Council leader reflects on past year and looks ahead to 'positive' 2022

Tony Kingsbury is leader of Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council. Picture: WHBC.

Council leader Tony Kingsbury. - Credit: Archant

After a testing 2021, Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council leader Tony Kingsbury looks ahead to 2022 as he hopes for a positive new year.

I’d like to thank the Welwyn and Hatfield communities for their support over the last year as we continue to navigate the pandemic together. The many ways you have supported and looked out for each other in such difficult and challenging times has been an inspiration to me and the rest of the council.

While not everything has gone to plan in 2021, we have much to be proud of as a council and a community.

We started the year by asking what matters most to you in Welwyn Hatfield and your responses -- green spaces, growing economy, quality homes, sense of community and a well-run council – are now shaping our priorities for the future.

Our affordable housing programme is continuing, as is the regeneration of our town centres - which has already earnt a National Parking Award for the council and our partners Bourne Parking and Brightspace Architects for The Common car park in Hatfield. 

I was pleased to see so many of you enjoying our Welcome Back events in the summer and the more recent Heart of Christmas activities. It is your support for these events that show our town centres and high streets need to remain at the heart of our communities.

For our younger residents, we were able to provide a full programme of COVID-secure Big Summer activities with 3,000 of you taking part and our popular Splashlands wet play park topped the Community and Schools Development category in the 2021 National Landscape Awards.

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With parks and green spaces playing such a vital role for wellbeing during the pandemic, we were delighted that so many of ours were once again recognised as being among the best in the country. We were privileged to be of only 11 local authorities in the UK to be awarded the prestigious ‘Tree City of the World’ status and there were Green Flag Awards for The Lawn Cemetery in Hatfield and Stanborough Park and King George V playing fields in Welwyn Garden City.

But it is also you, the residents, that make Welwyn Hatfield such a wonderful and unique place.

As our Civic Awards show every year, Welwyn Hatfield is full of unsung heroes who work tirelessly to help and support others in the community. Whether that be our marvellous NHS staff and key workers who continue to work so hard on the frontline of the pandemic, council officers who are maintaining critical services for residents, or volunteers who give up their time to help out at a charity, community organisation, local sports club or youth group, Welwyn Hatfield would be a poorer place without them.

We know that we haven’t got everything right this year. We identified issues relating specifically to compliance with housing regulatory standards and acknowledged that we fell short of what is expected of us. Since the issue came to light, we have acted swiftly by putting new staff, processes and systems in place and a huge amount of improvement and progress has been made. We are on target to achieve full compliance in the new year. The safety of our tenants and leaseholders is our utmost priority and we have already commissioned a full review and we are doing everything possible to make sure it does not happen again.

Council members may have had their differences on a number of issues in 2021 and this was the year that we went from ‘no overall control’ back to a Conservative majority. But healthy debate is an important part of local democracy and it ensures different voices from across our borough are heard during the decision-making process.

Very sadly, one of those key voices, and a vibrant and lively one at that, councillor Steven Markiewicz, passed away this year after a long illness. He is very much missed for his charismatic contributions to council debates and his generosity to everyone he met, from his constituents to colleagues and council staff. Former councillor Maureen Cook also passed away this year, and like Steven, was a very long standing and respected member of the council.

COVID-19 of course cast a long shadow over us all in 2021, and we remembered those lives lost to this terrible pandemic, with so many loved ones affected. We lost an officer to coronavirus, Grant Fairhall, and this loss was felt right across our organisation, particularly as he was a young man, with a zest for life and making others happy.

Although, we could be feeling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic for some while yet, we look to the future with positivity I am confident that in 2022 Welwyn Hatfield will continue to be a great place to live and work thanks to the council and community working together and bringing out the best in each other and our borough.

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