Heath access confusion

PUBLISHED: 11:08 13 August 2009 | UPDATED: 14:19 06 May 2010

SIR - As a regular user of the Herts County Council-owned lower playing field area of Bernards Heath I am dismayed and concerned by HCC s lack of communication with the residents who rely on this area for recreational purposes. The land, formerly a bric

SIR - As a regular user of the Herts County Council-owned 'lower playing field' area of Bernards Heath I am dismayed and concerned by HCC's lack of communication with the residents who rely on this area for recreational purposes.

The land, formerly a brickworks which was levelled in the 1950s, has been subsiding for decades. A friend who has walked dogs on the field for more than 25 years remembers the appearance and subsequent work to fill in various holes over the years.

The field has become more and more undulating in places, probably due to the increasingly wet weather conditions of recent years. A large indentation gradually appeared in the middle of the field last year which became deeper following this February's snow.

HCC put a fence around the hole this spring and a few months later carried out a survey of the field involving borehole tests which resulted in the collapse of ground into another smaller but deeper hole.

They then attempted to fence off all access points onto the playing field at the beginning of July without any notice or explanation. Herts County Council signs did appear the following week but the message was confusing, saying on one hand to keep off the land, yet also that people used it at their own risk.

Despite several futile attempts by HCC to secure the fencing across the access points, people have simply moved the fencing out of the way and continued to use the land for jogging, dog walking and other recreational activities.

HCC have had additional radar testing carried out but the results have so far not been made available.

What users would like to know is whether the subsidence actually poses a significant danger to us and, if so, what are the hazards and what is the level of risk?

Do we simply risk tripping over an indentation in the ground and twisting an ankle or is there a more serious risk that someone could be swallowed into the ground and seriously injured or killed?

HCC are surely aware that the fundamentals of risk assessment include identifying the hazards and communicating the findings to those who might be affected.

What is certainly a hazard is the fact that HCC have suspended mowing of the grass and it is becoming more and more difficult to see where all the previously-visible small dips and indentations are.

As a consequence the likelihood of tripping or stumbling is much greater.

Despite the fact that HCC have given an assurance that the playing field will not be put forward for development, the more cynical will be forgiven for thinking that restricting access and letting the land become overgrown is the first step towards securing it for development.

Indeed, a local government leaflet posted through my door last week identified the adjacent former fire station as a potential site for a new supermarket. The playing field would no doubt make a convenient supermarket car park.

It would be a simple courtesy to let residents know what's happening with the playing field and settle the understandable concerns that people have about future access to this much-valued recreation area.

S LAWRENCE

Watson Avenue

St Albans

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