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In a polished example of partnership between local authority and voluntary body, the Hertfordshire Library Service and The Harpenden Society have signed a contract whereby The Society will operate a Library Express service on Wednesday afternoons. Hitherto the library was closed on Wednesday afternoon, the only session of the week when the library was closed altogether. Henceforward the front part of the library will again be open for business from 13.00 to 19.00 hours.

Library Express includes the issue and return of books and other loaned materials at the self-service kiosks and the ability to renew items, pay overdue charges and check items that are on loan.  Reserved books may be collected and access to the two 30 minute non-bookable computers is also possible. The fuller range of library services, such as enquiries, scanning, photographing and printing from computers, is excluded.

Since its removal to the prime 'Argos' site, library membership and usage has boomed and it seemed to The Society that it was imperative that something should be done to ensure there was no 'shut-down' during the high street's bustling week. Amiable and practical negotiations principally with Taryn Pearson, Herts chief librarian (see page 3 for her inspiriting talk at The Society's December public meeting) and Claire Barraclough, Mid-Herts Area Librarian, were smoothly pursued. The plan was laid.

It all depended then on two elements. First, would The Society's members answer the call? Yes, they would. Over twenty volunteers sprang forward and others have followed. Second, would one of them be willing and able to take on the role of organiser of this intrepid volunteer group? Yes, she was and is. Liz Trounce valorously grasped at the nettle and has proved exceptionally effective and careful in plotting the schedule of how teams of volunteers will run an otherwise unstaffed library every Wednesday after one o'clock.

THE LIBRARY–OPEN ALL (WELL, MORE) HOURS

Spring 2014 Newsletter

Chris Marsden, The Society's ebullient chairman, invited everyone to a wine and nibbles inaugural party at his home on 17 December and, apart from being a jovial affair that revealed the healthy enthusiasm of the volunteers, it provided an opportunity for Claire Barraclough and Liz Trounce to answer questions and listen to comments. There was an initial training session at the library on Wednesday15 January – and then came the big day...

At 13.00 hours on Wednesday 22 January The Harpenden Society officially took possession of the town's much-admired library. And the first two pioneers – comparable with the first two astronauts who stepped on to the moon – were Geoff Thiel and Colin Hill, proudly wearing their Harpenden Society Volunteer badges.

If all goes well, and the omens are propitious, it is entirely feasible that volunteering might be spread, for instance, to extend ' express' sessions into 'full-range' ones or to provide help with group or specialist services, such as children's story times, job-seekers, reminiscence sessions and so forth.

However, to begin with, pop into the library on some Wednesday afternoon and see how your fellow-members are ensuring the delivery of a vital public service...and then consider volunteering to give them a lift...

Contact: secretary@harpendensociety.org

The looming threat of overbuilding

Richard Thomas, Vice-chairman of The Society and Convenor of the Built Environment Working Group, is also Chairman of the Harpenden Green Belt Association. Here he clearly summarises the current position in respect of the Strategic Local Plan.

The situation on the Strategic local Plan (SLP) is that every planning authority must have one. That includes St Albans District Council (SADC) of course. They don't have one at present as their attempt to get one through the council failed last November. Without one we are at the mercy of the National Planning Inspectorate who determine all appeals by developers against planning refusals. The NPI report to Eric Pickles and cannot take account of the views of local people or the local authority.

In order to create a new SLP, SADC have decided to call for three reports from independent consultants. They should all have been received by the end of July 2013 but so far only one has been put to the SADC planning committee, and that was incomplete. It is available though on the SADC website.

The three reports cover a review of the green belt boundaries, an assessment of local housing needs and finally a detailed assessment of which parts of the local green belt should be built on. In the first of these the consultants have identified four sites in Harpenden as contributing least to the purposes of the green belt - an arc of land stretching from Whitings Close in Batford round to the Lower Luton Road by Greenacres, the field opposite the Old Bell on the Luton Road, land at the top of Roundwood Lane behind Roundwood School and land at Beeson End Lane. We believe that the methodology used by the consultants for this purpose is bogus. In practice they are saying that if building on the land does not cause coalescence with other towns then it is not contributing to the green belt. On this basis they could have chosen any land round Harpenden, and if SADC accept the methodology then they are opening the door to astounding levels of development in the future around Harpenden as well as elsewhere in the District.

The recently published housing needs assessment proposes that over 11,000 houses should be built in the district between now and 2030 – with Harpenden having a further 2000 units, as well as the 400 already in the pipeline. It paints a gloomy picture for the town's future.

SADC's timetable for their new SLP is that after the three reports have been received and accepted by their planning committee, the planners will finalise the SLP, put it to the full council, go out to public consultation, review it once more at the council, submit it to the NPI who must pronounce it as sound, and then it will become valid. All future planning decisions made by the SADC must comply with their SLP, so it is a very important document.

We are taking this very seriously, and The Society is working together with the Harpenden Green Belt Association to defend against the threat to the town. We are planning a public meeting once the public consultation has started so that residents can be fully informed.

House building in North Harpenden