False economy

PUBLISHED: 10:22 20 November 2008 | UPDATED: 13:46 06 May 2010

SIR, — Once again, sadly, a planning matter dominates the front page and your editorial (Herts Advertiser, November 13). Our MP and STRiFE I suspect echo many fellow readers views on the soon-expected reapplication for a rail freight depot. We cannot all

SIR, - Once again, sadly, a planning matter dominates the front page and your editorial (Herts Advertiser, November 13). Our MP and STRiFE I suspect echo many fellow readers' views on the soon-expected reapplication for a rail freight depot. We cannot allow Helioslough to win, not just for our present quality of life but also to protect the interests of future generations.

This news came within days of St Albans District Council Cabinet agreeing that not only should the conservation and design team be cut, with approximate savings of £40,000, but the target of £150,000 savings within the planning department as a whole will continue to be pursued. The "business case" for the cuts already proposed and those still to be decided upon may appear to some to be persuasive, certainly not to me though.

I do not disagree that our council has been in desperate need of modernisation in the way they deliver their core services to us. Conversely I don't want to see our planning department follow a business practice such as JIT (just in time). Planning applications have quite understandably "dropped off a cliff" due to the economic downturn. However this situation will not continue indefinitely and recruiting and retaining high-calibre planning officers and support officers is far from easy and has seemed to be a particular problem in St Albans.

It's all too easy to fall back on high costs of housing as the reason. In truth there is a skills shortage in high-calibre planning professionals. We cannot afford, as this latest rail freight threat demonstrates, to staff our planning department as if it were a tap to be turned on and off.

Embarrassingly for me, I started to work with planning professionals over 30 years ago and despite taking what might be too generously called a sabbatical from it for a number of years, I have seemingly come home albeit in a different capacity. Planning matters generate passion, quite understandably too as it touches all areas of our lives. Perceived or real injustices cause great distress and annoyance to those effected. I know from my own experiences that none of us are immune. There have been and still are serious mistakes within our planning department and these are unacceptable and must be eradicated. Making swingeing cuts does not in my opinion signal that these failings are being taken as seriously as they should.

It must also be recognised in the interests of balance, that sometimes those who don't get the decision they want can tend to shoot the messenger and/or jump on a convenient bandwagon to seek redress. I do not intend to comment upon the individual cases fellow readers have brought, quite reasonably, to our collective attention through The Herts Advertiser as there are procedures which we as residents can resort to if we feel the council has treated us unfairly.

Recruiting and retaining highly-motivated, well-trained officers is in my view the best way forward for our planning department.

Robin Booth the outstanding case officer, in my view, for the first rail-freight planning application, delayed his retirement to see it through the planning inquiry. I know I will be relieved if he can be persuaded to be involved again. We need more people like Robin, not fewer.

Residents will play their part in this renewed fight as the brilliant STRiFE team have indicated.

The stakes are certainly high; failure is not an option. It would be disgraceful for councillors to handicap us by false economies.

VANESSA GREGORY.

Tennyson Road, St Albans.

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