Letters, November 8, 2012, Part One

PUBLISHED: 10:07 08 November 2012

Dangers of zebra crossings

SIR – Your article on the dangers associated with the eastern side of the zebra crossing at the north end of Harpenden High Street (‘Retailers call for changes to hazardous plant boxes’, Herts Advertiser, November 1) overlooks additional dangers associated with this crossing that are apparent only at night.

Despite being on an ‘A’ road this potentially dangerous crossing is lit only by general street lighting. To make matters worse, on the evening of Friday, November 2, neither of the Belisha beacons on the High Street crossing was functioning. Contrast this with the nearby pedestrian crossing at the foot of Sun Lane (not an ‘A’ road) which is brightly illuminated by high overhead lights, even though the sight lines are excellent with no vegetation or car parking issues.

It’s worth mentioning that the zebra crossing outside Waitrose in Leyton Road is also very dimly lit at night and is often partly obscured, either by parked vehicles or by vehicles lingering in the road in the expectation that a parking space may shortly become available. Fortunately, traffic is relatively slow-moving on this road. For the record, only one of the Belisha beacons was functioning on this crossing on Friday evening.

Gone are the days when pedestrians heeded the advice of the Highway Code and “waited until traffic has stopped from both directions… before crossing.” Nowadays pedestrians and, on occasions, even cyclists frequently emerge from the shadows onto crossings without even pausing at the kerb, especially if they happen to be on their mobiles. Presumably they prefer to go with the guidance given to motorists elsewhere in the Highway Code, which states that “You MUST give way when a pedestrian has moved onto a crossing.” Yes, I find that somewhat contradictory too.

Would the highway authorities care to comment on the potential dangers to pedestrians using these two crossings at night?

ALAN JACKSON

Lambourn Gardens, Harpenden

Commissioner controversy

SIR – A leaflet entitled Herts Voice was recently pushed through my door. It seems that it had been published, as a special Police Commissioner election edition, by the Labour Party. So I read it from cover to cover.

Now, whilst I appreciate that there is a temptation not to let the truth get in the way of a good story, there are some whoppers in this particular feuilleton.

The first of which concerns the statement on page one “Threat to frontline policing”. The candidate, one Sherma Batson, states that “an independent police report predicted a cut of over 130 front line police oficers in Hertfordshire”. The name of said report was not given, so perhaps I can help. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, together with Herts Police, have produced a report (hertfordshire-policing-in-austerity-one-year-on.pdf, available from the HMIC website) which makes the following statements of fact:

“The proportion of police officers on the front line increases (from 2010 to 2015) from 83 per cent to 95 per cent. In the same document it is stated that the number of police officers in 2010 was 2,130 (front line being 1,760). By 2015 the total number of Police officers will be reduced by 240 but that 95 per cent will be working on the front line. That is 1,790 (+ 250 PCSOs, + 588 police staff).

In short, the number of police officers (and others) working on the front line is increasing!

A figure which Ms Batson has also chosen to ignore is the £73-million shortfall announced recently in this newspaper by Herts Police (the HMIC document says that the government funding cut is £38-million). To this should be added upcoming major IT expenditure.

It would be interesting to see how Ms Batson would prepare a budget (part of the function of a Police Commissioner) given what she seems not to know, or want to know.

Regarding domestic violence, Ms Batson demonstrates a lack of knowledge on the topic. Most DV incidents are in fact “non crimes”. That is, there is no evidence and/or witnesses and/or the complainant will not make a statement. Where children are involved in any incident – much more serious and not mentioned by Ms Batson – Social Services immediately become involved.

Why Herts Police should follow Lincolnshire Police (the only force in the country where crime is actually rising) in outsourcing certain functions to G4s (who have no prior experience) is beyond imagination.

CHRIS COWLAND

Gorham Drive, St Albans

SIR – I read with interest and incredulity that David Lloyd has been nominated as a candidate for the role of Police and Crime Commissioner for Hertfordshire. Having just stepped down as chairman of Hertfordshire Police Authority he claims to have driven down crime, etc.

Please tell that to the residents of Barley Mow Lane, who have witnessed the total dereliction of duty and left local people to fend for themselves against a serious crime culture that has existed, to my personal knowledge, since 1994. Since 2005, I note the situation has persisted under Mr Lloyd’s watch.

Please allow me to inform you that during our tenure at the Barley Mow Public House, my wife and I have had to suffer the following: armed robberies, my wife Lynn was shot in the face with a catapult, animal cruelty on a daily basis resulting in the death of several horses, threats of being burnt out or our throats cut.

This list is by no means exhaustive, and it must be borne in mind that all these have taken place in Barley Mow Lane which is a lane of some 700 metres in length. There has even recently been an assault on the police themselves by a suspect with a wooden cudgel wrapped with barbed wire (the police have remained quiet on this incident which only occurred earlier this month). We are treated to anti-social behaviour and dangerous speeding on a daily basis and have suffered this since 1994. During that time there has only ever been one conviction for fly-tipping and that was only because I personally blocked-in the offender and his vehicle who took it upon himself to fly-tip fridges and mattresses outside my house. The deterrent value of the sentence was a pitiful £100 fine.

In case it might be suggested that these are police and criminal justice issues, and the local authority should not be held responsible, we must remember that the police have rightly looked to its partner, the local authority, for assistance in tackling these issues by the imposition of a gating order in Barley Mow Lane, and the authority has declined to implement. While Mr Lloyd was deputy leader of Herts County Council, this situation of abhorrent anti-social behaviour has persisted and the community which has suffered has had its cries for help denied. I would urge everyone to vote for anyone other than Mr Lloyd who has let us down repeatedly and who is partly responsible for the situation (in conjunction with Mr Pile whose wisdom it was to refuse a gate in Barley Mow Lane which had been requested by an overwhelming majority of affected residents). Mr Lloyd has enabled the situation to seethe and fester.

Moreover, the one thing a new police commissioner should be is independent. i.e. apolitical. Why would anyone vote for a candidate who has already disposed of his critical thinking to a political ideology and is urged and influenced by whips and a political party to adopt or reject initiatives? Ultimately, we shall have a commissioner who has removed all checks and balances that the previous body enjoyed and will replace these with a single decision maker. How equitable and unaccountable is that?

Compound that situation with the suggestion that Mr Lloyd should assume the role, and this would amount to a previous ‘Chair turned Czar’. We all know, or should know, how poorly Mr Lloyd performed along with Mr Pile on behalf of the county council.

I welcome comments from anyone on this issue.

MARTIN MYLAND

Member of Barley Mow Lane Safety Forum

SIR – I read with interest your recent article on the upcoming election for the Hertfordshire police and crime commissioner (October 18).

However, it seems to me that there has been very little information disseminated to the voting public regarding this important election, and I can’t in fact recall hearing anything at all about it before seeing your article.

I certainly haven’t heard anything from the three prospective candidates, none of whom I know anything about other than the few paragraphs you printed in the newspaper, which is scarcely an adequate basis on which to form an opinion regarding who would be the best person for the role.

Also, I surely can’t be the only person to feel a sense of disappointment when noting that the only candidates on offer are simply representatives of the three main political parties?

Are there no upstanding citizens of note who could be found to stand for this election? Perhaps a former senior police officer or retired judge? Almost anyone would be preferable to having a sock puppet for the same tired old political organisations, which elected politicians all too often turn out to be.

I suspect that any politician from the three main parties who succeeds in being elected would use the position to push their narrow partisan agenda rather than represent the best interests of the public in overseeing the police force.

Yes, I may have a rather jaundiced view of politicians, but not without good cause. I fear this election is likely to turn out to be a farce rather than a triumph of democracy.

DW ROBINSON

Batchwood Drive, St Albans

SIR – From the moment I was selected as the Labour candidate for the Police and Crime Commissioner in Hertfordshire I have said that such a position would be a full-time job.

I would hope, too, that all candidates see the position as one which commands complete attention.

Indeed, I believe, it would be recklessly irresponsible not to see the position of commissioner as nothing more than a full-time position.

There will be important decisions to make about the future of our policing in Hertfordshire and the pivotal way these are to influence the workings of our society.

A commissioner does not need and should not need the distractions of thinking about a career elsewhere.

SHERMA BATSON

Labour candidate

Hertfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner

SIR – I note with interest the gathering pace of information on the forthcoming election to elect 41 Police and Crime Commissioners. I suspect this is due to the fear of voter apathy and low turn-outs. I believe the idea for commissioners came from North America where the system of policing is very different from our own as those that regularly view American crime movies will know.

The commissioner (and a selected scrutiny committee) will replace the current Police Authority which has served us well. There are similarities to the roles of chairman of the Police Authority and the new crime commissioner, albeit the commissioner will have more power, in my opinion too much in the hands of one individual. The commissioner is elected for three and a half years, and commands a salary of around £75,000 a year.

Many people, and I am one, have misgivings about this unnecessary change. The main one being that it drags the police more and more into the political arena, when particularly the police, and the judiciary must always be independent and neutral in the services they provided and seen to be so.

Elections do not come cheap, and the cost of this one is £75 million for the election of 41 commissioners or about £1.8 million for each one, not to mention the future ongoing costs. At a time of financial austerity perhaps this is not the best use of our money.

It would appear that many of the candidates putting themselves forward for election are representatives from the main or fringe political parties, whereas others may have been interested but the £5,000 deposit was a barrier. It would also be an advantage to the general public if candidates know something about policing.

Over the years the police service and the many other services we rely on in this country have given us good value.

The three objectives of the police have not changed since the time of Sir Robert Peel (1829). They are: protection of life and property, prevention and detection of crime and the maintenance of the peace.

It is so important that chief officers maintain their operational independence, and are not distracted by political interference. We must never allow the election of commissioners to become merely a political exercise, and result in those that shout the loudest, or have the most political influence receiving the most attention.

I would hope that the commissioners whoever they may be will exercise their role with prudence and sensitivity. That they will actually listen to the voice of all the people and ensure that the three main objectives of a Police Service will continue to be the priorities.

CLLR TONY SWENDELL

(Independent)

Monks Close, Redbourn

SIR – I have been pleased to see that your newspaper has given minimal coverage to the forthcoming Police and Crime Commissioner elections on November 15.

This election can hardly be said to have captured the public’s imagination, so probably deserves less coverage than more weighty matters, such as churned up commons and new cycle paths.

What I find particularly disturbing is that most candidates throughout the country, and all in Hertfordshire, have political affiliations. Is that really wise when it is expected that these police and crime commissioners (PCC) will have the power to appoint Chief Constables and dismiss them if needed? Is a political affiliation really necessary, or indeed desirable for such a job? I think not.

As someone who always votes in elections, and thinks that voting should be compulsory, I am in a bit of a dilemma. So I intend to spoil my ballot paper in protest, and urge others to do the same.

A pointless protest, maybe. But, if the majority of votes cast in any election consisted of spoilt papers, I think a very powerful message would be sent.

An afterthought – is urging people to destroy their ballot paper some sort of crime? Indeed, will the first job of the new PCC be to ensure such subversive conduct is stamped out? I’ll let you know – I hope.

DR STEPHEN MOSS

Alzey Gardens, Harpenden

Safeguards are vital in any community

SIR - Mike Higham last week (Menace of the Nimbys) berated local residents for opposing what we felt was inappropriate “garden grabbing” and labelling us “Nimbys”.

This is the same Mike Higham who successfully fought tirelessly on behalf of our local community, some years back, when the old Mile House pub was bought by developers and various sub-standard schemes for blocks of flats were proposed - so Mike I guess, by your definition, that makes you a Nimby too?

Now things have changed, and Mike Higham has admitted to be acting in support of Julie Twitchell, the developer of 270-272 London Road, trying to help her achieve her aims of inserting five large executive homes into two house and garden plots, which required, amongst other things, the removal of 69 trees on the site.

The housing scheme was correctly thrown out by the planning committee, for numerous reasons, including: “their number, positioning [of houses] and subsequent loss of trees within the site...”The developer then employed a chain-saw gang who worked relentlessly for many days reducing the two mature gardens to the desolate site it is today. Many trees, that the council committee sought to protect, were cut down over that week in August. Mike Higham refers to her action as a “tidy up”...

We need local involvement, both to safeguard the good things we have in St Albans, and to guide the process of change to ensure enhancement - rather than degradation of our local environment. If you get involved in this way, I believe, rather than being a Nimby, it makes you a good citizen.

STEPHEN WRAGG

Mile House Lane, St Albans

Ridiculous situation for city taxis

SIR – It irks me to write this letter concerning “the ridiculous proposal” in the Herts Advertiser dated October 25 with regard to taxi ranking. Far be it from me to write waste of time letters about the pathetic situation of St Albans taxis, I cannot let such a flagrant abuse of petty power go unheeded.

To use one of Cllr White’s favourite expletives I would say that the alternative to that which he considers as ridiculous, is a non sequitur in statement of fact.

The proposal is that the primary position of the taxi rank changes at a certain time and rather like the story of Prince Charming’s demise at midnight, it also is a beast of a proposal.

It would mean that the driver who has waited for half an hour for a fare and has made it to the number one position is suddenly demoted to the middle of the queue at the stroke of midnight, and the taxi which is outside Subway at the top of the town is suddenly transformed into the beautiful position of number one.

Now Cllr White can be excused for not being aware of what the proposals were as he was not at the meeting, and it was I that suggested that the taxis might come up Spencer Street.

I have since found out that this has been proposed before by the now retired chairman of the driver’s association and that it is not an original idea, but rather a logical idea, although we know by now that there will be dissent in the higher echelons of the council chambers. However I can agree with Mr Magnanimous Chris White being concerned about the residents who live in Spencer Street. It’s a shame that that magnanimity doesn’t stretch to the hard working cab drivers of St Albans.

Being one of the worst advocates of total deregulation I would like to know where he thinks all these cabs should go at a certain time of night when the proposal that he might be ready to comply with is clearly absurd.

Whoever used the argument that there is already a rank in that part of town is expecting the electorate to believe that only misinformed minds could have proposed such a proposal. The rank in question is in the High Street and has space for about four cabs.

Invariably the cabs are parked back to front on this rank (whoever heard of a rank like this), it is absurd! This rank is in the most stupid, inane position imaginable and poses serious problems with manoeuvrability when it comes to being hired.

The pedstrianised rank of St Peter’s Street presents serious risk to the pedestrian now it has been “improved” and this rank which has been condemned as ridiculous would only be operating from around midnight until 3am in the morning.

Who are these droves of 3am pedestrians who Cllr White is so ardently endeavouring to protect?

I fail to see what is ridiculous about this, after all the market traders must be driving their vehicles up there also from about 4am onwards.

DICK MOFFAT

Green Lane, St Albans

Dream callers for Halloween

SIR – May I send through your paper a big thank you to the 65 young people aged from three to 14, plus mums and dads, who came out on Halloween last week.

You were fantastic! Good costumes (mostly), happy, cheerful, well-behaved and most of all polite. You treated me like the Queen!

I am St Albans born and bred, have lived in Marshalswick for at least two thirds of my life. For quite a number of years I have decorated my front window at Halloween. This year my callers broke all records.

Thank you once again to all my children callers. Parents, you can be proud of them. My advice to the grown-ups – not all children are a nightmare.

From a lady OAP who always enjoys letting the inner child out (give it a try, life is short!).

GLORIA MORRIS

Marshalswick, St Albans

Wrong move for Saints?

SIR – I have read that there are potential plans for the football club to possibly move away from their current Clarence Park ground, but I happen to feel that this would not really benefit either St Albans City FC or this area for certain reasons.

Those particular reasons being that their stadium is now and always has been a good location for players as well as supporters to travel to and the possibility of having a new ground built on Green Belt land is not great due to the fact we have lost enough of the Green Belt to other developments already.

PAUL SCOTT

Beaconsfield, St Albans

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