We caught up with former Mayor of Dacorum, Derek Townsend, while he was waiting in reception for his wife Janet, after dropping her off for her weekly Wednesday sing with the Hospice Choir.
Derek, 84, twice Mayor of Dacorum and Chairman of Tring Town Council three times, became a Councillor in 1971 and remembers being on Dacorum Borough Council’s Planning Committee in the early noughties when the Hospice was looking for land to expand from its original site in Shrublands Road, Berkhamsted, and build a new Hospice.
“Joan Gentry, who was the Chair of Trustees at the time and a good friend, used to ring me every day, asking if I could help,” he recalls. “Aitchisons estate agents found this piece of land at the site of the old brickworks off Shootersway Lane but it was in the Green Belt with Brown Field on the boundary and the Council wouldn’t allow any development on it.
“It went to planning with a recommendation for refusal and the Chairman of the Planning Committee supported the officers’ recommendation for refusal.”
Derek however, stuck his neck out and moved that the Committee grant consent against the committee’s recommendation.
“I had to give my reasons,” he recalls. “I said it was between Green Belt and Brown Field. There’s a law that says only specific things can be built on that type of land so we took a vote. Six or seven people voted to refuse but 10 or 12 voted to grant permission so it was granted consent.
“I and many others supported planning consent for the Hospice to be built and I had the support of about 80% of the Planning Committee going against the officers’ recommendation so I wasn’t worried.
Derek remembers Dr Ros Taylor, the Hospice’s then Medical Director, starting the applause in an atmosphere of ‘joyous celebration.’ “Ros came and gave me a cuddle,” he says.” I joked ‘please leave!’ – it looked like I’d been bribed!”
Derek remembers how before Berkhamsted Brickworks (which moved to Bovingdon) vacated the land, it was occupied by a print company who used the site as a dump to dispose of all their tins of printer ink containing arsenic and toxic waste – which the Hospice had to spend over £1m to get rid of.
Derek was present at the opening of the new site along with the Duke of Kent, just as he had been present at the ‘very emotional’ Vigil of Prayer at St Peter’s Church in June 1979.
We can never thank people like Derek enough for the part they’ve played in shaping the Hospice over the years.
“We can all look back with pride at what we’ve achieved,” he reflects, looking around at the beautiful gardens. “The Hospice is an incredible place and to think that 15 years ago, where we’re sitting now was just a field....”
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