St Albans council boss reveals his 2020 agenda
PUBLISHED: 19:00 08 January 2020
The man charged with leading the district council into a new decade has set out his wish list for 2020.
Cllr Chris White, the leader of the Lib Dem administration at St Albans council, has been shaping his future objectives after eight months in the role.
Asked where he would like to see SADC in a further 12 months' time, he had one clear priority: "I'd like to have got the Local Plan through the inspectorate."
The St Albans Local Plan, the controversial planning document which sets out how 15,000 new homes are to be built across the district by 2036, will be examined by government inspectors at the start of the New Year to check it is legally sound.
At the heart of the plan is using the proposed rail freight site for homes, which still may not happen: "We are talking to the county council about the rail freight site and trying to keep them on side, but it is a worry."
Some of his plans might be considered controversial: "I would like to have agreement on the pedestrianisation of Market Place, which shouldn't have vehicles on as it's dangerous and it's used as a rat run. Pedestrians assume it's pedestrianised, so you have the worst possible mix, which is a road with vehicles on it and pedestrians not really noticing.
"It will improve footfall and make an important statement about where we go next. It would be premature to shut St Peter's Street altogether because of the impact on neighbouring roads, but we can experiment on Sundays and the negative consequences appear to be minor. Let's take some risks with that."
He returned to the theme of new homes: "Housing is very important to us. What can we do for the developers so we don't get even more three and four bedroom houses for people who are not from St Albans?
"We need more high-density units with a small number of bedrooms that local people feel they can move into. We have also discussed Green Belt release in principle - the Local Plan could not be approved for years - and our view is to start doing it piecemeal so we can see some homes going up. If they're social houses then people will understand, but we now need to be bold."
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One of their plans is to purchase a mixed block of commercial lets and flats in Harpenden High Street, which will not only provide an income but by the council controlling it will prevent it being broken up and transformed into something which doesn't fit with the rest of the town. This would involve setting up a housing company, and would help with budget shortfalls.
"Next year's budget is very tight, with a gap of about £2 million. Some of the income streams we are looking at won't emerge until the following year, so that's a problem we're going to have to face, but we're looking for opportunities to invest in the St Albans district."
He also discussed the introduction of more 20mph zones, improved broadband in the city centre, and revamping the council's internal structure to help promote tourism.
"There's been a bit of an attitude in the past that everybody loves St Albans and everybody knows where it is. That is not the case. I have to explain to far too many people where I'm from."
With the council administration's focus on climate issues and the drive to become carbon neutral, Cllr White supports wind turbines and solar farms, but is also looking at transport: "I would like to have found a reliable partner for electric vehicles. We've been talking to Herts County Council, Watford and other districts to find someone who is reliable and doesn't pose a risk to us if technology changes. There are also massive issues with charging which we have got to try and resolve.
"We're also looking at whether we can use our borrowing powers to buy a fleet of electric taxis and lease them on. We also had a car club a while back which was probably ahead of its time."
Finding a new home for St Albans City Football Club is also a priority. "For me I'm not interested in football at all but I get what they do. Their community work is fabulous and if we didn't have a football team I think we'd be missing something. We've got to help them by finding them a place and show them the love that other councils give to their football clubs. None of this is easy, and to make it viable it will have to be in a new housing estate."
He wrapped up by highlighting his remaining objectives for the year: "I would like to have an agreed way forward for the City Centre Opportunity Sites. I am very conscious that the methodology used for consulting left a lot to be desired, so it was hardly surprising that the Civic Society kicked off, but more importantly the public kicked off. I don't think we had one person who wrote and said they liked the planning application. So let's try to get to where we want to be.
"I'd also like performance to improve. I had a meeting with Veolia and told them there were too many missed bins, too many flats that don't have decent collection systems, too many leaves on the ground. So all of those performance issues to be improved so people stop complaining.
"And on a minor level, sorting out some of the car parking issues that have arisen. We have a cunning plan for that which I think the public will be quite impressed with as a compromise way forward."