This article was written by Redbourn branch member Catharine Pusey
Redbourn is a semi-rural village bordered by the M1 on one side and extensive green belt countryside on the others. The population of 6230 at the 2011 census is greater than many communities classed as towns. It clings resolutely and with some justification to the village status, has a strong community spirit and frequently wins awards for community focussed activity. Administratively it straddles two constituencies, sitting in the St Albans and District Council catchment to the south and looking to the north for parliamentary representation. It is the only village in the Hitchin and Harpenden constituency to have retained its branch organisation. Others, such as Wheathampstead, have long since merged with a larger branch. At the recent Redbourn Branch AGM members debated a motion that the branch should apply to merge with Harpenden. After constructive discussion it was decided that there was a definite need to highlight issues particular to the village and that these were likely to be overlooked among the very different concerns of a town branch.
Three issues of major significance to Redbourn at present are: healthcare; transport; and housing development. They are interlinked and, it appears, only likely to become more important over the next five years.
There is one GP Practice in Redbourn with which the majority of the villagers are registered. It is in the centre of the village and relatively easy to reach from all parts of the community. The retirement of the long-serving senior partner and departure of others in the team two years ago sparked a crisis as the shortage of GPs nationwide resulted in failure to recruit replacements. Rather than close, the practice was merged with another and now shares GPs and services with the Lodge, situated 4.5 miles away near St Albans hospital, and Highfield Surgery over 7 miles away to the south east of St Albans. There is usually a wait of more than three weeks for a GP appointment specifically in Redbourn. Patients requesting appointments urgently are likely to be successful, so long as they are prepared and able to get to one of the other surgeries. There are no direct buses from the village to either site.
Redbourn has no train station. There are three buses a day to Harpenden between 09.30 and 14.00. There are around four buses to and from St Albans Station, all outside the rush hour. There are no buses later in the evening. It is therefore impractical for any villager to get to and from either station by public transport. The village faces a chicken and egg scenario for bus services. Due to variable reliability and unhelpful timetabling residents must find other ways to travel. As the buses are not heavily used the privately run bus company feels able to cut the services further to improve profits. Public transport is in a downward spiral as a result.
Residents who need to reach medical appointments outside the village and are unable to drive would be expected to rely on patient transport, which is often unreliable, or, if they could afford it, taxis. The village is extremely fortunate to have support from Redbourn Care Group, a local charity whose 50 or so volunteer drivers act as chauffeurs and companions to medical appointments and provide outings in its minibus for isolated villagers. In 2019 the Redbourn Care Group facilitated more than 700 lifts to appointments.
Redbourn has approximately 2300 houses. St Albans District Council is required to plan for 10,000 dwellings to be built in its catchment area over the next 15 years. The Draft Local Plan, currently (January 2020) undergoing Examination in Public as part of the legal planning process, identifies that 5500 houses should be built on green belt land owned by the Crown Estate within Redbourn Ward. St Albans District Council has entered into a joint charter with Dacorum Council to this effect.
Leaving aside the desirability of building on green belt or the inevitable transformation of the community as it more than doubles in size, a major concern is the transport infrastructure required to support this level of development. The draft plan does little to acknowledge the strain on roads and traffic in the area other than to promise cycle paths and a new M1 junction, 8a, to take traffic through the new development and northwards. There is no likelihood that that would be the predominant direction of travel for new residents working outside the community.
As a time when all parties, politicians and general members of the public are encouraged to focus on sustainable development, it is outside the remit of the Draft Local Plan to address public transport infrastructure. Redbourn Parish Council is submitting objections and comments on the plans at each stage and is making the case against development to a scale beyond that which can be supported by appropriate infrastructure. The voice of our MP has not been heard on this subject. Redbourn Care Group is already considering how it might have to increase resources to provide much needed voluntary support to a much larger community.
These are the reasons why the Redbourn Branch of the Labour Party believes it should remain as an entity. This is the time for all members of the Constituency Labour Party to be aware of these particular issues and to help the Redbourn Branch to raise our voice and make a difference for the present and future constituents in this part of Hitchin and Harpenden.