Letters, April 12, 2012

PUBLISHED: 09:40 12 April 2012

Outsiders keep out of 20mph debate

SIR – Re: proposed 20mph zones in the city centre.

As a resident in the Verulam ward of St Albans I am satisfied that the survey we completed reflects the will of the locals and highlights the need for a fresh approach to an ever-evolving traffic situation.

However helpful “expert comments” from outsiders to the area may seem their opposition does little to resolve the current problems we face.

One is baffled that pedestrians trump common sense when faced with traffic and the inherent dangers of modern living. We all share the same space and we all have to abide by certain rules.

However, there is a need for the rules to be enforced, literally.

MICHAEL DE RUYTER

Hill Street, St Albans

Nature reserve no longer looks natural

SIR – Re: Batford Springs. Now that most of the trees have been felled and all covering undergrowth removed and burnt, what next for this “nature” reserve?

Might I suggest the removal of all existing reeds from around the pond and the river, concreting the banks and turning the area into one large paddling pool or model boating pond. Also a new skateboarding ramp and small tea shop would fit nicely into this now very sterile area.

The amount of hard work and effort undertaken to clear this site can only be applauded but with the recent acquisition of new steps leading up to the weir (why?), the site now looks incredibly neat and tidy. Sadly, however, nature and wildlife do not do ‘neat and tidy’ and the site is now fast becoming beneficial only to the picnickers and dog walkers.

MIKE RUSSELL

Buckingham Drive, Luton

Councillor slated for lake comments

SIR – I have lived in St Albans all my life and have come to regard Verulamium Park and Lake as a one of the gems of living here. It is a large area of historical interest and arguably natural beauty which was enjoyed by my parents, by myself as I was growing up, by my children and now by my own grandchildren.

I enjoy living in St Albans and have no desire to “stir things up” or “run the city down” which was Cllr Chichester-Miles’ response to the legitimate concerns expressed by John Humphrey in your March 29 edition’s lead article regarding Verulamium Lake.

Even before reading the article I was thinking of raising a similar issue through your pages and having read it I felt I had to express my view.

Notwithstanding the fact that two experts have differing opinions on the environmental state of the water in the lake, there can be no argument that the level of silt and accumulated debris is significant along much of the waters edge, being clearly visible just a few inches below the surface. If this extends across the lake to the islands, albeit not as deeply, then it is possible that the lake contains more silt than water.

I recall the last time this became an issue in the 1950s when – if my memory is correct – the lake was last dredged of silt, presumably without damaging the artificial lining of the lake floor, which is another concern expressed by Cllr Chichester-Miles.

Clearly silt will continue to build as it has done for the last 60 years or so but there must surely come a time when action will need to be taken to remove it. I expect this will be a major and costly undertaking the timing of which would need to be carefully planned outside of the summer months as it will be an unpleasant and disruptive project – but it will have to be faced at some time.

We are experiencing an official drought and it is plain to see that the levels in the lake and the River Ver have fallen dramatically – exposing some of the silt in places. I have recently noticed that the outflow of the water from the lake into the River Ver near the Fighting Cocks public house has stopped which presumably means that there is no flow into the lake from the River Ver.

Unless we have substantial rainfall or flow returns from the River Ver into the Lake then it seems likely that the water in the lake will become stagnant and more of the silt will be exposed.

It would be interesting to know if the council have any plans to remove the silt in the future – not because of environmental concerns but as part of their strategic management of the lake as a local and tourist attraction which should be freed from the currently unsightly level of silt and debris.

PETER FIELD

Mount Pleasant, St Albans

SIR – I am very disappointed by Cllr Daniel Chichester-Miles’ knee-jerk response to local resident Jon Humphrey raising concerns about the state of Verulamium Lake in the Herts Advertiser of March 29.

I walk through Verulamium Park and past the lake several times a week. If a fellow local resident has taken the time and trouble to compile a report based on expert input, and make it public, I would want to read that the council was taking it seriously.

In contrast, Cllr Chichester-Miles’ reaction was to say he was “very, very angry” and accused local resident Mr Humphrey of “running down St Albans”.

Is this really the level of public debate that we can expect of the Conservatives running our district council? Is this how Cabinet members will respond to any member of the public raising concerns or disagreeing with their viewpoint?

Mr Humphrey’s concerns seem perfectly legitimate. He’s produced evidence that backs up those concerns and, given the potential environmental health risk posed, I believe they are worth thorough, independent investigation.

Cllr Chichester-Miles’ comments seemed confused and his own evidence questionable – his study mentions fish when I haven’t seen any for years and Mr Humphrey’s report clearly finds no signs of life other than worms. Cllr Chichester-Miles also says that removing sediment could damage the artificial membrane that lines the lake floor – or, to use his terminology, “a recipe for disaster”. But surely the membrane is robust enough to allow for the removal of up to 49cm of duck faeces provided that the job is undertaken by a contractor with the necessary skills?

IAN WILLIAMS

Windridge Close, St Albans

Has Plan ‘C’ been revealed at last?

SIR – In answer to the query of March 29 and following the noble spirit of the late Jimmy Saville the overwhelming majority of neighbours to the Westfield Action Group democrately voted 10 months ago for the manifesto Plan of ‘C’onservatives including to ‘fix’ the LD/WAG (Roman) snail pace that was stopping the provision of up to 20 affordable houses at Westfield plus improved children’s play facilities.

These neighbours plus St Albans and district residents voting Conservative also helped the new Conservative administration devolve Porters Park and Batford Springs back to their town council; fix the inherited flawed and moving backwards planning process delays by installing more powerful and dual screen computers; by listening to residents fix additional free parking in St Albans city centre; plant a long-wanted avenue of trees from St Albans Station to the city centre; move closer to reality more free resident parking and affordable housing in London Colney by removing derelict garages; by listening to other councils bring the reality of over 60 per cent domestic and more business recycling closer; fix a 25 per cent bigger Westminster Lodge swimming pool at minimal extra cost; notwithstanding recent LD claims speak to Hertfordshire Highways who immediately supported an intelligent, cheaper and better service road and provide an Alban Arena digital cinema at a tenth of the previous’ Lib Dem administration’s cost for seven times the audience while allowing Ovo to successfully run the Maltings Theatre. Long may intelligent democracy fix problems and the more that will help the more that can be done.

MIKE WAKELY

Conservative Portfolio Holder for Sports, Leisure and Heritage

Oakfield Road, Harpenden

Secondary school debate continues

SIR – Because the transfer to secondary schools can never be an exact science, county officers are continually reviewing the method of allocations to make it fair to as many families as possible. They know that a change that helps one group of children can penalise another group so they consider any change extremely carefully with full consultation.

The long-term planning may well include looking at whether children of parents working at a school should be given a slightly higher priority than currently in non-academy schools. Such an option would be consulted about and public views sought if such change were to be considered.

Those who argue in favour of such a move suggest that if the parents have a strong connection with a school their loyalty should be rewarded. Loyalty is not as favoured in life in this day and age as was the case in the past, so the argument could well be ignored.

What is happening at the moment is that academy status schools are being permitted to formulate their own admission rules and some academies have chosen to adjust their policy to permit a slightly higher banding for those children whose parents work in the school.

I know that our Coalition Government is in favour of more freedom to permit schools to operate in a way that achieves the best education for as many children as possible, which this county has always aspired to. Nationally Hertfordshire has a reputation of good schooling, with decent budget allocations.

I do not believe that changes to admission criteria will creep in without consultation as officers are fully aware that families in the area are well educated and intelligent enough to demand that they are consulted.

GILL CLARK

Tudor Road,

Wheathampstead

You can’t cherry-pick from the Bible

SIR – John Churcher accuses others of cherry-picking but is he not doing something similar?

He seems to think that if something is mentioned fewer times in the Bible, we can ignore it. So rape and paedophilia, for example, should be accepted because the Bible says little about the first and next to nothing about the second, compared to love and justice, which get many mentions? I don’t think so.

You accept the Bible or, like me, you accept that it is flawed, containing, yes, some verses we can accept and some less so, but if you try to say things are right because God said so in the “Word”, don’t ditch other bits. (Not that you have much choice when there are total contradictions! Which is why I don’t accept it, having read it all.)

What I’d like to know is whether those who defend “being gay” as a natural orientation would also defend incest, adultery and paedophilia as natural, God-given inclinations, and would they also say that having certain desires means we should give in to them to make us happy, in this self-centred world where consequences are ignored? The same applies across the board, to dangerous driving and drugs, for example. Sometimes we have to restrict ourselves from doing what we imagine will make us free.

By all means champion love and justice, but not an anarchic God who doesn’t care what we do but gives us undeserved forgiveness and heaven (sometimes with the exception of doubters).

Besides, if a God exists, you would expect Him or Her to have communicated the divine will in clearer ways on so many of life’s issues where either the Bible is silent or it contains fuel for both sides of an argument. We need to use conscience and reason alongside “love” as a basis for morality. This won’t give total consensus but will reduce the number of indefensible positions such as those adopted by Bible-quoting preachers, whether evangelical or liberal.

Incidentally if gay couples choose to live as if married with the exception of the dangerous sexual practices of (apparently) the majority of gay men, I see no real problem with this, although the likes of Jeffrey John may find doubts are expressed when they claim their relationship is “celibate”. If the couple don’t tell you they are sleeping together, don’t assume they are.

S BEAVER

St Albans

Train was start of beautiful friendship

SIR – As an ex-pat who reads the Herts Ad online I was quite delighted to read about the upcoming trip on the Lincoln Imp. Great pity I cannot take the trip.

My main interest was with the engine ‘Oliver Cromwell’. As a young child who like many others were ‘train spotters’ I saw this engine in the 1950s and dutifully marked it off in my Ian Allen spotting book.

On a school excursion organised by Alma Road School which I attended from 1943 to 1951 I went to the Festival of Britain where this class of engine was shown, I think in the Dome of Discovery as the latest and greatest steam engine of it’s time. In 2009 I saw a picture of ‘Oliver’ in a photographic magazine Digital Camera and wrote them a letter about my train spotting days which they kindly published.

Later the magazine forwarded a letter from another reader who sent me some pictures of the magnificently refurbished engine ‘Oliver Cromwell’ taken in Hampshire (Waterlooville).

Since that day the reader and I have become very good friends and have been busy comparing each other’s photographs, a common interest via the internet. All this thanks to an old steam engine.

ERIC BUDWORTH

Cecilia Road, Christie Downs

South Australia

Localism in action? I don’t think so!

SIR – Localism enables local councils to empower communities to embark on neighbourhood planning. Not to be confused with councils listening to the community and then pursuing their own political objectives.

Provided a neighbourhood plan complies with the development plan and has been endorsed by the community then in theory communities can at last influence their neighbourhoods.

The National Planning Policy Framework is now a reality and has serious implications for both Local Planning Authorities and communities because, in essence, it gives the green light to developers and a presumption in favour of sustainable development, especially when a Local Plan is absent, silent or where the relevant policies are out of date.

Already Jarvis have plans to re-develop the north-eastern side of the River Lea Industrial Estate into housing and offices, and at a recent presentation to the Batford Community Action Group AGM, dutifully listened to the community’s ideas for the area. They gave no promises though... and, their track record isn’t particularly brilliant. As far as I am aware, they have never given anything back to the community. Well, save for a chronic traffic problem in Batford. So why are they so keen to hear what the community think now? Could it be if community is sufficiently engaged in local development, then... Get the rubber stamp out?

The frustrating thing is, it could all work, but we, as communities need to act fast. We need assistance in getting these Neighbourhood Forums established so that we have the means of influencing development and not the other way around. This information should be readily available, but it’s not? I even consider that councils may not wish to relinquish control to communities. Harpenden Town Council for instance are still referring to the East of England Plan as one of their objectives, which is deeply worrying as it was revoked years ago. Surely their objectives should include facilitating a Neighbourhood Forum and Neighbourhood Plan!

In the meantime, Jarvis will submit their redevelopment scheme, but will the Batford neighbourhood get their doctor’s surgery or chemist? It will be interesting to watch the power of localism “in action”, or will there be more horrifically high office towers, more displacement parking and another missed opportunity.

ANNE JAMES

Pickford Hill, Harpenden

Virgin on the ridiculous

SIR – My experience of Virgin Media last week...

I waited in for five hours for a Virgin Media engineer to fix our wireless internet connection in St Albans but no-one arrived.

After phoning the next day I was told that the fault had been fixed and therefore our appointment had been cancelled! Apparently they had “tried” to contact me by leaving an automated message on my landline (that in any case I rarely use).

I insisted they check if this had happened. No it hadn’t. I asked why they could not have phoned my mobile? Left me a mobile voicemail message? Left me a text message? Sent me an email? Phoned the landline? Left a voicemail on the landline? They had no response to this – odd given that they actually sell us phone and internet services.

Because we didn’t know the fault had been fixed we did not know to turn our equipment off and on again in order to re-connect. Why would we? Virgin Media had already told us during a very lengthy diagnostic phone call at the weekend – involving much turning on and off – that it needed replacing and was not a local fault. Thus we lost an extra day of internet use.

Clearly extremely poor service that cost me five daytime hours of waiting at home for nothing and several days with no wireless service.

Virgin Media, I will be writing, but please apologise publicly to all those affected; put your systems right – how long would it take to phone customers? And compensate us for our time.

LOUISE KENNEDY

Lancaster Road, St Albans

United we stand? Divided we fall...

SIR – 212,000 working people are to have their income support cut by up to £4,000, these are people who are at the very bottom of the income scale who rely on their income support to sustain a bare-minimum lifestyle. They are proud to be in work and grateful for the extra help given by income support.

At the same time about the same number of people earning over £150,000 have been given a tax reduction of £10,000+, these the very top earners.

Most senior citizens live from day to day on a state pension of £5,000, roughly half of the tax reduction given to the very wealthiest.

All in this together!

KERRY POLLARD

Cottonmill Lane, St Albans

Facts not fury please readers

SIR – Re: the hunting and shooting debate.

My first letter, of February 2, appealed for the use of attributable, accurate and verifiable data by protagonists in this and other debates. I was sceptical of a statement by Mary Barton that 75,000 tonnes of lead are annually deposited in the UK as a result of game bird shooting; I suggested and demonstrated, to those who read my letter carefully and completely, that this figure was probably wrong.

In my letter of February 23 I referred to the original source of this figure as being in a report prepared by a Peter Robinson for AnimalAid. Since then I have been in contact with both Robinson and AnimalAid.

To their shame, they both admit they have known for about 12 years that this figure is indeed wrong but have neither corrected it nor published a statement to the effect that it is a gross over-estimate. The correct figure is probably about 8,000 tonnes.

In neither letter did I condemn nor condone hunting and shooting; my belief one way or the other was irrelevant to my original concern that some recently quoted data was grossly inaccurate, and that other contributions were subjective assumptions.

Thus it is that Elizabeth Dumpleton, February 16, did her cause a disservice by incorrectly saying that my first letter was “about blood sports”, and by ignoring its actual purpose. Then, on February 29, she compounds this slight by impuning my position as “probably to avoid the main issue” on the basis of no information whatsoever about my beliefs.

Also on February 16, Ms K Thornton wrote, “that [this writer] doesn’t know what he believes”, having begun by accusing me of being a blood sports fan, again on no factual basis.

Ladies and gentlemen, read this slowly – assuming, presuming and guessing at others’ opinions or beliefs is not acceptable, and arguments for or against a case must be backed up with attributable, verifiable and accurate facts. That’s all I have said so far in my letters.

Now, an attributable, verifiable and accurate fact for you: I believe that slaughtering living creatures for ‘sport’ is an abhorrent act and demeans humanity.

WYN SAILOR

Wheathampstead

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