Seven things we know about Hertsmere’s plans for Newberries Car Park

Hertsmere Council's plan of the Newberries car park developmentThere’s an ugly old car park behind the shops, between the river and the railway. The council has big plans for it and the community is already mobilising against it. What do we know so far?

1. It’s a big project and it’s going to be politically explosive
Hertsmere Borough Council owns the land and will manage the project. Planning permission hasn’t been obtained yet and, incidentally, the council is also the planning authority. Governance of this project is going to be a hot topic. A committee of senior Hertsmere councillors and officials, led by Chief Executive Donald Graham and finance and property portfolio holder Councillor John Graham has been appointed to supervise the scheme through to construction. Transparency and propriety are going to be hugely important. Everybody in the area will be paying attention.

2. It’s going to be a big shop with a hotel above it
It’ll be a no-frills hotel. A Premier Inn-style joint with no on-site catering, although the retail unit could include a cafe. Guests will, of course, also be able to use local restaurants and shops.

3. It’s all about the money
A local authority sitting on 5,000 square metres of land in a location like this would probably be irresponsible not to try to boost its yield – especially when their numbers suggest it is under-used. The swingeing cuts in local government funding are real and add to the pressure. The document presented to the council’s executive (PDF) makes a lot of the need for funds and uses government cuts as an argument for maximising the income from the land by retaining ownership of the project and partnering with a developer rather than just selling the land.

4. There’s risk – for the authority and for the community
The provisional plans have some sketchy numbers for return on investment and there are obviously no guarantees for the success of a big new shop (some people say it’ll be an Aldi) and a hotel. The proposed approach sees the council taking on more risk than if they simply sold the land. There may also be substantial borrowing. Hertsmere is not a big authority and doesn’t have much slack. This won’t be a walk in the park.

5. We’re all going to be talking about the parking
Newberries car park has 216 places and, according to the council, an occupancy rate of 60%. So, on average, 130 of the available spaces are used at any one time. That leaves 86 spaces for the use of the 80-room hotel. More spaces are planned as part of the development, for the shop mainly. Whatever happens, it’s going to be tight, even on an average day. And all that’s before we’ve even thought about access to the site and extra traffic.

6. The land floods
Everybody remembers the car park under water as recently as 2014. The car park is part of an area that’s meant to be allowed to flood when the river overflows. Elaborate measures will have to be taken to make the development comply with the Environment Agency’s rules. The council’s response is to build the shop and the hotel on stilts. Does that sound viable? Quite possibly. Does it sound unproblematic? No.

7. There’s already opposition from the community.
Local campaigner Clive Glover has written a detailed objection in the Radlett Village Facebook Group (you may need to be a member of the group to see this). He questions the business case and asks important questions about capacity and access. We’ll hear a lot more of this. There’s talk of a petition and a public meeting.

And there’s going to be a lot more to this project. It’s certainly the biggest individual development in Radlett in the eighteen years I’ve lived here. It’s bound to cause a big fuss in the village. No one’s automatically against development and we, like all communities, expect our local authorities to get the best possible return on their assets but we also expect plans like this to respect the needs of the community and not steamroller existing businesses. The obvious potential for conflict of interest in this development is going to make it particularly tricky for officials and councillors. The financial risks are potentially ruinous and the plan so far contains no new community amenities at all, beyond the commercial elements.

The council’s plans were presented to a meeting of the executive committee. Download a PDF of the documents presented (including drawings).

The Borehamwood Times wrote up the executive’s approval of the council’s proposal, based on this Hertsmere press release. A big story like this needs serious treatment from local media. This is a great opportunity for them to really dig in and devote some full-time effort to it. I hope they do.

How you voted

Screenshot of Hertsmere general election result from BBC web site, 8 May 2015It was never going to be the most exciting of elections for us in Hertsmere. No earthquake for us. It’s a Conservative hold, of course (as it is across Hertfordshire). And the Hertsmere numbers tell the national story pretty well. Conservative, Labour and Ukip all saw increases, both in absolute numbers and in share of the vote. And the source of those extra votes? The Lib Dems, by and large (an increased turn-out also helped – it was 65% in 2010). Share of the vote for the party whose candidate was reportedly too busy to campaign fell by a wapping 11.8% to 5.5% (2,777 votes – she’s just retained her deposit) The biggest gainer was Ukip, whose share jumped by 9.1%. Ukip candidate Frank Ward polled more than twice as many votes as Sophie Bowler (6,383). For Hertsmere, there’s the story.

Stay tuned for the Hertsmere borough and Aldenham parish election results, which we should have from about 4pm today.

The other election

Voting rights for women. Dutch women going to the polls for the first time. The Netherlands, Amsterdam, 1921.Voters of Radlett, eat your Weetabix. You have a lot of electing to do. When you go to vote tomorrow today you’ll be electing not only an MP but also a Hertsmere Borough Councillor and an Aldenham Parish Councillor.

Last year the council consulted with electors and switched from the old ‘thirds’ model, where votes for one-third of council seats were held each year for three consecutive years, to a simpler ‘whole council’ model. Now, when we vote, we’re electing councillors for all 39 seats in the Borough in one go. The changes are explained in this document (PDF).

The count for the parliamentary election will start right after the polls close tomorrow this evening and go on into the early hours of Friday morning. The count for the local elections will take place at the same venue from midday on Friday, 8 May. We should see parliamentary results by 4am and borough and parish council results from around 4pm.

The Hertsmere press team have their social media act together so follow them on Twitter or on Facebook for regular updates through the night. Results will be available on the Hertsmere web site soon after the count.

While you’re at it, follow @RadlettWire on Twitter.

So what’s going to get you voting?

Less that 24 hours to go. Which Radlett issues will influence your vote in the election? We asked and you answered (you can still complete the survey here).

So, in order of importance to local voters, here are the issues that will motivate the Radlett electorate in the polling booth Thursday (number of votes for each issue in brackets).

1. The Freight terminal and the green belt (158)
2. Development in Radlett (156)
3. The NHS (150)
4. Crime and policing (148)
5. Local amenities (139)
6. Transport and commuting (136)
7. Local business (127)
8. Schools (125)
9. Young people (124)
10. Environment (123)
11. Elder care (115)
12. Housing (115)

You can see the full survey questions on the survey page and the detailed results here.

It probably won’t surprise you that the top scoring issue relates to the planned freight terminal on the old Radlett airfield in Park Street. Likewise, the pressures caused by development in Radlett were bound to be high on the list. Some of you added narrative responses. Here’s a few of them:

Give more teeth to planning officers who seem incapable of stopping overdevelopment at the expense of the greenness of the area. Stop concreting over front gardens. Plant more trees. The state of verges is appalling with thoughtless drivers parking on them with impunity.

NHS Free at the point of care. No privatization not even sneaky its not really privatization privatization.

Potential mansion tax, inheritance tax.

No Free Schools to be built. Rather schools built where they are actually needed not as some form of vanity project or special interest group intent on avoiding national governance or indeed national curriculum.

Rail Freight!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thanks to all of you who completed the survey. Don’t forget to vote!

The manifestos are in

So we now have manifestos from all the major parties. Here, for your convenience, are the manifestos of the four parties standing in Hertsmere:

Conservative – Strong leadership, a clear economic plan, a brighter, more secure future (here’s the downloadable version).

Labour – Britain only succeeds when working people succeed (downloadable version).

Liberal Democrats – Stronger economy, fairer society, opportunity for everyone (downloadable version). The Lib Dems provide their manifesto in several different versions, including this ‘easy read’ version (PDF) and an audio version.

Ukip – Believe in Britain (downloadable version). Ukip’s manifesto is also accompanied by a 20-page ‘economic review of policy proposals‘ prepared by consultancy CEBR.

We’ll leave it to you to evaluate the various parties’ commitment to the issues that are important here in Radlett. But don’t forget to complete our survey about those issues, which will be live until the election.

Leaflets from Hertsmere candidates, summarising party positions on local and national issues, are being circulated now (although we haven’t seen one from the Lib Dems, yet). You can see all of them on the volunteer-run Election Leaflets web site.

And, of course, there are other players in this exceptional election. Although you can’t vote for any of them, you’ll want to take a look at the manifestos of the Green Party (PDF), the SNP, the DUP (PDF) and Plaid Cymru (PDF). They could all influence the outcome on 7 May.

General election 2015 – the nominations are in and no, you can’t vote Green

Statement of persons nominated for the Hertsmere parliamentary constituency for the 2015 general election

If you voted for the BNP or for the Greens at the last general election and you were thinking of doing so again this time, you’re out of luck. Neither is standing in Hertsmere in 2015 and the deadline for candidates to get their names on the ballot has now passed, so that’s it.

Between them, in 2010, the two parties attracted around 2,000 votes or 4% of the vote. According to Buzzfeed “almost Everyone In England And Wales Will Be Able To Vote For The Green Party”. The Greens are putting up candidates in nearly 95% of UK seats (535 out of 573) and around 40% of their candidates are women, the highest proportion for any party at the general election. Before the deadline passed, I reached out to the 2010 Green Party candidate Arjuna Krishna-Das to ask if he planned to stand but it turns out he’s no longer Green and, in fact, he’s now supporting a right-wing group calling itself Liberty GB.

The task of gathering nominations for elections falls to local authority Returning Officers. You can download nomination documents – including those for the Borough and Parish council elections – from the Hertsmere web site and, for reasons which presumably pre-date the World Wide Web, you can pick them up in person from the council offices. The Your Next MP web site, has up-to-date lists of candidates for the whole country and you can add information yourself, where it’s missing.

General Election 2015 in Radlett

Don’t get over-excited. You live in the Parliamentary constituency of Hertsmere. The excitement of General Election 2015 is going to largely pass you by (as it will, of course, for most electors in most constituencies). According to this chart on the Electoral Calculus web site, ours is the 87th least marginal Conservative seat in Britain. It would take an upset of a never-before-seen magnitude to cause Hertsmere to change hands on 7 May. So relax. However you vote, you already know the outcome.

The incumbent MP – Conservative James Clappison – is standing down at this election. His replacement as Conservative candidate, Oliver Dowden, will, as night follows day, take his seat in Parliament on 8 May.

So, what is there left to say about Hertsmere? Well, there are only three other candidates so far declared. No candidates from the Greens or from the BNP, both of whom stood in 2010. They still have time to declare their candidacy, though, and so do you, so if you’d like to stand yourself, you have until the close of business on 9 April to submit your nomination. It’s not a straightforward process so you’ll need to get your skates on – and there’s the small matter of the £500 deposit. The Electoral Commission’s advice for candidates and agents is very comprehensive.

The four candidates so far on the ballot, in alphabetical order, are:

Sophie Bowler, Liberal Democrats
Bowler is a late entry. She’s on the Your Next MP web site and listed on the Liberal Democrats web site but doesn’t have her own profile yet. According to the JC, she’s too busy to campaign. The Liberals polled a respectable 8,210 last time round (the candidate was Anthony Rowlands), just behind Labour.

Richard Butler, Labour
A 27 year-old Borehamwood Councillor who’s been a Labour member since he was 15 and a councillor since he was 21. He’s, on Twitter. Labour’s 2010 candidate, Sam Russell, polled 8,871, putting him in second place, over 17,000 behind the Conservative candidate.

Oliver Dowden, Conservative
Hertsmere’s Conservative candidate is a member of the party’s inner circle: Deputy Chief of Staff to David Cameron and an experienced SPAD. A local man, born and brought up in St Albans and living there now, he apparently won the candidacy by a landslide, taking over 50% of the internal Conservative Party vote in the first round, which is very unusual. This Spectator article names him as one of ‘David Cameron’s secret A-list’ of candidates anointed by the Conservative hierarchy. He has a web site and is on Facebook and Instagram.

Frank Ward, Ukip
Interestingly, your Ukip candidate was also once a Borehamwood Labour councillor. Ward joined Ukip in 2013, having been deselected by Labour in 2006. He was a Labour member for 45 years. He’s also chairman of Hertsmere Ukip.

Although our own election is likely to be on the dull side, the General Election itself looks like it’s going to be anything but, of course. The BBC’s General Election homepage will probably be a good starting point (declaration: I work at the BBC). All of the papers have set up election portals, of course. The lead story on The Telegraph’s today is about reactions to last week’s seven-way TV debate. The Guardian’s lead story is about a Conservative defector to Ukip.

Among the pollsters, it’ll be worth keeping an eye on YouGov’s constituency page for Hertsmere. Using a rolling poll of approximately 150,000 UK electors (751 of whom apparently live in Hertsmere) they’re currently projecting a Conservative vote in the range: 41.7-54.6%. The fact that US polling ninja Nate Silver (founder of the FiveThirtyEight data journalism site), is forecasting the UK General Election has to be interesting, although he’s actually using the work of a group of UK academics to do so. His current prediction is for the Conservatives to take 283 seats against Labour’s 277. In this interview, though, he cannily concedes that accurately forecasting this year’s UK General Election will be very different from doing so in the more stable two-party context of the USA. UK Polling Report is an always-fascinating blog from Anthony Wells, Director of YouGov’s political and social opinion polling. He looks at all the UK polls and specialises in debunking party and media spin. His own poll of polls currently has the two main parties tied on 34%. Follow him on Twitter too. The BBC News Poll Tracker uses multiple UK opinion polls to measure support for the main parties during the campaign.

I’ll keep this blog up to date during the campaign, with links to useful resources and, as they arrive, details of the candidates’ policies. If any hustings occur locally, I’ll link to them here too. If you learn about any resources that I ought to be linking to here, leave a comment or email me. Follow @RadlettWire on Twitter for regular updates and the very handy @RadlettNewsBot for automated news about Radlett and the constituency.

Radlett’s shortlived farmers’ market is no more

Honey and beeswax on sale at the first Radlett farmers' market in April 2011

Hertsmere Borough Council issued a press release yesterday. The company brought in to operate the three month trial of a farmers’ market in Newberries car park (behind Budgen’s) have given up on the idea. Here’s the release:

Following a three-month trial, the farmers’ market in Radlett will not be continued.

The management company – Hughmark Continental Ltd – came to the decision as they feel the market is not financially viable for them. Lew Hughes, Director, said: “Unfortunately we have decided not to continue with the market. Even though we weren’t charged for using the car park for the trial we have struggled to cover our costs so it just isn’t worthwhile for us.”

The trial ran at Newberries car park on the third Sunday of April, May and June, with the last market on Sunday (19 June).

Councillor Seamus Quilty, Portfolio Holder for economic development at Hertsmere Borough Council, said: “This may be disappointing for local residents but we cannot continue with the market if it isn’t cost-effective for anyone. We have tried to make it work but we can’t continue it for just a few residents, especially in the current financial climate.

“A small number of people have suggested that we haven’t promoted the market enough but we have done everything possible. This has included putting articles and adverts in various residents’ magazines and local papers, putting up posters in local shops and on lampposts and advertising it on our website and through social media. The last market was also promoted at the Radlett Festival the week before it.”

Simon Payton, Head of Engineering Services at Hertsmere Borough Council with responsibility for markets, added: “The trial started off quite well but never became economically viable – at the end of the day if stallholders don’t make a profit they will not return.

“It is a shame the market hasn’t worked but I think Radlett is a very different place to somewhere like St Albans which has a popular farmers’ market but also has a lot of other things to attract visitors.”

What do you think? Did Hertsmere and Hughmark promote the market properly or was it doomed from the start by a lack of adverts and banners? Was the location up to the task or essentially hidden behind the shops? And does anybody really need a fancy market selling artisan bread and organic honey anyway?

Hertsmere votes

The count for the Hertsmere local elections and referendum that took place on 5 May 2011

The nice people at Herstmere’s communications department are doing a great job today keeping electors up-to-date with the count in the local elections and the referendum on voting reform that took place yesterday.

They’re using Twitter to post regular updates and pictures (like the one above, from the count itself). Yesterday they alerted us to the fascinating fact that not everyone who gets a postal vote uses it!

Have you voted yet? Of around 9,000 postal votes sent out we have about 6,000 returned.less than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply

And earlier today, they estimated the turnout for the elections:

A rough indication of overall turnout is 35% but we will hopefully be clarifying soon! Counters are still very busy…less than a minute ago via Mobile Web Favorite Retweet Reply

And provided the actual turnout for the referendum when it became available:

#hertsmere referendum turnout 40%. 28,905 voted. 22,721 at stations. 6,184 by post. We will keep u posted on local results as we get them!less than a minute ago via Mobile Web Favorite Retweet Reply

As I type this they’re relaying the results, ward-by-ward as they come in, like this one from one minute ago:

#Borehamwood Kenilworth labour Richard Butler electedless than a minute ago via Mobile Web Favorite Retweet Reply

Chris Hewett in the Watford Observer picks up the Liberal wipe-out at 1.15.

Harv Cohen, a Conservative councillor tweets with mixed news for the Tories:

Good news for #conservatives #hertsmere, Sam Dobin has held the seat for us , we have taken all Bushey ,unfortunately lost Kenilworthless than a minute ago via HTC Peep Favorite Retweet Reply

For me, as an elector, this poll has been transformed by social media. Where I might have been able to get results in real-time in the past, I had never bothered to. With details of the poll, the count and the result coming to me via Twitter, though, I’m significantly better-engaged. And the local authority’s willingness to use its own social media accounts to spread the word is a genuine public service. Well done Hertsmere.