Building bridges of understanding and positive social change in Welwyn Hatfield

There are times when the Polish community is particularly proud of its background and heritage. There are days when our nationality and origin are our great assets. Saturday, 27 November, was just such a day. It was ugly, rainy and windy. Many of us probably would not have left the house. However, despite the typical winter weather, the Polish Saturday School in Welwyn Garden City once again showed that it is the “force for good”, which brings a positive social change in Welwyn Hatfield.

Thanks to a grant from the Hertfordshire Community Foundation, the school, its teachers and volunteers organised an event promoting public health. In all fairness, it was one of many projects organised by the school. Moreover, the school organised possibly bigger initiatives, however the one in November was also quite special.

It was the Polish Saturday School that secured funding for a health and wellbeing project; a total of £2,500. The obtained grant helped the Polish School to become the driving force behind the whole event. Our guests and attendees, including the Mayor of Welwyn Hatfield and the Leader of the Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council, had an opportunity to learn, listen and network with 15 organisations from many areas across Hertfordshire as well as many Polish residents.

The Health MOT Event made me reflect on my own “personal journey” in the UK and in Welwyn Hatfield. It helped me once again to appreciate my roots, heritage and culture. I think that often, despite the difficulties, Polish patriotism abroad unites our community. It is thanks to such initiatives that we can positively and more effectively influence our local community. It is thanks to this enthusiasm and desire to build something lasting that our relationships with many institutions are becoming more and more fruitful. The initiative on November 27th made it possible to not only support Polish companies or improve the "sea of Polish talents", but most importantly, it might have helped to break certain stereotypes and promote a positive image of Poland abroad.

Let us continue building bridges of understanding. Let us continue working together in order to make Welwyn Hatfield a better place to live for ALL.   

By Michal Siewniak, Liberal Democrat Campaigner


"It's someone else's fault" claim Welwyn Hatfield Tories as Local Plan set to collapse

Cllr Paul Zukowskyj

The Local Plan is now virtually certain to collapse amid blame-shifting by Welwyn Hatfield Conservatives.

They've decided to blame the Government for the Plan's failure rather than admit their own responsibility, by grasping at straws in Boris Johnson's speech. They claim he said the Conservatives would not build on green fields, relying on the most unreliable prime minister this country has ever seen to stick to a throw-away line he will clearly not honour, as he has so many times before.

The ploy to write to Michael Gove is an attempt to cover up what must clearly be an internal split that is stopping the Tories from agreeing the options they have been presented with.

After sinking many millions of local council tax payers money into a failing Local Plan, what we get is political game-playing at a pathetic level to escape the consequences.

Our Borough now faces planning by appeal, leading to destruction of greenspaces on an epic scale. We can look forward to monstrous high-rises dominating townscapes and expansion of towns to feed the greed of property developers, all without the roads, doctors surgeries, schools and other services the new residents will need.

Cllr Paul Zukowskyj, Leader of the Opposition on the council, commented: "We do not expect Michael Gove will answer. He doesn't have to, and the Plan Inspector will lose patience and find the plan unsound. All because the Conservatives couldn't agree with their own plan and had to find a way to shift the blame.

"The Conservatives have spent millions of our taxes on this plan, have played politics with it from day 1, and warned again and again of the dangers of losing control and the plan failing. Now they are playing their last card, and it is a political ploy to avoid blame."


Michal Siewniak Reflects on Polish Migration

The below article by one of our members, Michal Siewniak, was printed in the Welwyn Hatfield Times. 

Why some Poles are leaving Welwyn Hatfield and UK?

Like some of us, my family also decided to renovate our house during the health pandemic.
Nothing major, however our houses needed a talented handyman. Unfortunately, I have no
manual skills. I asked Zbyszek, WGC resident who worked in our house before, to help out. We
knew him well and we were confident that he would get the job done.


One afternoon Zbyszek told us that he and his wife decided to go back to Poland. I knew that
they were planning to return after their son moved back with his family a few years ago, however
I was still surprised. During the same time, another two people left the UK for Poland.


It is not always easy to leave your native home and settle somewhere else. Equally, it is quite
hard to re-emigrate and re-settle in the country of your origin. A German friend of mine said to
me once that after 30 + years of living in the UK, she had to “re-integrate” in Germany. Some of
these conversations, about a few “Welwyn Hatfield - European returns” helped me to pause and
reflect on the causes of the Polish departure from the UK. This trend has already directly affected
many of my fellow countrymen and countrywomen.


It is estimated that almost a million Poles lived in the UK before the Brexit vote. Some, mainly
anecdotal evidence, suggests that around 200,000 members of the Polish community have now
left the UK. It is a significant exodus of Poles, which, in my view, might continue in the future. So
what are the reasons why people have left or are leaving?


The Brexit vote, its consequences and post-Brexit uncertainty is definitely one of the key
reasons. I do feel that many of us didn’t really know which direction the country was going to
take. Will my immigration status change? Will I be able to work, buy or rent a house? Will my
civic rights be safeguarded and protected? Many of my friends felt in a “limbo state”. For some,
the result of the Brexit vote also had some emotional connotations of feeling “unwanted” or as a
second class citizen. Many might have felt that our contribution was not always valued and
recognised.


Moreover, and possibly more importantly, the health pandemic repercussions; inability to travel,
visiting our loved ones (often elderly and in need) or job insecurity triggered in people a complete
shift in their decision making process. The freedom of movement, one of the pillars of European
identity and something which me and my family have hugely benefited from, has in a way ended.
Many of us had to ask ourselves a number of existential questions, and balance the importance
of life opportunities against the need to look after or be close to our family members. Has the
pandemic strengthened the family relations for many Europeans? Quite possibly.


There was one other factor, in my view significant, which “helped” people to decide; the state of
the Polish economy. Pre-pandemic world seems like a distant memory, however it is important to
emphasise that the Polish economy had been doing very well before the pandemic hit: the
standard of living, wages and endless (literally) employment opportunities in Poland might have
been the reasons why some Poles decided to make a move. After being in Poland over the
summer, I can see that in spite of some political challenges, the Polish economy is bouncing
back and the standard of living is pretty good.


I must admit that the subject of migration, a global phenomenon, fascinates me hugely. Our lives
post Brexit and post COVID will be different, however I do believe that our desire to move around
and broaden our horizons will never stop. Let’s hope that many of us find “home” whether we go
and whether we settle. Zbyszek and his family are back in Cracow and so far, they really enjoy
the experience!


Grant Shapps breaks promise to people of Welwyn Hatfield over unfair tax hike

Welwyn Hatfield Liberal Democrats are disappointed but unsurprised that local Conservative MP Grant Shapps chose to break his promise to the electorate and vote for a 1.25% rise in National Insurance.

The changes, which go against the Conservatives’ manifesto promise not to raise taxes, will mean hard-pressed local families and small businesses will be left paying hundreds of pounds more in tax each year.

Grant Shapps was one of the 317 Conservative MPs to support the plans. Liberal Democrat MPs, including St Albans MP Daisy Cooper, voted against the government plans, arguing that they fail to fix the ongoing social care crisis and will fall disproportionately on the young, the low paid and small businesses.

The Liberal Democrats are calling for a cross-party agreement on social care, to find a long-term solution to funding high-quality care for everyone who needs it.

Commenting, Liberal Democrat Cllr Paul Zukowskyj said: 

Grant Shapps stood on a clear promise at the last election not to raise taxes, including National Insurance. Now they have voted to break that promise by hitting hard-pressed families and small businesses in Welwyn Hatfield with a tax hike at a time many are still reeling from the impact of the pandemic.

“The people of Welwyn Hatfield deserve better than this. They need an MP who they can trust and who will fight for a fairer deal for our area.

“Unlike Grant Shapps, the Liberal Democrats opposed these unjust plans in Parliament. We have been clear about how to fix the social care crisis in a fairer way, instead of hiking taxes on those who can least afford it.

For Grant and his colleagues, manifesto promises seem to be just like Christmas crackers, made to be broken.”

Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey MP added: 

“The Tories have gone from the party of supposed low tax to the party of broken promises.

“Conservative MPs have shown that they can’t be trusted and are taking people for granted. It’s little wonder that voters around the country and across the Blue Wall are turning to the Liberal Democrats instead.

“We want to see cross-party talks on how to fund social care in a fair and sustainable way, along with urgent action to fix the staffing crisis in care homes and give unpaid carers the recognition they deserve.”

 


Housing debacle – “Nothing to see here” – WHBC

Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council reported themselves to the Social Housing Regulator earlier this year, and in a report published in July, the regulator found literally thousands of statutory checks had been missed. The council had failed to realise they were missing, putting potentially tens of thousands of tenants at risk of serious injury or worse, breaking a number of laws in the process.

So it was with a sense of total bemusement that the Welwyn Hatfield Lib Dems learnt this week that the meeting of the Cabinet Housing Panel scheduled for Monday 13th September, the council body where housing issues are discussed, had been cancelled ‘due to lack of business’.

Leader of the Opposition, Lib Dem Cllr Paul Zukowskyj, commented: “This just goes to show what the culture and ethos in Welwyn Hatfield council is. Councillors are treated as an annoyance and should be kept in the dark wherever possible. Secrecy is paramount. Sweep bad news away and don’t mention it.

“There is a promised investigation, so why could a timetable for that not be reported to the panel? Perhaps its remit and extent? Who is leading it? How about a timeline for getting back to being a legal landlord? There are massively important questions that need answers, but all we get from WHBC is silence and secrecy. We’ve not even had a guarantee that when the investigation concludes it will be published.

“Next week, Labour and Lib Dem groups will present a motion to Full Council calling for the leader of the council to resign. This culture of secrecy starts at the top. He needs to take responsibility for the failings that happened under his watch and the corrosive culture that the council has.”


Massive increase in homes on Shredded Wheat site

Shreddded Wheat Factory

WGC LibDems slam proposed increase in size of Shredded Wheat development

 

Local LibDem councillors are utterly appalled by the proposed increase in the number of flats to be built on the former Shredded Wheat site which will increase the height of the development from 8 to 11 or even 12 storeys. 

The release of the revised plans has met universal disbelief. How on earth must the spirits of the town’s founders be looking down on their Garden City as the council’s planners destroy it in its centennial year? And the developers now say building will not be completed until 2030 – when originally we were told this could be ready by 2020!

Malcolm Cowan, our Group Leader on the council says “This cannot be thought of as what a Garden City is about – more like a ‘mini-Manhattan’. The supposed centrepiece of the development, our historic (and listed) grain silos, will be dwarfed and hidden from view. Not so much the Wheat Quarter as Hidden History!

Read more

Cladding on Queensway House

Queensway House, Hatfield

Following the Grenfell fire in 2017, Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council advised residents of Queensway House in Hatfield that there was no risk of a similar incident happening there. On 28th August 2020, Welwyn Hatfield Times ran a story claiming that a leaked report raises serious concerns over the cladding used on the building. The report also calls evacuation procedures into question.

Councillor Helen Quenet, Liberal Democrat lead on Housing, has written to the Welwyn Hatfield Times calling for decisive action and clarification from the council.

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Housing targets must be driven by data

New build housing

On 29th June, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) published their Local Authority projections for new households based on 2018 data. Previous versions, based on 2014 and 2016 data, have been used by the Government and the Borough Council to justify the massive increase in homes needed in the Borough’s submitted Local Plan.

The 2014 data for the period 2013-2036 projected an additional 15,000 households. The 2016 data suggested this number had fallen to 14,000, but this adjustment was not applied to the local plan for technical reasons.

Now the change in the 2018 data shows a massive decrease in the forecast of just 9,000 additional households.

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Councillor steps in to address Parking Neglect

parking.jpg

Paul Zukowskyj, County Councillor for Hatfield South, has had to step in to deliver urgent parking upgrades after years of neglect by Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council (WHBC).

Paul has ‘signed off’ on spending just over £40,000 from his County Council Highways Locality Budget to deliver an additional 31 parking spaces across southern Hatfield. Despite a number of requests over the past few years, WHBC Parking Services had refused to add the area to the parking works programme until ‘capacity was available’.

Each space that he has agreed will cost the public purse just over £1300, compared to a cost of £2509 per space for the council’s current programme in the Aldykes area.

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Concrete crusher coming soon to South Hatfield

Demolition at High View

Cllr Paul Zukowskyj has discovered the council has approved their own contractors, Lovells, siting a concrete crushing plant at High View, in south Hatfield, for the next three months.

Cllr Zukowskyj was not sent the 'update' newsletter that contained the discovery, apparently because officers didn't think he needed to know.

The plant, crushing material from the demolition of the High View site, is described as a 'muncher' and is being put in to reduce the concrete pads and other materials to lumps less than 2" across.

Concrete crushing plants are notoriously noisy and dusty, but WHBC appear to have approved the plan and suggest the noise and dust will be 'acceptable'.

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