Hitchin Committee Minutes

Tuesday, 5th September, 2017
Peter Morrison Hall, Benslow Music Trust, Benslow Lane, Hitchin

Attendance Details

Councillor Ian Albert (Vice-Chairman in the Chair), Councillor Judi Billing, Councillor Paul Clark, Councillor Elizabeth Dennis, Councillor Simon Harwood, Councillor Bernard Lovewell, Councillor Alan Millard, Councillor Ray Shakespeare - Smith, Councillor Martin Stears - Handscomb, Councillor R.A.C. Thake.
In attendance:
Colin Broadhurst (Licensing Officer), Claire Morgan (Communities Officer), and Hilary Dineen (Committee and Member Services Officer).
Also Present:
At the start of the meeting 14 members of the public.
Item Description/Decision
Apologies for absence were received from Councillors Nicola Harris (Chairman), Frank Radcliffe and Adrian Smith.
RESOLVED: That the Minutes of the Meeting of the Committee held on 27 June 2017 be approved as a true record of the proceedings and be signed by the Chairman.
No other business had been notified.
(1) The Vice-Chairman thanked all who had attended Town Talk;

(2) The Vice-Chairman welcomed all present at the meeting, particularly those who had attended to give a presentation;

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

(4) The Vice-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.
Mr Paul Payne, Blue Otter Limited, had given his apologies that he would be unable to attend the meeting.
Councillor Claire Strong and Mr Robert Lord thanked the Chairman for the opportunity to address the Committee and gave a verbal presentation regarding Hitchin Town Twinning Association.

Councillor Strong advised that she was the Council’s representative on Hitchin Town Twinning Association along with Councillor Albert and that they attended meetings of that organisation.

Hitchin was twinned with two Towns, being Nuits St George, France and Bingen, Germany.

The Association held approximately three major fund raising activities each year including a Bingen Wine Evening, a barbeque in the summer and a French Evening.

The 60th anniversary of twinning between Hitchin and Bingen would take place during 2018 and to celebrate the event the Mayor of Bingen would be presenting Hitchin with 10 - 15 rose bushes.

The wish was to find a prominent place for these rose bushes to be planted.

NHDC Grounds Maintenance had suggested two locations being a new rose garden in Bancroft Gardens or at the Biggin and she was seeking the opinion of the Committee regarding these, or alternative locations.

The Twinning Association was hoping to hold an event to mark the anniversary, which may be a dinner event at Hitchin Town Hall.

Councillors considered various options including that planting of the roses at the Biggin could form part of a larger transformation of that area and a suggestion that the grassed area outside of the Library could be considered, although it should be noted that work was due to start on enhancing the library and therefore this might not be the right place.

Councillor Strong advised that she would be making further enquiries regarding the variety and number of rose bushes that would be presented as well as the timing of their arrival.

She asked that any further suggestions be communicated to her in the next few weeks.

The Vice-Chairman thanked Councillor Strong and Mr Lord for their presentation.
Mr Michael Woodward and Mr Andrew Harper, Trustees, thanked the Chairman for the opportunity to address the Committee and gave a verbal presentation regarding Rhythms of the World.

Mr Woodward thanked NHDC and the people of North Herts for their continued support of Rhythms of the World.

He advised that 2015 had been a challenging year, but with the support of the public, volunteers and grant funding from Hitchin Committee they had retained a presence in the town in 2016, which had been their 25th year in Hitchin.

2016 had been on a much smaller scale, but had included an all day event at St Marys Church in June and a Family Day in July.

Through fundraising and donations and very careful financial management Rhythms of the World was very much solvent and stable financially.

Despite this, due to the financial risk and the loss of some volunteers, it was decided not to put on a major event in 2017.

In order to regroup and re-establish, a public appeal was launched for volunteers. A public meeting was held from which emerged a new cohort of enthused volunteers and a structure that could take the organisation forward.

The public response had been that the people of Hitchin wanted Rhythms of the World to continue and wanted the major event to be a town event for the community of Hitchin.

The Trustees were returning Rhythms of the World to its roots by incorporating into the organisations objectives they wished to promote cultural diversity, the arts, cultural education and community.

Mr Woodward asked that the Committee continue to give their support and encouragement to the organisation.

Mr Harper advised that the new structure of the organisation included people with a lot of experience, however they did not wish to overstretch themselves by organising too many events and therefore would be concentrating their efforts on providing a single, smaller scale event in 2018.

It was hoped that they would be able to announce where this would be held and what format it would take in the near future.

They had organised a small event to be held on 30 September 2017 at Westmill Community Centre. This would be an all day event organised in partnership with Westmill Community Centre which would include sports, workshops and bands.

Members were pleased that Rhythms of the World had a good attendance at their public meeting and commented that the last major event had stretched the organisation both financially and with other resources. They were pleased to note that Rhythms of the World was re-emerging with smaller, more manageable events in the Town Centre and were fully supportive of this approach.

Members asked that Rhythms of the World return to this Committee in the near future to report on progress.

The Vice-Chairman thanked Mr Woodward and Mr Harper for their presentation.
County Councillors Derrick Ashley and Judi Billing thanked the Chairman for the opportunity to address the Committee and gave a verbal presentation regarding their work surrounding a feasibility study regarding a link road off Stotfold Road.

County Councillor Ashley informed Members that for many years there had been recognition that access to the employment area of Hitchin was not ideal.

The Hitchin Urban District Transport Plan was developed approximately 5 years ago included an additional access to this area was one of the long term objectives.

County Councillors Billing and Ashley spent £10,000 each out of their discretionary budget to fund a feasibility study, which had recently been published.

This study had concluded that it was feasible to put in a link from the Stotfold Road into the employment area, utilising the land beneath the railway viaduct.

The County Council recognised that due to the expected growth of the town, as identified in the emerging Local Plan and to alleviate associated traffic issues, some work would need to be carried out in this area. The estimated cost of these works was approximately £5 million.

Should any scenarios arise through the planning process that identifies that the road should be built, there was now a feasibility study in place to show that it was possible.

Councillor Ashley stated that they would appreciate the support of Hitchin Committee to pursue the implementation of this scheme.

County Councillor Judi Billing advised that she had witnessed the residential blight along Grove Road and surrounding areas in terms of safety, air quality and family life caused by the traffic in the area.

They had used some imagination in using Locality Highway Budget funding for a strategic project rather than laying road surfaces.

Councillor Billing asked Members to support the proposed scheme that would benefit the people of Hitchin.

Members asked whether the feasibility study considered any traffic calming or other measure to prevent lorries transiting through the town from the M1 and whether it considered the traffic issues on the Stotfold Road towards Willian.

County Councillor Ashley advised that the feasibility study was the first stage and that should the project come to fruition, it would provide another access to the employment area which would alleviate the congestion on the Stotfold Road and would dilute the current problems in the Grove Road area all for a relative small amount of money.

In respect of the Stotfold Road towards Willian, Councillor Ashley advised that the feasibility study was a discreet element that would not necessarily affect anything else, however this could become part of a wider strategic jigsaw.

A Member referred to the temporary haul road that had been installed to carry heavy vehicles during the construction of the railway curve and the concerns raised at that time regarding the dangers associated with heavy vehicles climbing the hill, He suggested that some possible objections to this scheme could be overcome by making it clear that heavy vehicles would be directed on to the A505. It was important to ensure that there were as few barriers as possible to getting agreement both Letchworth and Hitchin to the scheme going forward.

Members referred to the proposed development at Highover Farm and commented that the access to this development should be considered carefully and that this Committee had expressed a desire to see the brief for the site before the planning stage was reached.

County Councillor Ashley advised that there were 22 strategic housing sites in the County, all of which had issues regarding traffic and access. He informed Members that in order to progress any proposal regarding traffic solutions it had to be backed by a policy document, and in this case, the Hitchin Transport Plan had identified this solution as a long term objective.

Members queried whether any other access route had been considered

County Councillor Ashley advised that the study had only looked at the feasibility of an additional access into the employment area an improvement of circulation around the employment area.

The Vice-Chairman thanked County Councillors Ashley and Billing for their presentation.

It was proposed and seconded and:

(1) That the Committee and Member Services Officer be requested to circulate the Feasibility Study into the creation of a link road from Stotfold Road to the employment area in Hitchin;

(2) That the Hitchin Committee supports the principal of a link road between Stotfold Road and the employment area in Hitchin, as detailed in the feasibility study;

(3) That the Development and Conservation Manager be requested to provide a report to this Committee regarding the proposed Highover Farm development, prior to any planning application being considered, to enable this Committee to consider the infrastructure implications of that development.

(4) That the Committee and Member Services Officer be requested to forward a copy of this Minute to the Development and Conservation Manager

REASON FOR DECISION: To inform Members of the Hitchin Committee about the detail included in the feasibility study into the creation of a link road from Stotfold Road to the employment area of Hitchin.
Members noted that the North Hertfordshire Highways Liaison Meeting had not met since 31 October 2016 and that these meetings were due to be held twice yearly. This matter had been bought to the attention of the Chairman of that Meeting and Members queried when the next meeting might take place.

Members commented that the road near the Three Moorhens was difficult and unsafe to manoeuvre and needed attention. They noted that a pedestrian crossing had been installed.

It was proposed and seconded that this Committee supports the issuing of a prescriptive notice regarding the safety of this section of road by NHDC that would require Highways to deal with the issues.

Members commented that the area around this junction was constantly flooding and that the drains in the area did not seem to be coping with the capacity of rainfall as they seemed to be blocked.

This area was dangerous for both pedestrians and car drivers, particularly when it rained.

Members noted that there was a programme of gully cleansing in place, but that there did not seem to be any priority given to areas at risk of flooding such as this.

Members were advised that there was list of sensitive areas held at County Hall and that this should be added to that list.

County Councillor Billing was asked to take this matter forward.

County Councillor Ashley advised that there were some 90.000 new dwelling planned for Hertfordshire and that there was an increasing consensus that work was needed to provide more sustainable transport and that there was a lot of work emerging regarding this issue

(1) That the Chief Executive be requested to take the necessary steps to issue a prescriptive notice regarding the safety of the B656 - Park Street, in the vicinity of the Three Moorhens, that would require Hertfordshire Highways to take action in order to deal with the issues;

(2) That County Councillor Billing be requested to ask Highways Officer to add the Junction of Cambridge Road/Willian Road to the list of sensitive areas, prone to flooding that require additional gully cleaning.

REASON FOR DECISION: To improve safety on the road and pathways in Hitchin.
The Communities Officer presented the report entitle Grants and Community Update and drew attention to the following:

The Ground Maintenance Team had offered some suggestions for the placement of the rose bushes that were due to be presented as follows:
Bancroft Gardens:
Hitchin Library;
The Biggin and
Smithsons Recreation Ground, although this was a little way out of the Town Centre.

If Members had any preferences or suggestions could they please advise both the Town Twinning Association and Communities Officer.

Mention had also been made of a plaque to be placed with the rose bushes to explain that they had been presented

The costs of planting, based on 20 rose bushes was £120 and the cost of any plaque would need to be paid for from the Area Committee budget, although maintenance of the rose bushes would come from the grounds maintenance budget.

Permission had also been given to use the ceremonial silver spade to plant the bushes.

The Communities Officer had investigated the possibility of moving the flagpole from outside the British Legion building to a more suitable location, however officers had advised that this flagpole was not of a suitable condition to move it and that repairs would be more expensive than purchasing a new one.

Historical evidence had been found that there was once a flagpole in the Market Square and, following consultation with the Town Centre Manager regarding whether to reintroduce a flagpole in this area, it was decided that the most suitable place would be near the Cabbies Hut.

There was an existing flagpole, used by NHDC, on Hitchin Town Hall.

It would cost approximately £1,500 to purchase and install a new flagpole in the Market Square.

Members thanked the Communities Officer for her research regarding the flagpole but decided that the flagpole at Hitchin Town Hall should be used and that they did not wish any further work to be undertaken in respect of a flagpole in Hitchin Market Square.

The Communities Officer had been approached regarding a process for the Area Committee to have an input into suggestions for the allocation of future S106 funding.

Members were asked to contact the Communities Officers with any projects or requirements that are needed in an area. The Communities Officers would keep a list of these suggestions, which would then be fed into the Section 106 process if any planning applications for that area were submitted.

Members commented that MHDC should implement the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL), as well as Section 106 contributions, so that every single dwelling, whether it was a single build or a housing estate, contributed to the infrastructure in that area.

The Committee and Member Services Officer reminded Members that Section 106 contributions could not be negotiated without a specific project to negotiate for.

Members were supportive of the idea to start a list of projects and asked the Communities Officer to do so.

The Communities Officer advised Members that she had received no grant applications for this meeting and commented that organisations had only started to apply for funding for Christmas events after the deadline for this meeting. This meant that many of those events would take place before any decision could be made regarding grant funding.

Members commented that the number of meetings of this Committee had been reduced and smaller organisations were not always aware of the requirements and deadlines regarding grant finding. This meant that groups were sometimes disadvantaged and they queried whether authority for these grants could be delegated.

The Communities Officer advised that delegation of grant funding had ceased as it was not in the Council’s constitution to allow it to happen.

It was proposed and seconded that the Monitoring Officer be requested to consider changes to the Council’s Constitution to allow small grants to be agreed by Area Committee Chairmen and Vice Chairmen where an event would take place prior to the next meeting of the Area Committee and that each Committee agree, on an annual basis the parameters for that delegation.

Members were encouraged to speak to organisations to advise them that grant funding was available and that they should contact the Communities Officer for help and guidance, also to signpost them to their County Councillors as an alternative or additional grant funding source.

It had been agreed that a bench could be placed outside of Hitchin Town Hall. Two options were being considered, firstly to clean up the old bench and replace it and the other to purchase a new bench to be installed.

The estimated cost of purchasing a new bench and installing it was £2,000 and the Community Officer suggested that the Committee consider allocating this amount in the Committee Budget. If it was then possible to clean the old bench for less money the balance would be returned to the base budget.

Members were very supportive of this being moved forward as quickly as possible.


(1) That all grants be allocated from the 2016/17 carry over amount of £10,570, until it is depleted;

(2) That the Committee endorses the actions taken by the Community Officer to promote greater community capacity and well-being for Hitchin;

(3) That the Communities Officer be requested to start an maintain a list of future projects to be used by Planning Officers when negotiating for Section 106 contributions;

(4) That the Monitoring Officer be requested to consider changes to the Council’s Constitution to allow small grants to be delegated to Area Committee Chairmen and Vice Chairmen where an event would take place prior to the next meeting of the Area Committee and that each Committee agree, on an annual basis, the parameters for that delegation.

(5) That £2,000 be allocated from the 2016/17 base budget to provide a bench outside of Hitchin Town Hall.

REASON FOR DECISION: To keep Members of the Committee apprised of the latest developments in community activities in Hitchin.
Councillor Judi Billing declared a Declarable Interest as she was a Director of Hitchin Initiative. This was not a pecuniary interest and therefor she would remain in the room for the debate and any vote.

The Licensing Officer presented a report in respect of the proposed Street Trading Policy 2018-2025. He advised that consultation had commenced on a revised Policy, part of which was to seek the views of Area Committees.

By way of background, the Licensing Officer explained that the Council had adopted the appropriate Street Trading legislation in 2005. In Street Trading terms, a “street” was a road, footway or other areas to which the public had free access (eg. car parks, shopping arcades). Street Trading was the selling of goods that could be purchased and taken away at the time of purchase.

The Licensing Officer further explained that Charter Markets were exempt from Street Trading, as were shops that displayed some of their wares outside their frontages. Typically, Street Trading covered burger vans, ice cream vans, ad hoc markets and community events. In this latter regard, he stated that the revised Policy sought to continue to those parts of the existing Policy which provided encouragement for community events.

The Licensing Officer advised that the Council was able to designate streets as consent streets, where its consent was required to be able to trade within such streets; prohibited streets, where trading would not be permitted at any time; or not to designate at all. In 2005, the Council had chosen to designate as consent streets all streets within the District’s four main towns and the arterial roads which linked them. Village roads/streets had been excluded from such designation.

The Licensing Officer commented that the Policy did not contain any prohibited streets, but appended to it was a list of streets where consent would not normally be granted.

In respect of Advertising Boards (A Boards) and tables and chairs outside restaurants/cafes, the Licensing Officer confirmed that those matters did not fall within the remit of street trading, but were instead the responsibility of Hertfordshire County Council under the Highways Act 1980.

The Licensing Officer stated that the main objective of the Policy was to protect the public from unregulated street traders. The Policy also aimed to make things easier for community events to go ahead without having to go through the same process as commercial operators. Accordingly, it was possible for an annual Town Centre consent to be issued to an appropriate Town Centre organisation (such as a BID company or Community Events Forum), so that all community or commercial operators wishing to trade within the town could approach the Town Centre organisation for permission to use their annual consent. A cost could be levied on a commercial operator for use of the consent, with no charge for not-for-profit community organisations.

Members commented that a number of issues not covered by this policy caused problems in Hitchin Town Centre including trading outside of shops such as cafes, which created problems when they spread onto the footways and the proliferation of A boards placed on the footways and in the roads, which had been a constant issue.

The Licensing Officer advised that A boards and tables and chairs on footways and roads came under the purview of Hertfordshire County Council.

Members commented that the County Council did not take any enfacement action regarding these issues and queried why NHDC could not take on the responsibility of these issues from Hertfordshire District Council and then be delegated to the Town Centre Managers.

Members asked for a report on this issue that specifically addressed the reasons that this could not be achieved.

Councillor Lovewell, whose Portfolio included this issue advised that NHDC had tried many time to persuade Hertfordshire County Council to transfer responsibility for A board to NHDC together with the funds to undertake that responsibility but this had been resisted by the County Council

(1) That the report entitled Consultation in Relation to the Proposed Street Trading Policy 2018-2025 be noted;

(2) That the Licensing Manager be requested to produce a report that addresses the reasons that responsibility for A boards and outside shop trading, such a cafes could not be transferred from Hertfordshire County Council to North Herts District Council and then delegated to the Town Centre Managers.

REASON FOR DECISION: To provide local input into the proposed Street Trading Policy 2018-2025.
Mr Keith Hoskins, Hitchin Town Centre Manager, had offered apologies that he was unable to attend this meeting.
Councillor Martin Stears-Handscomb reminded Members that, they had discussed the Green Space Strategy at a previous meeting and had concluded that they did not wish any of the play areas to have the play equipment removed in Hitchin and that the Committee had requested that he work with Councillor Simon Harwood to think of innovative ways for the Hitchin Committee to support the play areas.

They had reported back to the meeting of this Committee held on 27 June 2017 regarding the mechanism of Special Expenses, which was a way in which Council Tax could be added to un-parished areas in the same way that a parish precept was charged.

They had also considered whether it was practical, both feasibly and financially, to get a group together to take over one or more of the play areas.

Councillors Harwood and Stears-Handscomb had met with the Executive Member for Leisure and the relevant officers, who had given them a very courteous hearing and given them a lot of information and were extremely helpful;

The Executive Member and officers were keen to encourage any community groups to tale on the areas, which would in turn help the Council, in that the less play areas there were the more the maintenance costs for each of them.

Councillor Harwood advised that he had investigated further methods of financial support for both the capital costs such as replacing the equipment and revenue costs such as maintenance.

The result of his enquiries were that there was a way to fund capital costs through Special Expenses and there was a way, through grant funding from this Committee to fund revenue costs.

There were benefits in using the Councils current maintenance programme, not only in that the costs would likely be lower using Council contractors than using independent ones, but that the Council service would included relevant insurances required.

The Council had a lot of information about the usage of play areas and different types of equipment and it was important that community groups recognised that there were different types of play areas, with not all of them needing high value, complicated play equipment,

It was important to not only focus efforts on the play areas where equipment was recommended for removal, but to consider those play areas where the equipment was nearing the end of its maintainable usefulness and would need to be replaced in 4 to 5 years time. Ignoring these play areas could result in being in the same situation again when these are due for replacement.

Councillor Stears-Handscomb advised that they had provided more details in the paperwork and that he wished to propose the following two recommendations:

1. That Hitchin Committee consider whether to ask Cabinet to recommend to Council that Special Expenses be used to retain the three play areas designated for removal of equipment.
2. That Hitchin Committee ask officers to encourage an interested group to come forward, initially to take on running the three play areas designated for removal of equipment.

Members acknowledged that, although there were some play areas that had more support than others, it was important to consider the wider picture and work together to protect as many play areas as possible, both now and those that may be vulnerable in the future.

They recognised that it was really difficult to find community groups to take on these play areas and questioned whether this could be due to the lack of resources or the lack of support offered to the community groups to explain how they could make it work.

Members expressed concern that children across the District would be left without play areas for the future.

They queried how this was being marketed and whether there were better ways of proactively seeking community groups. They acknowledged that there was a lot of information available, but that a short sharp one page leaflet may help encourage groups and questioned whether the Communities Team could proactively seek groups.

They also queried whether established groups such as the Hitchin Society and Hitchin BID Manager had been approached

The Communities Officer advised that, in respect of marketing, Members should contact the Communications Department and that there was not the capacity for officers to go out into the community looking for groups to take on the play areas however where a group or individual has made any type of enquiry, officers had worked with them. She confirmed that established groups had been approached regarding this.

Members acknowledged that, even where a subject raises a passionate response from people, very few people were willing or able to actually be involved.

Members agreed that Councillors Harwood and Stears-Handscomb should be asked to speak to Cabinet on behalf of Hitchin Committee regarding their findings and recommendations This would demonstrate the cross party work being undertaken, which may add weight to the presentation.

The Vice-Chairman thanked Councillors Harwood and Stears-Handscomb for their work.

Upon the vote it was:


(1) That Councillors Harwood and Stears-Handscomb be requested to make a presentation to Cabinet regarding their findings and recommendations in respect of play areas;

(2) That Hitchin Committee supports the recommendation made by Councillors Harwood and Stears-Handscomb as follows:

“That Cabinet be requested to recommend to Council that Special Expenses be used to retain the three play areas in Hitchin designated for removal of equipment.

(3) That officers be requested to encourage an interested group to come forward, initially to take on running the three play areas in Hitchin designated for removal of equipment.

REASON FOR DECISION: To enable the Hitchin Committee to consider ways in which it can support play areas in Hitchin.
Members received a written update from Bim Afolami, Member of Parliament for Hitchin and Harpenden.
Councillor Simon Harwood informed Members that this planning application had been very challenging and that there was always going to be a loser in the process.

In this case the application for building works at the Boys School was approved.

Councillor Elizabeth Dennis advised that the covenants relating to the Dell, that currently prevented the area from being used as an outdoor theatre, were slightly more complicated than anticipated.

The legal avenues required funding, although there was a non-legal avenue, which involved contacting the family to ask if they would be happy for there to be an open air theatre.

Councillor Stears-Handscomb asked that it be brought to the attention of the Waste and Recycling Department that some street cleansing consisted of only sweeping the middle of the road.
Members requested that the Democratic Services Manager be requested to provide a report regarding the processes and regulations regarding the Hitchin BID renewal.

Hitchin Market
The District Museum

RESOLVED: That the Democratic Services Manager be requested to present a written or verbal report to this Committee that outlined the processes and regulations regarding the upcoming renewal of the Hitchin BID.
Published on Wednesday, 22nd November, 2017