Behind the veil

PUBLISHED: 09:51 18 December 2008 | UPDATED: 13:48 06 May 2010

SIR, — I beg once more yours and fellow readers tolerance, as I cannot allow Mr Goodwin s curiously worded letter (Herts Advertiser, December 11) to stand without comment. Firstly he thought, but didn t seem too sure, that he was speaking on behalf of al

SIR, - I beg once more yours and fellow readers' tolerance, as I cannot allow Mr Goodwin's curiously worded letter (Herts Advertiser, December 11) to stand without comment.

Firstly he thought, but didn't seem too sure, that he was speaking on behalf of all senior staff and all councillors. Staff would have to acquiesce to whatever he said, I suspect, but in the small straw poll I conducted of councillors, they had no foreknowledge of Mr Goodwin's letter.

As I acknowledged in my previous letter there will always be some business to which residents cannot be privy. However this should be the exception. I have observed in some council meetings, councillors have to push for information to be made public. If this is what Mr Goodwin wishes too, why do these councillors still have to pursue openness?

Mr Goodwin failed to address a crucial point in my letter which was why the wishes of the conservation team were ignored in the case in point. Was Mr Goodwin in his letter trying to say, in a very obtuse way, that the decision was taken by some anonymous person to protect the conservation team against their own folly - big brother knows best?

The decision to cut the team was taken behind closed doors. The decision made was in complete contrast to what some cabinet members had said in public. We residents were not allowed to hear the debate only the fait-accompli decision. The secrecy around this decision has an unfortunate spin off, by protecting the councillors who took the decision from having to explain their seemingly-contradictory decision in public.

It was only through the chairman of the council's relevant scrutiny committee pushing for more information to be made public that residents got to know that the conservation team had agreed to waive their anonymity to allow the proposed cuts in their team to be discussed in public. Even the stakeholder consultation the conservation team leader asked for has also not taken place.

We have two major planning applications coming up which, due to this secret decision, will have to be looked at by a solitary conservation officer, allocated to dealing with planning applications with a conservation element, where there used to be five.

The application by Antringham Verulamium for central St Albans is curiously timed, not only because we are at the start of probably a deep recession and increasing retail space will sadly naturally occur as shops close. The applicants must also know they are pre-empting the city-centre vision project and master plan.

The reapplication for the rail-freight depot is imminent - which we all know has huge ramifications, not least the impact on the Green Belt. Can we fight this off again when our own council want to cut the resources to tackle the resubmission by taking front-line officers away while increasing administrative posts in other areas?

It was interesting that the rail-freight briefing held last Friday was by invitation only and held during the day, thus blocking access to many residents who would want to take an active part in the campaign against this renewed threat. So much for open, fair and inclusive.

I believe councillors are elected to make policy openly, as they are directly accountable to us, with officers charged to carry it out. Secrecy must be kept to a minimum. How else are we to hold councillors to account? Sadly Mr Goodwin's letter has done nothing to lower my concerns.

VANESSA GREGORY,

Tennyson Road, St Albans.


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