A report of the Mayor had been circulated with the agenda.
a) Councillor Bell referred to the proposed charges for the Gade Avenue car park in Cassiobury Park and asked whether there were plans to introduce parking charges to any other similar car parks in the Borough.
The Mayor responded that parking charges were introduced to regulate a situation. In Gade Avenue the majority of people using the car park were commuters; it had become a long stay car park for people using Watford Met Station. This was not acceptable. She advised that the car park had a high usage. People drove along residential roads hoping to park free of charge but when they arrived they would find it full and would then have to drive back through the residential streets and park in the Town Centre. The rationale behind the charges was to stop commuter parking. If people knew that there was a charge for parking, instead of driving through the estate they would go directly to the Gade Car Park in Rosslyn Road.
The Mayor stated that Cassiobury Park was a wonderful free entertainment place for everybody. Many other authorities charged people to park and to use paddling pools. It had always been free to use the latter facilities and it would continue to be free. She advised that Cassiobury Park was a high maintenance site. If it was possible to generate some income from those who travelled by car to the park and this would help the Council to continue to provide other park facilities free of charge. She referred to the report later in the agenda, the Heritage Lottery Fund project for Cassiobury Park. The details of the scheme for the car park had still to be finalised and they would be listening to people’s views.
In response to the second part of Councillor Bell’s question, the Mayor informed Council that there was a similar problem at the Timberlake car park, next to Watford Rugby Club. This car park was used by people who parked all day whilst at work. It had been provided for people going to the allotments and the park. The charge for this site would be to ensure the right people could use it. She was unaware of any specific proposals for any other sites.
b) Councillor Joynes asked for information about any plans for 4 August to commemorate the outbreak of the first world war.
The Mayor advised that discussions had taken place. An internal group had been set up and was headed by the Museum and Heritage Manager. They were looking at all different suggestions. The Mayor said that if Councillors had any ideas they should contact the group. She confirmed that Watford would be marking the commemoration in a number of ways.
c) Councillor Turmaine said that he was fascinated to note that Watford Junction forecourt appeared to be uniting all political parties. All parties agreed it needed to be resolved. He referred to the meeting detailed in the Mayor’s report and asked if the Mayor could advise who had attended the meeting and the timeframe for any actions.
The Mayor responded that one of the attendees was Chief Executive of London Midland; others included senior staff from Network Rail. She felt this was the first meeting she had attended with London Midland where people were listening and wanted to make a difference. It had been a positive meeting. Discussions had taken place about the ‘blockade’ and the impact it would have on the town. It had been announced today that the closure had been reduced to six weekends, which was welcome news. Businesses had been very concerned about the original proposals. It was recognised that the work needed to be done.
The Mayor said that with regard to the forecourt, initially she had hoped that the problems would reduce as people became used to the arrangements and signage was in place. County Councillor Giles-Medhurst had told her that this would not be the case, as he had continually questioned the lack of a proper drop off point. The taxi rank was in a difficult location. The Mayor said she had decided to speak to senior officers in the companies as she felt they would not be happy with the current scheme. They had agreed that it fell below their expectations. A small group had been formed and the Transport and Infrastructure Section Head represented the Council. Members could contact him for further information. Senior representatives from London Midland and Network Rail had been empowered to come to a solution. She hoped that Hertfordshire Highways would participate with a positive attitude. The Mayor stated that the current arrangement did not work and people took risks. She did not want it to reach a point where someone was injured or killed. The long term solution would be to have access from the rear of the station which was part of the ongoing plans for Watford Junction, but this was some time away.
d) Councillor Brandon referred to recent meetings which had taken place between the MP, residents and businesses regarding the Callowland parking survey. He said that both he and the Council had been quite clear that the consultation was genuine. He asked whether, once the results of the second stage had been analysed, it would be possible for the local Councillors, MP, traders and residents’ association representatives to meet with officers to discuss any proposals if a third stage to the consultation was to take place.
The Mayor informed Council that parking schemes were introduced for residents to ensure quality of life. Nothing would be carried out without significant resident support. Parking issues were not easy. It was likely that in the same road some residents would support a scheme and others would not. A recent survey of all residents with a Controlled Parking Zone scheme had shown a high percentage wanted their scheme to remain. In Cassiobury a scheme had been introduced and residents were very pleased, whereas in Oxhey the majority of residents preferred not to have a scheme implemented. The Mayor referred to the comments she was receiving from Callowland residents and it was possible it would be the same as in Oxhey. The Mayor said that she felt the scheme was anti-business and pro-residents. The scheme had been set up under the previous administration and was for residents. St Albans Road was a secondary shopping area and it would be necessary to consider any potential scheme’s impact on businesses.
The Mayor said that she was disappointed that residents felt a decision had already been made. Consultations had always been open and proposals could be changed. If there were to be a next stage it may be about the current arrangements in St Albans Road, which was the scheme the shop owners wanted when it had been introduced several years ago. She reiterated that it was not possible to ‘win’ when the issue was about parking. She assured Councillor Brandon that residents and the Ward Councillors would be included if there was any further action required.
e) Councillor Williams said that he understood that there had been some controversy about the funding of the new hospital and whether the hospital would be built in Watford. He asked the Mayor if she could elaborate further.
The Mayor responded that the provision of health care was probably the most challenging issue facing the town. The Hospitals Trust had difficult financial decisions to resolve. The Trust’s Board was almost completely new and there was a new clinical management team. It caused the Council some uncertainty, as it was felt there had been a plan under the previous Board and management team. She said that it was understandable that the new Board wanted to re-visit the earlier plans. It wanted to make sure that the Trust would not be judicially reviewed. She added that she had been reassured by the recent letter from the Trust’s Chief Executive to the Watford Observer. The Mayor had also met the Chief Executive and had been advised that there would be some improvements or enhancements to the Watford site.
The Mayor said that one claim disturbing her was that funding for the hospital had been guaranteed under the previous government. This claim was wrong. She would challenge people to prove to her and the Trust’s Chief Executive about this funding. It misled people. To date, however, £16 million for upgrading sites, £9 million for upgrading equipment, £3.9 million for new nurses and a significant contribution towards the £18 million cost of the new road had been awarded by the Coalition Government.
f) Councillor Khan asked the Mayor whether she had decided if she wanted to stand for Parliament.
The Mayor replied that her answer was the same as at the last meeting. She was fighting a Mayoral election and that was her priority.
g) Councillor Dhindsa referred to the Watford Health Campus. He stated that he had attended the recent stakeholders’ event at the Football Club. He had noted that the plans showed that between 30% and 40% of the allotment land had been allocated to the hospital. The remaining 60% or 70% had been allocated to car parking and housing. He referred to improvements to the hospital which had been carried out under the previous government. He asked the Mayor whether she would approach the current government for more funding for the Health Campus.
The Mayor stated that this had already happened and that the funding for the road had been granted. The key to funding was not about which party was in government but about the clinical strategy for the Hospitals Trust. The strategy would set out the plans for the three hospitals in South West Herts. Once that strategy had been agreed the Trust would approach the government for funding. No government would guarantee funding for a hospital whose Trust who was not in a good state. The Mayor referred to her visit earlier in the week to the Harperbury Hospital site, a £43 million state of the art Mental Health provision for people in this part of Hertfordshire. It was a Foundation Trust, which gave it freedom to do things. The Council had believed that the West Herts Hospitals Trust was in the same place as under the previous Chief Executive and Board but this was not the case, which was disappointing. The Council remained committed to the original vision and would always support the hospital. A key thing was that the works would soon begin on the road and the Trust had contributed to those costs. It would not contribute costs unless it thought the site would be extensively used.
h) Councillor Meerabux said that he was pleased to see the sharp fall in crime figures. He asked whether the Mayor felt that people could have confidence in the figures given the decision taken by UKSA and the changes to statistics recorded by the Police. He referred to changes in policing in Watford and the closure of the North Watford Police Station. PCSOs had to walk further to their areas which reduced their effectiveness in those wards.
The Mayor referred to a quote about statistics. She said that when they were bad people tended to believe them but when they were good people assumed there was a problem. She advised that she shared the Councillor’s concerns about statistics and how they were presented. She was aware how they could be changed by changing policing strategies. It was important to compare like with like. The correspondence she received indicated that people did feel safer. She reminded Members that if people had concerns they should report them to the Police and Crime Commissioner who should be held to account.