© 2017 The Harpenden Society
At the Harpenden Society’s pre-Christmas evening meeting, after some modest seasonal indulgence by way of mince pie and mulled wine consumption, members had their first opportunity to meet the newly-installed Town Clerk. Carl Cheevers hastened to assure his audience that he was no stranger to local government in the Harpenden area, having worked for a number of local authorities including, notably, St Albans City & District Council (SADC). Through his career he had gained valuable experience, not least in liaising with central government.
Carl said that, as the Town Council’s ‘lead officer’, he welcomed the opportunity to meet Society members and hoped that they – and the council – could work together for the benefit of the community. He added that the government’s Localism Act of 2011 had brought important changes to the Town Council and the Clerk’s role, giving more scope for such co-operation. At the same time he recognised the privileged position he held in the affairs of the town, while also stressing his independence in party-political terms.
Budgetary constraints on the Town Council, and on all branches of local government had, he said, become ever tighter. Since 2010, reductions in central government funding had imposed cuts on local authority budgets of about 20%, amounting to some £18 billion. During that time Hertfordshire County Council had had to make savings of £250 million.
The Town Council was having to work within an overall budget of £1,270,930, of which 73% came from council tax. He said around 16% had to come from what were best described as commercial activities, which had become increasingly important. The money raised enabled the council to generate new initiatives. He pointed out that rental income from users of Park Hall – where he was speaking – of around £50,000 a year was an important contributor.
Other gaps needed to be filled, with Town Council backing, by volunteer groups. Carl cited the five-year management plan for Harpenden Common working closely with the Herts & Middlesex Wildlife Trust.
In that context he mentioned the recent decision to leave unmown margins around the edges of the common – and golf course fairways – to encourage wildlife. That was exemplified by the project to restore the common’s traditional growth of heather (featured in the Harpenden Society’s Winter newsletter).
He added that during 2017 the council would be appointing a conservation officer to augment the work of the existing commons and greens officer, to oversee a programme of community involvement and outreach activity.
Another new council intiative had been the Westfield recreation ground play area redevelopment. Well-established volunteer groups such as those at Batford Springs – since 1995, a designated nature reserve – and the Nickey Line, both of whose regular enthusiastic working parties continued their commendable efforts, could rely on Town Council support. That would include help in establishing a new Batford Springs headquarters to replace the rather rundown old Upper Lea Valley Group building in Lower Luton Road.
Looking to the future, Carl said he hoped that, over say the next three-year time span, the Town Council would build on its already recognised successes. He said his vision for Harpenden’s future would necessarily have to take into account the need for its plans to meet the parameters of the much-vaunted Neighbourhood Plan within the framework of SADC’s District Local Plan.
He spoke of his goal of making Harpenden a showcase to which other town and parish authorities might aspire. To that end he expected the council and businesses to work together to create ‘a vibrant High Street’, not forgetting Station Road and Leyton Road shopping areas. Meanwhile the council would do all it could to ensure the much-needed Health and Wellness Centre planned for the ‘Red House’ site in Carlton Road came to fruition.”
Rural enjoyment for leisure walkers through the five-acre meadow bounded by the River Lea and that part of Marquis Lane down-river from the Crabtree Lane ford has been enhanced with the recent opening of a surfaced path running roughly parallel with a 500 yard stretch of the river bank. Newly-installed stout timber kissing gates, at Crabtree Lane and at the other end of the path near the old railway bridge and Piggottshill Lane water treatment plant, allow ready access for pedestrians.
The newly-designated ‘Marquis Meadow’, bought two years ago by Harpenden Town Council, augments the nearby – upstream – Batford Springs local nature reserve, effectively increasing the total area of the reserve by some 50%.
Running close to the bank of the river – a relatively rare chalk stream, nowadays supporting a variety of aquatic life – the new path also offers a more pastoral alternative line for walkers and bikers following the Lea Valley Walk, along the former GNR railway track between Batford and Wheathampstead.
Chairman of the town council’s environment committee Brian Ellis has commended the hard work on the Marquis Meadow project undertaken by local Batford Springs volunteers (formerly the Upper Lea Valley Group). Their efforts have been supported by a Rights of Way improvement grant from Herts County Council.
Interpretation panels and benches are due to be installed in the future and during the course of this year the town council plans to organise a series of events and activities in conjunction with the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust, for people to learn more about the wildlife in and around Batford Springs and Marquis Meadow.