The big picture

PUBLISHED: 12:09 22 October 2009 | UPDATED: 14:33 06 May 2010

SIR – I made it clear in my response to the Westminster Lodge consultation held in high summer, that I dearly wanted to be able to support what is a hugely ambitious plan, but sadly I could not. I always find it difficult to make meaningful decisions wi

SIR - I made it clear in my response to the Westminster Lodge consultation held in high summer, that I dearly wanted to be able to support what is a hugely ambitious plan, but sadly I could not.

I always find it difficult to make meaningful decisions without seeing the big picture. By nature it seems local government pays for costly consultants to carry out specific tasks but very rarely draw the results together. As a result often expensive decisions are made, with a perfunctory residents' consultation, without thought to all the ramifications and failing to give residents sufficient and clear information to make a reasoned verdict.

I feel I am up to my ears with consultations stretching over the past few years but if I can draw some idea of the big picture from these why can't the council?

Last year in the Urban Transport Plans there was a clear desire for commuters to make more use of the Abbey Flyer and, in conjunction with better bus connections, enable more residents to use the Abbey Flyer to access Watford Hospital. Some I am sure would welcome parking their cars and letting the train take the strain, especially when visiting sick loved ones.

It was also envisaged that 750,000 journeys could be achieved by 2010/11 using this line from a base of 355,000 in 2003/04. This might take longer to achieve due to the deep recession but the numbers and more will be reached in time.

The City Vision also sees Westminster Lodge as a park and walk point on its green circle around the city.

Yet back in May an officer, when questioned about parking - including the impact of the new Butterfly World attraction - at the new Westminster Lodge complex, stated it was planned to have higher car parking charges in the mornings before 9.30am to discourage commuters using the car parks! Now Cllr Burton desires the centre to attract leisure tourism too. Has anyone thought this through?

Now turning to the Rural Vision consultation carried out earlier this year. Support for "Community sports and fitness facilitates" seemed to me to be a common theme in the feedback. This makes sense to me - whilst it would be too expensive to build and run swimming pools in every town and village across the district some of the facilities envisaged in the Westminster Lodge proposals might be more "sustainable" (by that I mean the needs can be met not only in the present, but also for a future generation) if spread out across the district.

St Albans too seems to have a fair share of fitness clubs but what we are really missing are modern water facilities, especially with the loss of Bricket Wood.

It is well known the wide ranging benefits of water-based sports, as it uses most of the bodies' muscles whilst supporting joints. These sports are enjoyable for all age groups and many with disabilities. With a growing and ageing population too, I believe we need more water based facilities not less. Many people would be able to keep fit longer or regain fitness, given the opportunity, thus reducing the burden on health services.

When I saw the plans I just could not believe the short sightedness of closing Bricket Wood before new facilities could come on stream at Westminster Lodge. This would have enabled the footprint of the old facilities to be used, including the existing excavations for the pool.

Also it would have avoided hiding The Abbey Theatre on the backside of this development. In recent weeks the Herts Advertiser has reminded fellow readers of its illustrious past and continuing high quality productions. I somehow cannot imagine too many events would draw Sir Ian McKellen to the Alban Arena!

Finally, funding - very little is in the public domain, except the sale of Ridgeview Hostel expected to raise, according to one councillor, £6million - an "enabling development" nearby I expect housing, and borrowing up to £12million over 25 years. Partner funding does not seem, unsurprisingly, to have materialised. Should this not have been spelt out in the consultation too?

The site has challenges enough and many calls on it. It is greenbelt and so is even more testing to redevelop, for that I do have sympathy for the council. However I just don't believe, as mentioned above, the big picture has been taken into consideration.

I worry that the council will force this through, even though many concerns were raised at the time of the summer consultation - which has not been widely reported. I generally go for ambition rather than timidity - and dithering and lack of delivering are seen as faults of our council, but in these uncertain financial times, we can't afford to get this wrong.

VANESSA GREGORY

Tennyson Road, St Albans

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