Our Chief Executive writes about our ambitions for the year ahead

From children and culture to wellbeing and wildflowers...

Change and partnership were the standout features for everyone’s work on implementing our new strategic plan at the Heritage Foundation last year. As we look forward to 2020 that appears to be hol­ding true yet again.

Health and wellbeing

Early this month we started to develop a health and wellbeing vision for Letchworth Garden City. This is being done by working closely with Hertfordshire Community NHS Trust, local GPs, the Council and other health service providers as well as our own Ernest Gardiner Centre. This will build on the potential for setting up a new town centre-based health hub in 2021.

Moving beyond the focus of a new building, we will look at what we can do together with our partners, so our residents can live well and access the range of health and wellbeing services in the town. We want to focus on people having more opportunities to stay well and prevent poor health through active lifestyles. This would reignite the early Garden City philosophy of wellbeing and will ensure everyone can take advantage of the wide range of facilities and resources that are on offer in Letchworth.

Our economic future

This week we hosted a round table discussion with the Hertfordshire LEP and local business leaders to discuss the new Local Industrial Strategy about the economic future of Letchworth. Read the full report.

This is a key objective of our strategic plan and one where we need to address some really difficult questions about the future of the Letchworth’s economy; how to nurture new generations of entrepreneurs; how to attract new businesses to Letchworth and what type of premises do they need.

We also need to look at what we can do to sustain existing businesses, particularly in areas such as retail which continues to face its most challenging time.

As part of this work, we are assessing the viability of a Centre for Creative Industries. We are pleased that Letchworth features significantly in the new Local Industrial Strategy for Hertfordshire, and we will be working closely with the LEP and others in 2020 to agree a long-term plan.

New homes for Letchworth

Housing will continue to be a major focus of our work this year, albeit slower than originally planned following delays to the adoption of the Local Plan.

We will be progressing plans for land to the east of Talbot Way, while developing our long-term vision for designated areas of housing growth in a range of locations across the town. Addressing wider strategic implications such as transport policy to develop a sustainable transport strategy linked to these housing sites is also on our agenda.

To attract a younger demographic, many of whom we know cannot afford to buy a home, we will test whether there are viable investment opportunities to develop new private rented sector homes in Letchworth.

Our environment

We have designated 2020 as our Year of the Wildflower and we have a range of projects underway to increase wildflower planting and improve biodiversity across a number of sites in the town.

This will form part of a wider review of our sustainability policy and practice that we will undertake this year. We have already agreed to work closely with North Herts District Council as well as other interested local groups.

As part of the sustainability projects for 2020, we will also create a new orchard and a woodland, following a successful grant application to the Woodland Trust.

Arts and culture

This year we are developing our first-ever arts and culture strategy, involving a wide range of partners. Building on the Hertfordshire Year of Culture 2020, this will draw together our cultural and heritage education programmes and audience development plans for our venues. Destination-making and feasibility testing the cost-benefit of a Letchworth loyalty card across our venues - and potentially with local business, are also being considered.

Taken together, these actions will support our goal for ‘culture for all’ to be a real life-changing marker of Letchworth - strengthening creativity, building civic pride and creating opportunities.

Improving opportunities for children

Improving opportunities for our youngest residents will continue to be a major focus of our work. Research we commissioned indicates that some local families with young children face significant and complex challenges. Working in partnership with local schools and voluntary organisations, we are investing in a range of support services for pre-school and early years children and their families.

Alongside these major strategic developments, we will continue to deliver our wide range of local services from Broadway to Standalone Farm. We also aim to reach more people, look after the built and natural environment, and fund a wide range of local initiatives through our grants programme.

Making the most of our local property portfolio

Lastly but certainly not least, we aim to replicate the Property Team’s outstanding 2019 performance on managing our investment assets. The team has maintained a record low levels of voids and arrears, which help us maximise our investment income that pays for all that we are able to do. Without this none of our ambitions would be realised.

Graham Fisher