Hitchin Committee Minutes

Date:
Tuesday, 24th May, 2016
Time:
7.30pm
Place:
Westmill Community Centre, John Barker Place, Hitchin
 
 

Attendance Details

Present:
Councillor Judi Billing (Chairman), Councillor Nicola Harris (Vice-Chairman), Councillor Ian Albert, Councillor Mrs A.G. Ashley, Councillor Paul Clark, Councillor Elizabeth Dennis, Councillor Simon Harwood, Councillor Alan Millard, Councillor Frank Radcliffe, Councillor Adrian Smith and Councillor R.A.C. Thake.
In attendance:
Liz Green (Head of Policy and Community Services), Claire Morgan (Communities Officer), and Hilary Dineen (Committee and Member Services Officer).
Also Present:
At the start of the meeting 15 members of the public.
Item Description/Decision
PART I
4 APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE
Apologies for absence were received from Councillors Bernard Lovewell and Simon Watson.
5 MINUTES
RESOLVED: That the Minutes of the Meeting of the Committee held on 1 March 2016 be approved as a true record of the proceedings and be signed by the Chairman.
6 MINUTES
RESOLVED: That the Minutes of the Meeting of the Committee held on 19 May 2016 be approved as a true record of the proceedings and be signed by the Chairman.
7 NOTIFICATION OF OTHER BUSINESS
The Chairman advised that Members would be given an opportunity to raise issues of concern and suggest items for consideration at future meetings during Item 12 - Ward and Outside Organisations - Members’ Reports.
8 CHAIRMAN'S ANNOUNCEMENTS
(1) The Chairman thanked all who had attended Town Talk and this meeting, particularly those who had attended to give a presentation;

(2) The Chairman noted that this was the first meeting of the Hitchin Committee this Civic Year and took the opportunity to congratulate Councillors Ian Albert, Paul Clark, Elizabeth Dennis, Richard Thake and Simon Watson on their election or re-election;

(3) The Chairman thanked former Councillors David Leal Bennett, Joan Kirby, Deborah Segalini and Ray Shakespeare - Smith for their service to the Hitchin Committee;

(4) The Chairman informed those present that, in accordance with Council Policy the meeting would be audio recorded;

(5) The Chairman drew attention to the item on the agenda front pages regarding Declarations of Interest and reminded Members that, in line with the Code of Conduct, any Declarations of Interest needed to be declared immediately prior to the item in question.
9 PUBLIC PARTICIPATION - HERTS YOUNG CARERS
Ms Jo Ward, Herts Young Carers, and Esther, one of the Young Carers, thanked the Chairman for the opportunity to address the Committee and gave a verbal presentation regarding the grant application as follows:

• There were approximately 178.000 young carers in England and Wales, of which 8,000 were in Hertfordshire;
• It was estimated that 1 in 10 children care for family members who have an illness, disability or substance abuse problem;
• Herts Young Carers was a club for 24 young people in a caring role from Hitchin, North Herts and Stevenage;
• The Club provided emotional and social support for young carers aged between 8 and 16 years;
• The Club met fortnightly at the Nightingale Centre and provided sports, arts and crafts and computer activities as well as trips out;
• Herts Young Carers was the only group catering for young carers outside of school.

Esther, a young carer, informed Members that she looked after her brother, who had autism, by helping him to remember things and supporting him at home with everyday life. She said that, if she wasn’t there to support him, he wouldn’t be as well as he is. She had been attending Herts Young Carers for two years.

In response to a question, Esher told Members that it was nice to be able to talk to independent adults and to share things with people of the same age going through the same things as her.

Ms Ward informed Members that Herts Young Carers had been funded by Hertfordshire County Council until 2013. When this funding was cut, the Hitchin Committee helped volunteers to keep the Club running.

The Club was financially more secure and was now able to pay for a sessional Worker. They were writing a constitution, applying for grant funding and the accounts had been audited.

They had received funding of £9,500 to fund a year of monitoring the value and effect that the group had. The data from this project would enable them to apply for larger funding, including from the Big Lottery, in order to make the Club more sustainable.

The application was for grant funding towards the largest cost for the Club of transport for 10 Young Carers from Hitchin to attend the Club.

Members asked where other young carers come from, how referrals were made.

Ms Ward advised that, other than the 10 young people from Hitchin, 8 came from Stevenage, 5 from Letchworth, 1 from Great Ashby and 1 from Cockernhoe and that they were in the process of changing the name of the Club to reflect that they serve North Herts and Stevenage.

Referrals were received from family support workers, schools and Carers in Hertfordshire

Youth Connexions was in the process of setting up a group in Stevenage for older carers

The Chairman thanked Ms Ward an Esther for their presentation.
10 PUBLIC PARTICIPATION - SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENTS TO HITCHIN TOWN CENTRE
Mr David Morgan thanked the Chairman for the opportunity to address the Committee and gave a verbal presentation regarding suggestions for improvements to Hitchin Town Centre as follows:

He had lived in Hitchin, a truly special market town, for 45 years and wished to share his suggestions for improvements to the Town Centre that would enhance visual aspects and the visitor experience.

Hermitage Road might benefit from limited tree planting on both sides, which would soften the visual aspect and give a sense of scale. Choosing the right specimen would ensure that pavements were not unduly disturbed and good placement would not affect parking.

The façade of Wilkinson’s needed to be softened and a competition could be run to get suggestions on how this could be achieved for instance the placement of a clock or sculpture.

The view upwards in the Town Centre consisted of a mass of wiring attached to the front of Listed and other buildings. Owners of the building should be guided and advised to remove redundant wiring and, where possible, chase in required wires.

Whilst appropriate, short term advertising was not an issue, advertising in the Conservation Area should be more closely monitored. Temporary banners remained in place for months, if not years and signboards have been attached to listed buildings such as the Sun Hotel. The Council could contact those organisations leaving banners in place or those attaching signs to listed buildings and ask for them to be removed.

The Chairman thanked Mr Morgan for his presentation.
11 PUBLIC PARTICIPATION - HITCHIN COUNSELLING SERVICE
Ms Christine Kell, Chair of Hitchin Counselling Service, introduced the Treasurer and thanked the Chairman for the opportunity to address the Committee regarding the grant application as follows:

Having done some research, demographics showed that the population of Hitchin was more highly educated, slightly older and more employed than the average for the rest of the Country, despite this people still had difficulties in their lives.

There were many people having difficulties and were also impoverished, although this was often very hidden and any problems can be exacerbated by money worries.

The cost of counselling was approximately £10 per week and this over a long period of time, was a lot of money. The Service provided free counselling for as long as it was needed.

The Hitchin Counselling Service had managed to provide this for 22 years by not paying counsellors and not claiming expenses as well as getting a number of grants from various organisations, including £1,000 from the Hitchin Committee 12 years ago.

The Service now offered 12 counsellors who provided over 1,000 sessions and were available every weekday evening.

Members asked who made referrals to them and the age, ethnicity and sex of the clients

Ms Kell informed Members that they had a website and that most were referred through GP surgeries, the Well-being Service or the Mental Health Team and that the demographics of Hitchin were reflected in the people seen by the Service.

The Chairman thanked Ms Kell and the Treasurer for their presentation.
12 PUBLIC PARTICIPATION - CITIZENS ADVICE NORTH HERTS
Prior to the item being debated Councillor Paul Clark declared a Declarable Interest as he was the North Hertfordshire District Council’s Representative to and a Trustee of Citizens Advice North Herts. He advised that he would listen to the presentation, but would leave the room during the debate and vote regarding the grant application.

Prior to the item being debated Councillor Alan Millard declared a Declarable Interest as he was the North Hertfordshire District Council’s Representative to and a Trustee of Citizens Advice North Herts. He advised that he would listen to the presentation, but would leave the room during the debate and vote regarding the grant application.

Ms Rionach Aitken, Citizens Advice North Herts, thanked the Chairman for the opportunity to address the Committee and gave a verbal presentation regarding the grant application as follows:

Citizens Advice North Herts was extremely grateful for the funding received from NHDC without which it could not continue to provide the current level of service and appreciated that budget cuts had made grant funding more difficult.

Many clients had fluctuating incomes which meant they needed support with financial education and debt management and this meant that many more volunteers had to be trained to give debt advice

They were currently offering clients energy advice, particularly to the less able and elderly who were often less confident and required support with things like swapping energy suppliers.

During 2015/16 they supported 5,400 clients and had 11,500 contacts of which 26 percent were from Hitchin. This did not include the 7,000 visitors to the website, which offered reliable, solid information and guidance for those wanting self help advice.

In Hitchin they supported 1,400 clients with 2,500 issues during 3,000 contacts Debt issues were higher in the town than elsewhere in North Herts. And they were working with community groups to publicise what they could offer and already offered money management advice at Hitchin Library.

It was important to have a good Head Office where training could be provided to the volunteers and there were plenty of interview rooms available to see clients, whose numbers had increased by 30 percent.

The current base was not large enough and limited the number of clients that could be seen, resulting in waiting lists for appointments.

The application was to help with the costs of moving the Head Office in Letchworth to larger premises which would allow them to grow.

Members asked why debt levels were high in Hitchin and why demand had risen in the last two years

Ms Aitken advised that social housing rent arrears and Council Tax arrears were much higher in Hitchin. They were currently working with North Herts Homes and their tenants to offer support. One issue causing a rise in demand was welfare reform and benefits issues, but they were getting more efficient at offering effective advice and self hep and were taking more phone calls through the advice line.

Members asked if there were benefits to face to face contact rather than by telephone and what the future held for the Hitchin Office.

Ms Aitken advised that Citizens Advice needed to have a range of solutions, of which face to face and telephone were most used.

In respect of the Hitchin Office, until recently they were under the impression that Thomas Bellamy House would be sold, however that situation may change and therefore things were uncertain.

The Chairman thanked Ms Aitken for her presentation.
13 PUBLIC PARTICIPATION - NORTH HERTS MINORITY ETHNIC FORUM
Mr Mohammed Alam, North Herts Minority Ethnic Forum, thanked the Chairman for the opportunity to address the Committee and gave a verbal presentation regarding the grant application as follows:

The Minority Ethnic Forum provided various activities, particularly, but not exclusively for people from black and ethnic backgrounds. They provided information and guidance to those with language and communication barriers as well as services for the elderly, educational projects and extra curriculum activities for children and young people.

They wished to provide week long a summer boot camp for children from vulnerable backgrounds who were referred from children’s centres and other community organisations

Many families could not afford a holiday and during school holidays the children often hung out in the streets.

The boot camp would offer arts and crafts, sports and a health project and provide daily activities aimed to change anti-social behaviour and teach skills such as calling for emergency help, road safety and healthy eating which would give them the skills to positively contribute to the community.

The Chairman thanked Mr Alam for his presentation.
14 GRANTS, GRANT APPLICATIONS AND COMMUNITY UPDATE
The Communities Officer presented the report of the Head of Policy and Community Services entitled Grant Applications and Community Update and drew attention to the following:

BUDGETS
The 2016/17 budget was £19.600 and the balance carried forward from 2015/16 was 14,702.

REALLOCATION OF UNUSED BUDGETS
The following amounts previously allocated to projects were no longer required and could be reallocated to the base budget:
(i) Bollards at Tilehouse Street - £351.00
(ii) Westmill Brochure - £90.00
(iii) Post in Burford Way - £227.00
(iv) Friends of Walsworth Common - £20.00

RESOLVED:

(1) That the budgetary expenditure, balances and carry forwards from the Development, Visioning and Ward Budgets, as set out at Appendix A, be noted;

(2) That the actions taken by the Communities Officer to promote greater community capacity and wellbeing for Hitchin be noted;

(3) That the following amounts be reallocated to the base budget:
(i) Bollards at Tilehouse Street - £351.00
(ii) Westmill Brochure - £90.00
(iii) Post in Burford Way - £227.00
(iv) Friends of Walsworth Common - £20.00
TOTAL - £688.00

REASON FOR DECISION: To keep Members of the Committee apprised of the latest developments in community activities in Hitchin.
15 GRANT APPLICATION - HITCHIN COUNSELLING SERVICE
Members were supportive of awarding grant funding to the Hitchin Counselling Service. They were concerned that, in view of the value of the service provided, there did not appear to be any long term funding in place and that the NHS should be offering funding.

RESOLVED: That grant funding of £2,700 be awarded to Hitchin Counselling Service from the Discretionary Budget as funding towards the on-going costs of insurance, administration and training.

REASON FOR DECISION: To improve services provided by local organisations and groups which are accessed by the community.
16 GRANT APPLICATION - CITIZENS ADVICE NORTH HERTS
Prior to the item being debated Councillor Paul Clark declared a Declarable Interest as he was the North Hertfordshire District Council’s Representative to Citizens Advice North Herts. He advised that he would listen to the presentation, but would leave the room during the debate and vote regarding the grant application.

Prior to the item being debated Councillor Alan Millard declared a Declarable Interest as he was the North Hertfordshire District Council’s Representative to Citizens Advice North Herts. He advised that he would listen to the presentation, but would leave the room during the debate and vote regarding the grant application.

The Communities Offices informed Members that the Letchworth Committee had asked North Herts Citizens Advice to apply for funding and had granted £8.415.

Applications were being made to each Area Committee.

Members agreed that the work undertaken by CAB was essential and, as services were only offered two days a week in Hitchin, it was important that they had a solid base from which outreach services could be operated.

It was proposed and seconded that grant funding of £4,147 be awarded and

RESOLVED: That grant funding of £4,147 be awarded to Citizens Advice North Herts from the Discretionary Budget as support funding towards the cost of fixtures and fitting for their new premises in Station Road, Letchworth.

REASON FOR DECISION: To improve services provided by local organisations and groups which are accessed by the community.

Councillors Paul Clark and Alan Millard returned to the room.
17 GRANT APPLCATION - HERTS YOUNG CARERS
The Communities Officer informed Members that Herts Young Carers would be submitting grant applications to the Letchworth and Southern Rural Committees.

RESOLVED: That grant funding of £2,706 be awarded to Herts Young Carers from the Discretionary Budget as support funding towards the costs of providing the service to 10 young carers in Hitchin.

REASON FOR DECISION: To improve services provided by local organisations and groups which are accessed by the community.
18 GRANT APPLICATION - NORTH HERTS MINORITY ETHNIC FORUM
The Communities Officer informed Members that the North Herts Minority Ethnic Forum would be offering a two week boot camp during the summer holidays and that the application was to fund the Fire Fit element.

The Forum had also submitted an application for funding to the Letchworth Committee

RESOLVED: That grant funding of £750 be awarded to North Herts Minority Ethnic Forum from the Discretionary Budget as support funding towards the cost of a two week summer holiday health, fitness and community safety project.

REASON FOR DECISION: To improve services provided by local organisations and groups which are accessed by the community.
19 HITCHIN TOWN CENTRE MANAGER
Mr Keith Hoskins thanked the Chairman for the opportunity to address the Committee and gave a verbal presentation regarding the activities, events and issues relating to Hitchin Town Centre as follows:

HITCHIN INITIATIVE CHAIRMAN
Hitchin Initiative had a new Chairman in Morag Norgan who took office in April 2016.

SUNDAY BUS SERVICE
Hitchin Initiative together with County Councillors had contributed £2,500 to support continuation of the Sunday bus service, which was now guaranteed to run until 31 December 2016

HITCHIN FESTIVAL
Programmes for the Festival were published on 20 May 2016 which included details of the over 100 events taking place throughout July 2016.

HERTFORDSHIRE FOOD AND DRINK AWARDS
The presentation of the Hertfordshire Food and drink Awards would take place on 6 June 2016 at Hitchin Priory. Many Hitchin establishments had been nominated for awards.

SUMMER PLANTING
Approximately £18,000 of summer planting had ben organised including hanging baskets, floor based planters and barrier planters would all be in place in the next couple of weeks.

BUSINESS NETWORKING BREAKFAST
The next Business Networking Breakfast would be held on 9 June 2016 at 7.30am in Benslow. All Councillors were welcome to attend.

QUEEN'S BIRTHDAY
Hitchin Initiative were funding a birthday garden party on 12 June 2016 in the grounds of Hitchin Priory to celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday. Afternoon tea would be available and music would be provided by Hitchin Band and Bingen Town Band.

HITCHIN BEER FESTIVAL
The Hitchin Beer Festival would take place at Hitchin Rugby Club from 9 - 11 June 2016.

RECYCLING
There had been a massive increase in demand for cardboard and paper recycling.

INFORMATION NOTE - POLICY REGARDING THE FUNDING OF TOWN CENTRE PARTNERSHIPS/BID COMPANIES
The principal of not funding a project just because it was bought forward by Hitchin Initiative was flawed as there was no way for a precept to be raised in Hitchin.

He asked Members to continue supporting Hitchin Initiative.

REPRESENTATION ON HITCHIN INITIATIVE STEERING GROUP.
The Chairman advised Members that, traditionally, the Chairman of the Hitchin Committee represented NHDC on the Hitchin Initiative Steering Group but as she was a Director of Hitchin Initiative, she recommended that, for the period that she was Chairman of the Committee, the Vive-Chairman be asked to fulfil that role,

The Chairman thanked Mr Hoskins for his presentation.

RESOLVED: That for the Civic Year 2015/16 the Vice-Chairman of the Hitchin Committee act as representative to the Hitchin Initiative Steering Group.

REASON FOR DECISION: To ensure that the Hitchin Committee had full representation on the Hitchin Initiative Steering Group.
20 INFORMATION NOTE - NHDC POLICY IN REGARD TO THE FUNDING OF TOWN CENTRE PARTNERSHIPS/BID COMPANIES
Prior to the item being discussed Councillor Judi Billing declared a Declareable Interest as she was a Member of the Board of Hitchin Initiative. She advised that she would take no part in the debate or vote and would leave the room for this item.

Councillor Nicola Harris (Vice - Chairman) took the chair.

The Committee received the Information Note entitled NHDC Policy in regard to the Funding of Town Centre Partnerships/Bid Companies.

The Head of Policy and Community Services advised that the reason for the Information Note was due to a request from the Letchworth Committee that the Council’s budget policy regarding the funding of Town Centre Partnerships and Bid Companies be clarified.

She stressed that whilst the Information Note had been published in her name, the policy was part of the Corporate Budget Setting process in 2011, which had been considered by Cabinet and Full Council.

She informed Members that NHDC worked with all of the Town Centre Partnerships particularly regarding event planning, safety advisory group planning and event licensing.

NHDC was a contributor to the BID and provided the work associated with the BID for free, which was unusual. So this Policy was a shift from grant funding to supporting a more sustainable BID.

Members asked if the amount of resources and Officer support given to BIDs could be quantified.

The Head of Policy and Community Services was unable to offer a figure regarding the amount of resources and officer support given, but outlined some of the work that had to be undertaken prior to and during the BID renewal as follows;

• Organise the BID renewal voting documents;
• Count and assess the results of the vote;
• Establish all of the addresses within the BID boundary;
• Assess how much would be collected in contributions;
• Organise the collection of the contributions;
• Ensure all collections were paid to the BID.

She would ensure that an estimate of the value of this was circulated to all Members of the Committee

Members debated the issues around the decision made in 2011 ad made the following comments:

• This decision was taken 5 years ago and it was probably time to review that decision;
• That it may be that investing more in these types of projects would enable increased revenue streams;
• It was important that the Council remained involved with the BID Companies and able to work in partnerships on specific projects;
• It was difficult to understand how the Council could take a decision that basically ham-strung the Area Committees discretion regarding how they used the budgets allocated to them to fund sustainable projects;
• Investments made in projects managed by the Hitchin Initiative in the past had realised a tangible return;
• That the Policy was regarding core funding of Town Centre Partnerships and Bid Companies rather than specific projects that were not funded by other means.;
• That the Council was acting inconsistently when funding organisations like Citizens Advice year on year for day to day running costs, yet not allowing funding to the BID, who, for every pound received from this Committee, managed to attract another £3 of funding. which was put back into the community;
• That the Council needed to be more imaginative about the ways in which they funded Town Centres and could consider whether there was some way to use these assets, such as car parks for the benefit of both the Council and the Town Centres.

The Head of Policy and Community Services advised that there was considerable pressure on Council Budgets, but there was no reason that tis could not be discussed during the Business Planning Process in September.

She re-iterated that the Council was putting resources and officer time into the BID and that it was important to be able to identify the additionality that the BID provided

Members considered that the Committee should make its position regarding this subject clear through a statement that could be presented in support of any motion made to Council.

Following discussion unanimous consensus was reached that the view of the committee was:

"That, if a project deemed of benefit to the local community is presented for grant funding, no matter who makes the application, the Hitchin Committee should be allowed to fund those projects that they see benefits the Hitchin area best."

Councillor Judi Billing returned to the room and resumed the Chair.
21 INFORMATION NOTE - RIVERSIDE WALK
The Hitchin Committee received an Information Note regarding the Riverside Walk.

Members asked for clarification regarding the current status of the land to the rear of the Angel Pub.

RESOLVED: That the Senior Surveyor be requested to advise Members of the Committee about the current standing of the land to the rear of the Angel Pub.

REASON FOR DECISION: To enable the Hitchin Committee to consider progress made to complete the Riverside Walk.
22 INFORMATION NOTE - PROPOSED PEDESTRIANISATION OF BRAND STREET
The Hitchin Committee received an Information Note regarding the proposed pedestrianisation of Brand Street.

Members asked that the last iteration on the Town Centre Strategy be inspected for any content relating to the pedestrianisation of Brand Street.

RESOLVED: That the Strategic and Planning Projects Manager be requested to inspect the Town Centre Strategy and advise the Committee of any content relating to the pedestrianisation of Brand Street.

REASON FOR DECISION: To inform future discussions of this Committee regarding the proposed pedestrianisaton of Brand Street.
23 WARD AND OUTSIDE ORGANISATIONS - MEMBERS’ REPORTS
The Chairman had previously advised that Members would be given an opportunity to raise issues of concern and suggest items for consideration at future meetings during this item.

COMMERCIAL WASTE COLLECTION - HIGH STREET
Councillor Ashley advised that, following her efforts to identify a central collection point for commercial waste in the High Street she had been informed that an application had to be made to the Environment Agency for a license to do this.

The Chairman asked Councillor Ashley to email Members of the Committee, outside of the meeting, regarding this issue, with a view to possibly coming back at a future meeting with some ideas.

HITCHIN TOWN HALL
In view of the progress made towards opening the Town Hall Members felt that it would be appropriate to receive a report regarding the current position, including costs of refurbishment and other issues such as hire fees.

CHURCHGATE
New Members might benefit from an update on the position regarding Churchgate.

THE OLD MUSEUM BUILDING
Members would benefit for an update regarding the old Museum Building that could potentially become a valuable community asset.

The Chairman asked for these items to be put on the agenda for the meeting due to be held 6 September 2016 and asked Officers to prepare discussion notes, rather than information notes, that would not only impart information but encourage input from Members

RESOLVED:

(1) That a report about the current position regarding Hitchin Town Hall, including costs of the refurbishment and associated issues such as hire fees, be presented to the next meeting of this Committee due to be held on 6 September 2016;

(2) That a discussion note regarding Churchgate be presented to the next meeting of the Committee due to be held on 6 September 2016.

(3) That a discussion note regarding the old Hitchin Museum Building be presented to the next meeting of the Committee due to be held on 6 September 2016

REASON FOR DECISION: To enable the Committee to consider the current position regarding the above issues and provide input and make suggestions regarding these issues.
Published on Wednesday, 27th July, 2016
9.30p.m