News Archive: 2013

WGC rail footbridge finally clear of the 'build-outs'

LibDem local councillor Malcolm Cowan has been working to get rid of the build-outs that narrowed the pedestrian space on WGC's rail bridge, and this week finally saw them all go.

A delighted Malcolm said 'This has taken nearly 6 years, mainly because of the need to get Network Rail to reinforce the bridge first. Around 3 years were lost when Tesco made the sub-contractors come off site after they had agreed to allow them on, at the time when Tesco were angling to offer a new bridge as part of the hypermarket development in Broadwater Road. Thankfully, they later relented and the bridge was propped a few months back.


Herts residents left in the dark by Tories

'We have been led up the garden path' was the LibDem reaction to news that no changes are to be made to the unpopular Part Night Lighting regime of plunging most of the county into darkness around midnight, following a so-called review.

'A promise of a review was widely used by Conservatives in May's county council elections, but it has turned out to be a whitewash as all suggested changes were rejected by highways portfolio holder Cllr Terry Douris,' said Liberal Democrat group leader Stephen Giles-Medhurst.


WHTimes letter about WGC footpaths

Earlier this year, you published a letter from a lady about the condition of the footpaths in WGC town centre. I replied, informing readers of the schemes to improve this that I was funding from my highways locality budget. It is a source of great frustration to me that 6 months on, none of these schemes have been started and indeed I have no idea of future dates except they are supposed to be completed by the end of next March.

What however is even more worrying is the latest list of highways and footpath schemes across Herts for next year from the main central pot. How many will be in WGC town centre? Zero, nil, zilch, ne rien, de nada. And how many for footpaths along the residential roads in Handside and Peartree? Again zero.


New name needed

The alley, passage, footpath or call it what you will, from Wigmores North to Parkway in WGC is under the microscope.

Local LibDem county councillor Malcolm Cowan says the path needs some love - and a name. 'It is currently a smokers alley and not much else' he says. I suspect one of the problems is it has no name, so people are reluctant to complain about something hard to describe. I am appealing to WHT readers to suggest a name, in the hope this brings a change in fortune.

I have also nominated it for a new tarmac surface next year from my Highways Locality Budget - it is rather a mess at the moment.


Councillor blasts lack of help over manorial rights issue

Liberal Democrat councillor Malcolm Cowan has criticised the lack of information and reassurance over the issue of manorial rights in WGC.

'Clearly people were shocked to get a letter telling them the Gascoigne Cecil Estate held rights over their property. Everyone going round saying nothing has changed and there is nothing to worry about is not enough.

When I contacted the council, they said it was nothing to do with them, but in many cases (if they are leaseholders or tenants), it is the council's land, or for freeholders, it is the council they bought the land from. So the council is involved and there is a strong moral case for the council being proactive in helping people through what is clearly a complex set of paperwork.


Clegg: Free School Meals boost attainment, improve health and ensure every child has a fair chance

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg used his speech to Liberal Democrat conference to announce that all pupils at infant schools in England are to get free school lunches from September 2014, with equivalent funding for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

In addition, disadvantaged students at sixth form colleges and further education colleges in England will also be eligible for free school meals also from next September. Money is also being provided for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but as education is a devolved issue, it will be up to those running schools there to decide whether to spend the money on free lunches.


Letter about A1(M) non-widening

It is not too often I have to say I agree with council leader John Dean, but on the issue of the A1(M) non-widening, I must.

John may not be aware, and I am sure readers are not, that this latest plan is the 5th in just a few years. First we had a climber lane from the Clock to the top of the hill on the way towards Stevenage. Then there was converting the hard shoulder into a running lane when the road was busy - an idea I fear will eventually lead to a major pile-up, but what do I know. Then there was easing the entrance onto the motorway northbound, and also at junction 7 - Stevenage south, followed by turning the northbound hard shoulder into a full lane - this was being discussed with the county council just a month ago.


Letter to warn Welwyn Hatfield of new electoral role concern

The following letter was sent to the Welwyn Hatfield Times to raise the profile of the issue that an edited electoral roll can be sold to any organisation.

Dear Sirs

The cost of your Privacy

As readers will be aware from your piece last week the council has been forced by legislation going back to the last government to sell edited copies of the electoral roll. We have now found out that two thirds of our smart voters have opted out of the edited register and so reduced the risk of being buried under mounds of unwanted junk mail.


Council 'Clean-up' makes things worse

A clean-up of the verge while a road was closed for resurfacing has left a disastrous trail of rubbish that is probably worse than before it started, says LibDem councillor Malcolm Cowan, who was contacted by an angry local resident who says he phoned both borough and county councils to get them to remove the litter.

Instead, he says they strimmed the grass and weeds without picking up litter first, resulting in much of the litter being shredded into pieces.

The incident, in Hollybush Lane WGC, closed while Ascots lane was being patched, has left both the resident, who does not wish to be named, and the councillor fuming over the mess.


Herts County Council 'gave fraudster a licence to steal'

Lorraine Graves, the former Herts County Council social worker who pleaded guilty to stealing tens of thousands of pounds from vulnerable pensioners in her care, took advantage of a system that was simply not fit for purpose.

Until 2011, HCC's system for managing Adult Social Care 'bank accounts' for people having difficulty running their own finances relied on Dickensian era paper-based ledger systems while senior management overview of the system was almost totally non-existent.


Lack of independence in high ropes enquiry queried

Local Liberal Democrat councillor Malcolm Cowan has queried the apparent lack of any external element to the enquiry into the high ropes accident at Stanborough Park.

'The Health and Safety Executive must have their own reasons for neither running nor taking part in an enquiry, but their presence would have provided reassurance to residents. During the months that have passed since the tragic accident there has been ample time to bring in someone independent, but that has not happened. That does seem odd.


Lib Dem county councillors given senior jobs in official opposition group

Local LibDem county councillors Malcolm Cowan and Paul Zukowskyj have both been given senior jobs in the official oppostion group at County Hall.

Paul is shadow spokesperson on finance, property and human resources, taking over from Malcolm. Paul says 'This is a big job and I am looking forward to it. It is important a fresh pair of eyes are brought in from time to time and I intend to be rigorous in checking that our money, staff and property are used efficiently and properly.'


WHT letter regarding the state of WGC footpaths

Dear Sir

One of your correspondents last week pointed out the poor condition of some of the footpaths in WGC town centre. The county council's own firgures show that only about 2% of the highways budget goes on footpaths, and at the current rate of progress, each stretch of footpath gets resurfaced about once every 136 years - and no, that is not a mis-print.

So it is hardly surprising our footpaths are in a poor state and have been getting worse over a long period of time. The problem is made worse by the way in which many commercial vehicles mount the footpaths as a matter of course.


Letter regarding Labour Cllr Colin Croft

Dear Sir

Is it possible for the local Labour party to tie itself in any more knots over moved-to-Yorkshire councillor Colin Croft? Firstly, Labour group leader Kieran Thorpe says still-councillor Croft should resign, but he doesnt, and nothing happens. Now there is a motion of no confidence which a senior Labour councillor admits he has seen, but says 'It doesn't exist'. What's that about?


Ringway 'still failing' says councillor

Newly re-elected LibDem county councillor Malcolm Cowan says main contractor Ringway are still failing Herts residents.

He says 'Several months ago I reported the start of Ayot Green Road, over the motorway, as needing resurfacing due to the vast number of potholes. Instead, and after a long delay, Ringway have applied patches to the worst of the holes. Many of the smaller holes have been missed, the road looks like it has got chicken pox due to the number of patches, and perhaps worst of all, they failed to sweep up the vast amount of stones that had been unearthed from the potholes.


Former long-standing Conservative councillor is backing LibDem Malcolm Cowan

Dennis Lewis, former long-standing Conservative councillor, is backing LibDem Malcolm Cowan in the Handside and Peartree county council election. He says

"Although I was a Conservative councillor for many years, I shall be supporting Malcolm this year because he has done a good job and is passionate about improving standards.

He cares as passionately about the town as I do."


Council Tax Freeze reply letter to John Dean and Grant Shapps

Dear Sir

It is all very well for John Dean and Grant Shapps to boast about freezing council tax, which we supported as necessary given the freeze in many people's incomes. But it is only half the story.

Services have been cut by both borough and county councils.

The borough still

  • fail to take any action to stop the destruction of our grass verges
  • they have reduced the number of grass and hedge cuts
  • reduced tree budgets
  • cut planning staff so there is less enforcement
  • reduced grants to the voluntary bodies that do so much good


Herts Highways "Beyond a joke"

Whilst the attached picture might be quite amusing, the situation on Welwyn Hatfield's roads is way beyond a joke. Hertfordshire is in danger of becoming a laughing stock due to the appalling state our roads are in.

Conservative-led Herts Council Council's Highways Service, led by Welwyn Hatfield's own Cllr Pile as cabinet member for highways, are simply failing to deliver even the most rudimentary service. Holes are left unrepaired. Lights remain unfixed. Accident damage to street furniture is rife and streetsigns that look more like vertical lawns remain uncleaned. Cars are being damaged by potholes and a flood of claims is being received by County Hall on a daily basis.


Councillor's Claim "Simply Untrue"

An election leaflet from Cllr Pile has claimed that he has 'stopped the incinerator in its tracks', whereas the plans are simply on hold until the planning inquiry in September.

All residents are urged to ignore the claim and continue to support Hatfield Against Incineration (HAI) and the New Barnfield Action Fund (NBAF), especially financially, to stop the incinerator.

Paul Zukowskyj, HAI committee member and NBAF secretary, commented: "The claim is misleading and damaging, because residents may believe the incinerator plan has been scrapped and not send us their donations. Nothing could be further from the truth, we still need to fight this barmy plan and we need residents help to do it.


Lib Dems demand renewed answers over fraud allegations

In a shock move, the Liberal Democrats have demanded urgent answers to allegations of fraud made by a whistle blower.

Chris White, Liberal Democrat councillor for St Albans Central, recently met with a former highways engineer, who handed him some documentation. This documentation included paperwork from county council officials which admitted:

  • falsification of records
  • use of inferior materials instead of contracted materials
  • falsification of key performance indicators reported to the council
  • false 'close down' of jobs


Locality budget Press Releases under fire!

Opposition Liberal Democrat County Councillors have hit out at the waste of money on issuing over 2,500 Locality Budget Press releases in under three years.

The Press Releases from County Hall publicise grants made from each members £10,000 locality budget. They a range from small grants of £50 to over £5,000 but each gets a press release drafted by officer that then has to be approved and issued to all of Hertfordshire's papers and other media outlets.


Cllr Malcolm Cowan exposes sham of lighting review

Liberal Democrats kept up their pressure on the ruling Conservative group at county hall on Tuesday.

The LibDem alternative budget, which was balanced and fully costed, allowed for up to one-third of all lights currently going off at midnight, to be turned back on, with the lights chosen by the local county councillor for each area.

However when LibDem councillor Malcolm Cowan (Handside and Peartree) asked the Conservatives which councillors would take up this opportunity, not one put their hand up. 'This clearly shows that the promised review of part night lighting is likely to be no more than window dressing, when the Tories are not interested themselves. They are unlikely to allow other parties' councillors to turn lights back on if they won't do it themselves.


Special Educational Needs not being properly addressed at County Hall

Councillor Mark Watkin, the opposition spokesperson for Education, challenged Frances Button, the executive member for Education to explain how services for specific groups such as high achieving children with autism who cannot cope with schools will be addressed. She failed to do so, instead she repeated the standard response that they could either attend a Moderate Learning Difficulty School, or have home help or attend a mainstream school, none of which will adequately meet their needs.

"What parents of such children have pointed out time and time again is that there needs to be a special unit or school where these children can be educated. The new scheme for providing Special Needs Education does not allow for this", stated Cllr Mark Watkin. "There could be hundreds of such children across the County but they are submerged under the needs of larger groups who receive all the funding.


Ringway come under fire again at County Hall

Ringway, the County Councils new highways contractor, has again come under fire from county councillors.

At a Full Council meeting at County Hall, Hertford, senior Ringway Directors heard a barrage of complaints from opposition councillors who questioned the Conservative Cabinet member for Highways (Cllr Stuart Pile) over their poor performance since they took over responsibility for maintaining Hertfordshire roads on 1st October last year.


Press release tidal wave from HCC

Out-of-touch Conservatives running Herts County Council have launched an attempt to drown local media in unwanted press releases.

The Liberal Democrat opposition highlighted over 2000 press releases on locality budgets sent out in less than 3 years, at the budget meeting of the county council, and pointed out that most local newspapers and radio stations have said they don't want them.

The Tories hit back in the only way they know how - by sending even more, clogging up inboxes across the county. 22 came out the next day, then a record 62 the day after.


County council £22.7m underspend

Readers who saw in last week's WHT that Herts County Council is expecting to have a surplus of £22.7m must be wondering how that money could be used - money which they gave in council tax expecting it to be spent on services, rather than being used to prop up long-term capital projects.

Luckily, the LibDem opposition had plenty of good ideas on what to do with the surplus, which is a one-off, to improve people's lives.


When will my footpath get fixed?

Liberal Democrats have revealed that at current progress, Herts County Council will repair your footpath every 136 years.

Cllr Malcolm Cowan who did the analysis from official HCC data said 'We knew that footpaths and footways were the poor relation but we didn't know until the this week how bad it was.'

Figures presented to the council's Highways and Transport panel showed that in the most recent complete year, 2011-12, 76,500 sq metres of footway were resurfaced or repaired, out of a total of 10.4 million sq metres. That means just 0.7% were worked on, so each stretch will be repaired approximately once every 136 years.


Clegg: Spread the word - we're delivering a stronger economy and a fairer society

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has closed the Liberal Democrat Spring Conference in Brighton by calling on members to spread the message of the Party's commitment in Government to deliver a stronger economy and a fairer society.

In his keynote Leader's speech, Nick paid tribute to the work of the Party in winning the Eastleigh by-election, beating the Conservatives into third place and squeezing Labour while campaigning on the Lib Dem record of delivering in Government.


New Barnfield hits new problems

Speaking about the decision of the Secretary of State to call in the New Barnfield incinerator application, LibDem county councillor Malcolm Cowan said 'In a mad world, a note of sanity has crept in. Now at last the merits or otherwise of the plan can be rationally examined by a planning inspector. Having seen the strong planning arguments put forward against New Barnfield by no less than 3 district councils, not to mention the arguments put forward by the local groups, I would not bet anything on the scheme going through.

It is vital that the county council stops any further work on removing facilities from the site, such as Southfield school, as that really would show contempt for the call-in decision.


Disgraceful Labour Scaremongering say Lib Dems

Statements made by Labour councillors at the council meeting on 22nd January during the debate on Flexible Tenancies for Council Tenants were branded as disgraceful by Lib Dem Group Leader, Tony Skottowe. 'The clear impression given by all the speakers from Labour was that all council tenants faced eviction at the end of 5 years as a result of these changes', said Cllr Skottowe. 'At no time did anyone from Labour say that the new Flexible Tenancies will only apply to NEW tenancies. To make these sorts of comments could cause huge distress and concern to many elderly and vulnerable residents - just the sort of people Labour claim to be concerned about. What is needed is for this policy to be handled with sensitivity and compassion and we will hold the administration to account if this is not done' he concluded.


Anger as Tories fail local home-buyers

Local LibDems are angry that the Tories running Welwyn Hatfield council have missed an opportunity to help house-buyers in the district. The Local Authority Mortgage Scheme (LAMS) provides support to first-time buyers. The county council, who are leading the scheme, provide £1m per district to make deposits affordable. Welwyn Hatfield are one of just two districts in Herts not to join in. Contrary to what councillors were told in papers for the cancelled council meeting on Monday, the district does not have to put up any money and thus cannot be subject to a legal challenge. 'The council would have been able to have its name on a Welwyn Hatfield scheme of its own at no cost, but even that was not enough - or did they fail to ask the basic questions that I did?' said LibDem councillor Malcolm Cowan. 'Either way, it reduces help for people wanting to buy here, and that of course makes it harder to sell. So we miss out twice over'.