Poor judgement

PUBLISHED: 10:34 13 November 2008 | UPDATED: 13:43 06 May 2010

SIR, — St Albans Civic Society calls into question the judgement of St Albans District Council. Here s the reason why. The city is fortunate in having a five-strong Conservation and Design Team that protects our historic heritage and ensures the highest s

SIR, - St Albans Civic Society calls into question the judgement of St Albans District Council. Here's the reason why.

The city is fortunate in having a five-strong Conservation and Design Team that protects our historic heritage and ensures the highest standards of architecture. The minutes of the Cabinet meeting on October 14 make clear that it is proposed to sack one member of this important team and move another to a different section of the planning department.

The Civic Society is outraged - all the more so because at a meeting on October 6 attended by other members and myself, Cllr Chris Brazier, the Planning Portfolio Holder, emphasised that, contrary to rumours, the worth of the team was not to be changed. Then in secret on October 14, the Cabinet votes to do exactly the opposite. Correspondence in the local press reinforces this. Do the words of councillors have no connection with their actions and decisions?

This decision contrasts utterly with those made as recently as September 10 last, when the Full Council reviewed its Visions and Aims. The first three words of the Vision are, "Historic St Albans ...", Aim 3 is, "To cherish and promote our heritage ..." and Aim 4 is, "To safeguard the environment". The latest St Albans Tourist Action Plan is entitled, "Distinct and Different" - there are many more examples in this vein. If these fine phrases mean anything, they must butter some parsnips. Instead, the parsnips are to be burnt and discarded.

This episode does serious damage to the image of the council. And it is unbelievably short-sighted. Not only could a recently-published Heritage Protection Bill place significant additional demands on the council in coming years, but that long-delayed Local Development Framework needs considerable extra work, much of it in conservation and design, and more staff are being sought to meet the timetable. On top of all this, the council has just embarked on a City Vision project, the outcome of which may have far-reaching implications for St Albans' heritage.

How are these issues to be dealt with by fewer, dispirited and demoralised conservation and design officers?

The Society's diminishing confidence in the council is further undermined by this attempt to seek short-term cost savings in the Conservation and Design Team. The city will lose experienced staff with a wealth of local knowledge and expertise. If, in a few months, the council finds itself having to recruit replacements, these fresh staff will inevitably lack this local knowledge and take time to train. Hence they will be much less effective.

The Society urges councillors to oppose this rash, ill-considered and counter-productive proposal.

PETER TREVELYAN,

Chairman, St Albans Civic Society.

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