Letters, April 24, 2013

PUBLISHED: 09:43 04 April 2013 | UPDATED: 09:43 04 April 2013

An invitation for honesty

SIR – I refer to the letter in the Herts Advertiser of March 21 entitled ‘Transparency in planning advice?’, querying whether our local councillors could, as in other counties, be party to aiding developers with planning procedures, and accepting substantial financial reward for doing so.

Although rumours of this sort have existed for some time, it would be very disturbing if they were true and remain unchallenged by our elected councillors. It would be reassuring if they would come forward and categorically deny that they would ever take part in a practice which would lay them open to a charge of unprincipled behaviour in public office.

S WEBBER

Garnett Drive, Bricket Wood

Structural flaw in benefits system

SIR – In her letter (Herts Advertiser – March 21) Ms C Marshall describes the “bedroom tax” as unfair, while in another article, Beverly Hughes worries that the “tax” will force her to leave her home of 32 years.

We will all sympathise with their plight, however while the plans need improvement there does appear to be a common sense approach to the “tax”, which basically states that those receiving housing benefit will do so at a level in accordance with the number of people in the property. Should anyone wish to live in something larger, then they need to finance it themselves.

Yes, improvements to the policy should have been made, such as allowing a greater transition period for families to find a new home, while the lack of one bedroom properties for people such as Beverly Hughes is an issue, however seeing as there appear to be more people seeking accommodation than there is capacity, taking in a lodger could be an option.

I’d like to think that we’re all caring and compassionate, but the bigger issue appears to be the lack of understanding that there is a structural flaw in our benefits system. The benefits bill should be counter cyclical to the economic cycle, so at the moment it should be higher. The problem is that during periods of reasonable growth and lower unemployment it should fall. Between 2002 and 2007 however, when the UK economy performed well and unemployment was low, instead of falling the welfare budget ballooned, from approx. £60bn to over £80bn a year. Given an increase of roughly a third during ‘good times’, it’s hardly surprising that the bill has now reached an unaffordable level, and as harsh as they may seem, some measures to reform it need to be taken.

In my opinion Ms Marshall does not appear to have much sympathy herself when she disagreed with the raising of the tax threshold to £10,000, as this will be of help to lower paid workers who deserve it.

Finally, she falls for the “tax cut for millionaires” line that has sadly been bought by too many people. Personally I’m more interested in the amount of tax millionaires pay, not the rate of tax they pay, as that is purely political. The more you tax people the more some will seek to avoid paying it, and sadly it’s far too easy for wealthy people to abuse genuinely charitable tax measures (e.g. assistance for the film industry) or to move abroad, thus denying the UK much needed tax revenue. A less penal tax rate, but with a clampdown on tax avoidance, is surely a better policy.

Sadly poor politics will no doubt prohibit these matters being understood or resolved.

J CAMBO

Orient Close, St Albans

Opera night hit new heights

SIR – I am an occasional attendee at the Harpenden Choral Society’s productions.

May I express through your columns my congratulations to the society on its recent programme A Night at the Opera?

The quality of the music reached new heights under conductor John Andrews.

As to the singing I cannot recall hearing anything better for years.

Guest soloists Natasha Jouhl, Olivia Ray, Shaun Dixon and James Cleverton were, without doubt, almost perfect.

For me, it now makes singing in the bath an even greater challenge, if not impossible!

RICHARD WHITE

Park Hill, Harpenden

Scare tactics are unwelcome

SIR – Sandridge Parish Cllr Lyn Bolton writes about local residents with her usual charm and subtlety. She is backing her Conservative friends in Harpenden and shows no support for the people who elected her.

Here is some of the information that she has conveniently ignored.

She says that the Green Belt Review will cost at least £500,000. St Albans council’s head of planning gave the following figures for the cost at the Cabinet meeting on December 20 – independent review of the Green Belt £25K-£45K; review of all potential housing locations £20K-£35K.

NOHAG (No Oaklands Housing Action Group) presented their excellent paper to St Albans district council in November 2012. They did a great deal of research into the background and history of the Draft Strategic Local Plan. They were concerned like the rest of us that the Conservative-run district council had kept us in the dark for over 12 months about the progress of the plan. The Planning Policy Advisory Panel had not discussed the plan since the autumn of 2011 and had not met since March 2012, and was about to be abandoned by the Conservative administration.

The Oaklands field in Sandpit Lane had not been included on the list by the previous Liberal Democrat administration.

The Liberal Democrat group was worried by this lack of transparency and they put the following motion to an earlier council meeting in 2012: “Council expresses serious concern that the recent inaction of the Conservative administration in progressing the Core Strategy will now be compounded by the lack of transparency and public accountability in the planning portfolio holder’s proposals for the Planning Policy Advisory Group (PPAG). The public will be prevented from knowing what is being discussed, or expressing their views...” For full details see SADC website under ‘Minutes and agendas’ – council meeting September 12, 2012.

NOHAG picked up this concern about the lack of transparency with the Strategic Local Plan. They discovered that the Oaklands field in Sandpit Lane was under threat from the Conservative administration’s support for 350 houses. They were shocked about the lack of information and the lack of consultation with local residents. This was the starting point for the NOHAG campaign and the subsequent petition to the council and the council’s rejection of the Draft Strategic Local Plan and the building of 350 houses on Sandpit Lane.

Lyn Bolton has failed to mention the four other pieces of land on and around the Oaklands site which have been identified as potential housing sites:

Oaklands greenhouses 65 houses, Beaumont Field 75 houses, Winches Farm 45 houses and Nicholas Breakespear 200 houses. A total of 385 houses. If the Sandpit Lane field of 350 houses was added this would total 735 houses, the equivalent of half a Jersey Farm estate. Currently there is more than a five year supply of building land without the Oaklands field. So the planners can defend the Green Belt. Ms Bolton must stop trying to frighten residents.

Rather than cramming St Albans and other local communities the solution may be a new town in the empty acres of north or east Hertfordshire.

GEOFF CHURCHARD

Liberal Democrat Cllr for Sandridge, Marshalswick North and Jersey Farm

Pondfield Crescent, St Albans

Sorry state of new leisure centre

SIR – At last! The hazardous tiles at Westminster Lodge are to be replaced.

I sincerely hope that the new tiles will fully comply with health and safety tests and that they will be adequately tested for slips and trips this time. The council and Everyone Active are equally responsible for this fiasco.

A pendulum test to cover all contaminants should be used to avoid further dangerous falls, twisted joints and bruising. This pendulum test should include such contaminants as chlorine and chemicals for the pool which tread into the changing room, shower gels, shampoos and hair conditioners, talcum powder and hair gels and oils people use after showers for their skins, to ensure that the tiles are still resistant to slippage when any of these products come into contact with the floor. These tests should also be nearer to the maximum 47 than the number I was told which was 40 against water contamination only!

I was told by the council that the building company pendulum tested the tiles. I was also told the building company gave the all clear for the leisure centre to be “fit for purpose”. Why didn’t they ask the Health and Safety Executive to pass it fit for purpose?

It has been patently obvious to all visitors to the swimming pools that the present tiles were not sufficiently tested and have been a hazard to everyone who enters the changing village/pool areas. This fact was obvious from the day the leisure centre opened!

Trying to keep feet on the ground on the sloping wet floors, particularly after the cleaning machine has been used is a nightmare. I do hope that once the tiles have been replaced it will completely solve the problem of the slippery floor and will be safer for everyone, not just visitors but staff as well.

Being aesthetically pretty is useless if there are hazards to users around every corner.

While they are replacing the tiles, perhaps Everyone Active could sort out the showers that do not have shelves or hooks to put towels/shower gels, etc. They could even sort out the lock on one shower that has never operated.

The “launch pads” at the end of the pool are already going rusty and while the company are cleaning them up they could clean the tiles at the ends of the pool which are systematically turning a dirty grey with grime.

The leisure centre was supposed to be a fantastic new pool for St Albans. Sadly it is a mess. It has only been open for just six months but has become a classic example of slipshod workmanship. Why is there algae growing in the deep end?

I have never seen a changing room with so many people working in it to keep the floors clean and safe! Even down to lifeguards and management scrubbing the floors as well as the other cleaners.

Time will tell if the new tiles are any better than the present ones

SUSIE BEE

Bedmond Lane, St Albans

SIR – Regarding your article “Hazardous tiles around Westminster Lodge Pool” (Herts Advertiser, March 21). I can only say that from right at the start of swimming in our new pool I have been wary of walking around the perimeter because of the slippery tiles.

I’m really surprised that they nevertheless meet health and safety guidelines.

Over four days of our New Year, I stayed at a hotel in Sidmouth. Added to the enjoyment of my stay there, I took advantage of the indoor swimming pool set within the hotel grounds and I took note of the pitted, non-slip surrounding surface of the pool which I found quite safe to walk on.

The temperature of the water in the pool as I entered it was at an acceptable temperature, not like the coldness of our own pool here in St Albans.

One other thing I would to mention. Some weeks ago I spoke to a person in authority regarding people being allowed to enter the swimming section with no plastic over-shoes over their boots, thereby leaving big muddy footprints all around the area and much to my surprise, I was told by this person: “We can’t force people to wear them.”

I couldn’t think why not, but I’m pleased to relate however that for the last two weeks I have noted that someone has been placed at the entrance of the pool section, giving out and making sure that everyone wears this protective. Good!

When you consider the cost of Westminster Lodge Leisure Centre, one would have thought that the planners should have got the necessary basics right. I find it incredulous that this large project has been a victim of scrimping on these really important essentials.

To finish on a bright note: The very adventurous climbing walls seem to be very popular with the young people. They seem to have got that right.

What a pity a small ten-pin bowling alley couldn’t have been added to this complex. As it is, I believe our families have a bit to travel for this very popular pastime. Oh well, we can’t have it all I suppose.

ELIZABETH DUMPLETON

Wilstone Drive, St Albans

Answers sought over Westfield

SIR – When it comes to Westfield, Harpenden Town Council (HTC) has behaved like Boris Johnson – on the outside, endearingly incompetent and indecisive, but concealing a “nasty piece of work” within.

HTC have really been playing the system regarding the application 5/2012/2321 for an access onto the playing field at the end of Willoughby Road. The application has been live on and off since August 29, 2012, initially submitted without any drawings whatsoever. Several other omissions later, it has been withdrawn once again. No resident would dare be so careless when submitting any application on his or her own property!

Now the district council no longer accepts comments on this application.

Thankfully, this newspaper can.

Recently, we received the local Tory newsletter In Touch, claiming only a very small number of people object to the residential development and access road at Westfield. Having checked all the comments online regarding this application, I found only one person who supported it without reservations. Out of Touch would be a more fitting description of Harpenden North Conservatives.

To date, Westfield playing field has been maintained by a sit and ride mower, without the need of a larger machine pulled by a tractor, so why now? The installation of a lockable collapsing bollard at the end of Westfield Place is one possible solution, which won’t have a detrimental effect on wildlife or the residents of Willoughby Road.

So, what is this new access really for?

This planning application shows Tory controlled HTC to be Out of Touch and out of line. It is an underhand way to sow the seeds of an access road to a housing development on the disused allotments.

The correspondence and documents relating to this planning application should remain accessible on the SADC website for many years to come. Like Boris, HTC can’t hide the past and it will be a long time before they are trusted again.

JUDITH WRIGHT

Lea Road, Harpenden

SIR – You have to marvel at the way Harpenden Town Council does community.

They have now been exposed for misleading the planning department on their application to build a “maintenance track” across Westfield Playing Field, in that they omitted to disclose that there was a Town Green application on the land itself (still awaiting final decision), and there were rare and legally protected wildlife species on the adjoining allotment and on the species habitat wildlife site next door.

Also, they omitted to disclose that they were in possession of an Ecological Survey, commissioned in 2011, which states clearly and unequivocally that any development in the area will adversely affect all the wildlife; a survey they omitted to include with their first application.

Undeterred however, the council presses ahead with their assertion that they have a “mandate” to stuff more houses into an already overdeveloped area.

They do not. HTC is a town council, not a housing authority. Its remit is municipal flowerbeds, civic occasions, farmers markets, open days and other local public events. It has no mandate to undertake building projects. Nor does it have a “manifesto”. I have checked the electoral material put out before the last local election. I find no reference to Westfield on any of it.

The suspicion must now arise that the council has some hidden agenda. Maybe a behind-the-scenes deal with a developer?

It is a reasonable explanation for why, after 10 years of futile effort and a shedload of wasted taxpayers’ money, they are still trying to force a housing estate onto a completely unsuitable landlocked site.

We in this community are not against development. We welcome it, in the right place. Indeed we have suggested on numerous occasions, and to many councillors of all political hues, that the right place is the run-down garage site in Beeching Close.

We have said that a development of one-bedroom council properties on this brownfield site would be acceptable, and could be offered to older council tenants, thus freeing up precious council houses for needy families.

We have also suggested that, in conjunction with the three major wildlife societies who have so vigorously opposed the destruction of the rare and legally protected species, the council could turn the allotment land, which is only 0.075 hectares, into a proper wildlife area, while at the same time offering a few more than the current four allotment plots to the many families finding it hard to make ends meet.

More importantly, working together with local people, a community garden, with seating, raised flowerbeds and picnic tables could be made – something which the older members of the community who do not have access to a garden, have indicated they’d like to look after.

You have to ask yourself why we are not being listened to. Why does the council continue their specious assertion that they want to build “houses for Harpenden people” on precious green space, while at the same time giving away the nomination rights to these very houses to St Albans District Council? Is skewing a planning application by omitting known material the way forward? Equally, is refusing to listen or work with local people?

So here’s a radical suggestion: why cannot the relevant portfolio holders on both councils meet with us and listen to what we have to say? We have asked for this to happen before. We repeat the request.

Meanwhile, we would appreciate both councils taking on board that WAG really does represent the views of the majority of this community. And although we are certainly “vocal”, we are not “small”. A straw poll reveals that most of us are over 5ft 9in.

CAROL HEDGES

Chair of WAG

Coldharbour Lane, Harpenden

Shelter welcome

SIR – May I thank St Stephen’s parish council for having arranged for the erection of a bus shelter outside Midway Surgery, Chiswell Green. I am sure all patients will appreciate this.

BARBARA COSTELLOE

Penn Road, Park Street

Busy morning skies

SIR – Those residents in the south of Harpenden who spent Easter at home may have noticed the almost endless drone of Luton’s departing aircraft each morning, including Sunday, from 6am until around 7.30.

That provides a useful illustration of what Luton’s management has in store for this area should they succeed in their plan to double their passenger numbers – except that there’d be almost twice the number and starting before 6am.

That’s why LADACAN is totally opposed to their plans: Luton Council, the main beneficiary of any such expansion, should be content with the £24m a year they make and not want more, “at our expense”!

JOHN DAVIS

For LADACAN

(www.ladacan.org)

Unwelcome noise from scarers

SIR – Am I the only Jersey Farm resident who is fed up with and objects to the incessant bird scarers that can be heard from dawn to dusk in this area?

Your article on March 28 regarding the noise being frightening to animals is very relevant but there is more to it than that.

I know of several local residents who are continually being woken by these noisy contraptions which seem to start just after dawn and continue through to dusk. I am one who has had my sleeping hours rudely interrupted.

The noise is much louder than previous years and this may be due the the machines being in closer proximity to residential areas. Surely noise is a form of pollution which we should not have to tolerate?

To make things even worse the noise from these machines echos through the neighbourhood so we get several repeats of the same bangs!

There are silent, alternative solutions to using these machines and some of these can be seen within a few miles of St Albans, use of these should surely be encouraged.

STEPHEN COOPER

Kingsmead, St Albans

Questions of interest

SIR – “Working for a lobbying firm while holding a council seat creates no conflict of interest, according to a St Albans district councillor”. In the famous words of Mandy Rice-Davies, “He would say that, wouldn’t he?”.

As a team director at Indigo Public Affairs, that uses the “tricks of the trade” to help developers gain planning consent, Chris White must regard himself as having esoteric understanding of planning regulations that is not possessed by mere mortals.

He proceeds to justify this help to developers by using the wonderfully vague terms, “abusing our position” and “have an interest in”.

Richard Patient, managing director of Indigo, gets rid of such obfuscation by candidly admitting why they act for developers. He says that councillors can talk to developers or community groups. Developers want the development, community groups form because they don’t. He then says that having heard both sides they “can make a well informed choice”.

Being a partner in a lobbying firm – that is paid by developers to help them gain planning consent – and a councillor, it is quite clear which side will benefit from the “well informed choice”.

CEDRIC REDIT

St Vincent Drive, St Albans

SIR – I enjoyed last week’s scoop in the Herts Advertiser, about Cllr Chris White working as a “team leader” for an agency which helps building companies get planning permission, using tricks to get them through “loop holes”.

One such “trick” is to chop all trees down on the site before applying for planning permission, then the site is just “wasteland” to the planning committee. Does Cllr White employ this stunt with his clients?

I think when they come knocking on your door at election time its best to ask the councilor, what is your actual job? Council meetings take place usually less than once a week, and its quite possible to have a “proper job” on the side, but too many of our local councilors don’t do any real “work”, they just build a portfolio of committees, allowance payments, and builder friends to consult for.

So Cllr Chris White, on top of your £15K councillor’s allowances, how much do the builders pay you for advice?

MATTHEW PECK

Hadleigh Court, Harpenden

Scandal of bank’s food speculation

SIR – Last year, global investment bank Goldman Sachs made up to £251 million from speculating on the price of basic foods like wheat, soy and maize. Food speculation drives up food prices and is contributing to the fact that nearly one in seven people worldwide are hungry.

While high food prices hit people in the world’s poorest countries hardest, people in the UK are also affected, with the cost of our weekly shop going up.

It is scandalous that banks like Goldman Sachs can get away with what is essentially gambling on food prices. Regulation to curb speculation on food is under discussion at the EU, but our government has so far attempted to block strict rules. I would like to see the UK supporting tough controls to prevent banks from pushing up prices.

VANESSA CARR

Wingate Way, St Albans

Misinformed over Sea Cadets

SIR – I was sorry to see (Letters, March 21) that Miss L Barwell still appears to have an issue with regard to the recent fund-raising by the St Albans Sea Cadets.

The young people collecting in the city centre (boys as well as girls) were raising money for charity, for which they had the appropriate licence. I am sure that the youngsters’ welfare was adequately monitored on the day. While concern for the girls’ (and boys’?) welfare may be admirable, to accuse them of begging and breaking the law is unfair and uncalled for.

The Sea Cadets is a registered charity and is a most worthwhile organisation, teaching self-reliance, confidence, and other life-enhancing skills to young people. I was pleased to read that the collection raised an appreciable amount of money due to the generosity of local people. It is a pity that Miss Barwell could not have taken a more positive view instead of the negative and ill-informed one shown in her letters.

FRANCES FITZJOHN

Richmond Walk, St Albans

Nothing fair about disabled charges

SIR – West Herts Hospital Trust cannot seriously claim that the proposed parking charges for the disabled are introduced in the name of “fairness”.

What fit person is there who begrudges the concession to the disabled? To be disabled is part of the unfairness of life, and civilisation is the means by which the lucky help the unlucky.

The truth is that the government is demanding £20 billion in cuts to the NHS, using the evasive language of ‘efficiency savings’, and the money cannot be found.

Charges for parking raise some revenue, but much of this goes to the private companies running the car parks, who claim the expense of installing gates and ticket machines or vehicle recognition equipment. Hospital patients and visitors just want a little piece of hardstanding where they can leave their vehicles for a few minutes while being attended to. The amount of parking space planned for has been totally inadequate, presumably because it was more profitable to sell off the land for housing.

Let us hope that when the survey results on this issue are known that the Trust will think again and withdraw these proposals.

GAVIN ROSS

Connaught Road, Harpenden

Trees at risk

SIR – St Albans City and District Counil (SADC) wants to fell 11 large trees next to the old railway bridge on Ambrose Lane, Harpenden. This is because they intend installing a new access ramp to the Nickey Line.

Most of these trees are environmentally important; they enhance the character and appearance of the road; they soften the skyline and conceal nearby unattractive features; and they form part of a wildlife corridor.

The proposed location of the drop-off point for this ramp is very unsuitable. There is no safe stopping or parking area nearby. Ambrose Lane is a busy rat-run. The trees are adjacent to a narrow bridge with two bends in the road, a narrow pavement in a poor condition on one side only and very poor sight lines for drivers and pedestrians. The entrance to Highfield Oval is immediately adjacent to the proposed access ramp.

Trees add value to the attractiveness of towns and councils have a legal duty to protect them. The proposed ramp could be sited where the loss of trees would be far less noticeable and the access point a little safer.

SADC has granted only a very short public consultation period: it ends on April 10. If you want to see these trees retained and the access ramp resited, take action now by going to www.stalbans.gov.uk/consultations. Then send an email to greenspaces@stalbans.gov.uk or write to the Parks and Green Spaces Team at the District Council Offices, St Peter’s Street, St Albans AL1 3JE.

ALAN & JENNY JACKSON

Lambourn Gardens, Harpenden


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