democrat-controlled Three Rivers District Council, which achieved a recycling rate of 62.4%.

"These results are alarming and disappointing, though not unexpected," said Barbara Gibson, County Councillor for Haldens Division and Opposition Spokesperson for Community Safety and Waste Management. "At the time of the proposed change, hundreds of people voiced concerns about the environmental impact, but the Conservatives voted unanimously to ignore those concerns, and rushed through the change without proper consultation and planning.

"As a result, this Council sent 15% more residual waste to landfill in the past year, an increase of nearly 3000 tonnes overall, and an average of 58 kg per household. This is simply unacceptable."

Liberal Democrats are calling for the Council to use proceeds of the brown bin charges to implement a free food waste collection for all residents as soon as is feasible.

Cllr Malcolm Cowan, Leader of the Lib Dem Group on the Council, said "The brown bin charge was always badly managed, and people were initially angry about the cost. But now they are most concerned about the environmental impact. The Conservatives have taken us backwards. That's just rubbish!"

06/08/2018


Rail Compensation Scheme Misses Thousands

Cancelled, CancelledThe offer of a one month refund to rail season ticket-holders misses thousands of regular travellers who pay for their tickets in other ways, says LibDem councillor and rail campaigner Malcolm Cowan.

"The statement by Govia that only season-ticket-holders travel regularly is nonsense", he says.

  • They launched the carnet ticket for those who travel 3 or 4 times a week - have they forgotten them?.
  • Other travellers have disabled or other railcards, so buy daily tickets as these work out cheaper than a season.
  • Anyone who travels off-peak will buy daily tickets rather than a season ticket

"They have all had the same chaos as season-ticket holders but are excluded from the offer; it is petty and small-minded. Govia have gone for the easy headline but left thousands of travellers behind just as their trains have", he said. "The scheme needs to be extended properly."

24/07/2018


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