Welwyn Hatfield Council's leader covers hot topics and outlines priorities
PUBLISHED: 11:00 01 September 2018
Splashlands, Hatfield town centre and fire station closures were among several hot topics discussed by Welwyn Hatfield Council's leader during an in-depth interview with the Welwyn Hatfield Times.
Cllr Mandy Perkins, who took over the helm from John Dean in May, also outlined the priorities of her tenure – top of which was community engagement.
She said another key objective is the regeneration of Hatfield town centre, reflected in the extensive White Lion Square refurbishments, an £11.6million acquisition of key local sites, and the £45million High View scheme that was unveiled earlier this month.
Asked about how it had been received so far, Cllr Perkins said that people thought it was a good scheme in principle, but the main issue raised was parking.
Outlining a possible solution, she added: “I do not want a big scheme to be a car park – the way forward has to be a car club, where people can hire a car at good rates when they need it.”
A major part of the Hatfield plans is building a 600-space multi-story car park in The Common – unlocking space on existing surface level sites for more homes and retail.
However, critics have claimed it is merely a council ploy to scrap the town centre’s free parking. Will parking be free?
“No decision has been taken on that,” Cllr Perkins said. “But I think it’s important to say that any car park has to be maintained and that could well involve having some form of charging.”
Many claim that could damage local businesses, as free parking is the area’s only advantage over WGC, St Albans and Stevenage.
Cllr Perkins added: “I completely agree that’s the reason why people go in to the town centre – it’s one of those awful decisions that we have to have a big debate about.
“I wish there was an easy answer.”
However, a crucial part of the Hatfield regeneration plans, the council leader said, is attracting the right shops, and the vast investment coupled with the thriving market are already helping to bolster the area’s reputation.
Cllr Perkins also provided a short update on the WGC town centre plans following a trial period, which, although broadly well received, left Stonehills businesses reeling as their takings dropped.
The most controversial element was pedestrianising the northern section of the road and relocating the taxi rank to the south.
Cllr Perkins said the full details would be released by the county council next month, but she is confident that it has resolved most of the issues.
“I hated what they were doing in Stonehills,” she added. “I didn’t think it was any good for the flats above and on that Saturday [when the trial began] it was actually really dead.”
The council leader was also tight-lipped on the prospects of a Splashlands reopening in Stanborough Park, emphasising the need for whatever goes there to be “viable” – i.e. not subsidised by the local authority.
But she added: “Residents want some form of water feature and I’m really hopeful that there will be something there in time for the centenary [in 2020].”
Referring back to her top priority, Cllr Perkins said that as part of the council’s community engagement drive, she would be encouraging councillors to hold monthly surgeries in all wards, and also wanted to improve communication to employees within the council.
“I think if we get communication right in the council it’s much easier to get it right to the general public,” she added.
Cllr Perkins also reiterated her opposition to Herts Police and Crime Commissioner David Lloyd’s plans to take over the fire service, adding “why fix it if it isn’t broken?”.
Labour representatives organised an event earlier this month that saw residents, councillors and members of the Fire Brigades Union come together to discuss the plans – but the PCC declined the invite.
Conservative councillors also came under fire as they did not attend. Why?
“I think they were politicising it,” said Cllr Perkins.
“I believe we have done everything we should have done as a local council. We had written to David Lloyd, the Home Office and [county council leader] David Williams.
“All three letters were signed by all three parties, and at that point I personally didn’t go because I was at a meeting.”
She added that no Conservative councillor was told not to go.