Chance lost

PUBLISHED: 12:34 31 January 2008 | UPDATED: 12:57 06 May 2010

SIR, — We now have a plan that expresses the hopes and aspirations of the community for the future of the park Or so we were told (Herts Advertiser, January 17) by the chairman of the St Albans District Council Cabinet meeting which endorsed the Verulam

SIR, - "We now have a plan that expresses the hopes and aspirations of the community for the future of the park" Or so we were told (Herts Advertiser, January 17) by the chairman of the St Albans District Council Cabinet meeting which endorsed the Verulamium Park master planning projection on January 8. And he should know since he is also chairman of the project steering group which recommended the proposals set out in an impressive seven-page report to the meeting.

So after £50,000 or so and six months' labour by specialist consultants, plus elaborate consultations with 100 groups and responses to 1,000 questionnaires, several phone calls, focus groups and talks with selected individuals, has time and money been well spent?

Well yes - if you admire the totally-inappropriate and engineer-dominated Halcrow lake-area scheme, funded in 2004 by the Environment Agency with the aim of diverting the canalised River Ver. But not if you had hoped to see the new consultants at least attempt a more apt alternative - that is a well-designed upgrade of lake and stream, redeploying the best characteristics of the 30s' parkscape which has always been the most popular area of the park.

If options were explored, as Cllr Sheila Burton suggests, they don't seem to have got past the extremely single-minded steering group set up by the project brief.

This seems a disappointing waste of the expertise assembled, or so we thought, to take a truly-independent look at the park's wider, long-neglected potential.

Two items in the brief make this outcome unlikely. One is the page-long list of "stakeholders" who now form the steering group, the list being a near roll call of the Halcrow project activists. Secondly, the brief requires the consultant to appraise Halcrow Scheme 6a and produce detailed design drawings to RIBA Stage 3 standard, with costings and an action plan for the lake/stream engineering works.

Both this and the master plan were commissioned by the district council to be paid for separately from the Heritage Lottery grant, so it will be interesting to see what this package amounts to.

Whether or not, given a different brief, the consultant might have produced a better lake-area outcome, the rather dismal fact now is that we are to be forcefed on a scheme which will, if the bid is successful, take up the entire Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £2 million, probably more, bearing in mind that Halcrow excluded lake cleaning from its £1.5-million estimate four years ago.

Hopefully enough people with different hopes and aspirations will take a positive interest in what's afoot and begin to question whether a small group of single-issue activists should be in charge of the park's future.

GEORGE SLATER,

Albany Gate, St Albans.

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