Letters, February 3, 2011, part two

PUBLISHED: 12:26 03 February 2011

Lodging their objections

SIR – I am delighted to see Mr David Stone in last week’s Herts Advertiser rightly reminding us all that our Abbey Theatre is still up and running with its current programme.

I have to say, however, as a patron of the theatre with my wife over several decades that a dark cloud currently hangs over our unique St Albans venue as the St Albans District Council attempts to bludgeon its New Westminster Bodge scheme through on the site to the theatre’s everlasting detriment.

May I commend all your readers to see the severe danger the theatre is now in by clicking on what opponents to the council are saying – for example Campaign group PoolTooSmall on www.pooltoosmall.com

On our home page now we have a report and pictures of the reality on site of how the Council is attempting to strangle the Abbey Theatre and its future development prospects. Here it is:

PoolTooSmall was on site today to assess the true impact of the Council plan for the New Bodge Leisure Centre after it became clear that the project is becoming delayed for “legal reasons”. Much as Council leader Donald tried to convince us last week at full council meeting that the big main contract would be signed by end January, 2011, this is more of his ruling faction’s spin and casuistry. Documents for the forthcoming Cabinet meeting on February 1 clearly indicate that Abbey Theatre has not signed any agreement with the Council. Why should they sign up to being literally strangled by a selfish, inconsiderate and incompetent SADC project team? Please look at the visual evidence for yourself in the picture above. Ahead is the Abbey Theatre. To the left is their future development space – where Council want to bludgeon their service road through. In front, to encircle them on three sides, the service road continues. And the final slap in the face literally, to the right where the red car is – the rear of the proposed New Bodge!

Abbey Theatre have been treated disgracefully by this SADC Project Team, fast becoming the laughing stock of the civic and leisure world especially after the McNamara debacle. Why is it that PoolTooSmall found the billion pound McNamara deficit in 30 seconds and the SADC Project Team failed to find it after five months ? Project Team incompetence!

Time for this incompetent SADC Project Team to put up their hands, hang their heads in shame and go back to the drawing board. That way we will save £26 million of our money and, next time, get it right!

Don’t sign anything Abbey Theatre – you will have the people’s eternal thanks.

SADC go back to the drawing board now!

A secretive SADC simply is not coming clean about the New Bodge whereas PoolTooSmall is telling you what the people think on www.pooltoosmall.com

Contact us anytime on email at newpooltoosmall@ntlworld.com here for you 24/7/365 .

David Gilroy

Park Avenue, St Albans

SIR – As anyone who wants to start their own business knows, you have to have a sound business plan in place before you can get any investors or a bank to lend you money. You also have to carry out a realistic assessment of your customer baseline.

At the recent O&S public services committee meeting, we at last got some figures and a meaningful idea of the project team business plan for gym membership which is at the core of the plan for the new Westminster Lodge facility.

They believe all adults within the whole of St Albans district between the ages of 15 and 75, some 98,500, are all only a 15 to 20 minute drive from the proposed facility!

No matter if you live in Harpenden, Redbourn, Wheathampstead, London Colney or Colney Heath, you can reach the facility at any time of the day within 15 to 20 minutes!

Was this fundamentally flawed assumption another project team error, or was it yet another ‘party political’ decision, as all residents in the district will be paying for it whether or not they can or will use it?

The project team expects that 12 per cent of the population of this supposed catchment area are potential gym members (11,800) and of that number, as Westminster Lodge will be an “iconic facility”, a third of this 12 per cent (4,000) will use the Lodge as opposed to the many competitors in the area of which I have counted at least 14 facilities with gyms.

They aim for 85 per cent of that target figure in year one, 90 per cent in year two and 95 per cent in year three, therefore achieving 20 members per fitness station (200) by year four and maintaining this figure year on year. This they expect would provide a £5,000 profit rising to £6,500 per station, equalling a yearly profit of £1m rising to £1.3m.

To obtain a third of the market is surely overly optimistic and cannot take into account the proposed privately built, owned and run facility in London Colney; with land generously donated by the St Albans District cabinet. No details of the facility mix have been announced, though I think it safe to assume that it will be crammed with fitness stations increasing the competition further.

It seems as many of us suspected, it was not a case of providing facilities that residents need, or indeed have pleaded for, befitting a publicly paid for facility, but what a lazy-minded project team thought would make the quickest buck to pay down the enormous debt and repay the housing fund raided by this cabinet to build this folly of a scheme.

Swimming is Britain’s biggest participation sport with 12 million people swimming regularly. Yet Councillor Donald says swimming pools don’t make money, completely at odds with the advice he and his cabinet colleagues were given by the head of the ASA.

The 98,500 population reach for gym membership is too optimistic by at least 20 per cent I suggest, and therefore the income projection could well fall short by at least 20 per cent. This leaves the taxpayer underwriting the shortfall.

It was finally rung out of both the cabinet and project team some time ago; we have a shortfall of swimming pools. Yet they plan to have an oversupply of fitness stations.

Within the annual audit report issued recently by the district auditor about our council he reported, “My audit identified a number of errors in the approved financial statements. The combined affect of these errors was significant and distorted the overall financial position of the Council.” These errors when rectified increased the council’s deficit from £1.1 million to £1.7 million. The cabinet is incapable of overseeing a financially competent council; this can only get worse with Westminster Bodge.

James Gregory

Tennyson Road, St.Albans

Cinema funding – the alternatives

SIR – Mr Wakely’s letter (“Waste of Resources”) in last week’s edition raises some interesting issues about funding for local cinema groups.

Harpenden Film Society was formed less than a year ago and has already established beyond doubt that there is a strong demand for large screen cinema in the town and beyond (film lovers are joining us from the surrounding villages and St Albans).

The support we have received from the community has been beyond our most optimistic projections. We have over 200 members already (our target was 100).We have raised a total of £14k through business sponsorship and membership fees, together with £500 from Harpenden Town Council’s Grant Aid scheme. This money has enabled us to purchase our own projection equipment and helped make us financially stable.

County Councillor Teresa Heritage has generously awarded us over £3,000 from her Locality Budget, and we are currently in discussions with St Albans District Council (who own Harpenden Public Halls) and Leisure Connection (the commercial company who run it) about obtaining funding for a professional standard fixed screen to be installed in the Public Halls, which would be an asset for the whole community. We estimate that the total cost for all our equipment including speakers will come to approximately £20k.

We would like to draw the attention of your readers to the “Voice Your Choice” competition which will be run shortly. Harpenden Town Council has been awarded £26k by St Albans District Council to spend on projects benefiting the economy of Harpenden. We are one of the 38 projects that will go to a public vote to determine how this money should be spent. We would ask your readers to please vote for us so we can buy a screen and sound equipment. We have a capacity of 300, and have sold out screenings and had to turn people away on several occasions. Our aim is to show some of the most interesting and acclaimed films from around the world right here on your doorstep. With tickets at just £3.50 for members, we are a low cost entertainment option for young and old alike. Please vote for us and support your local community cinema!

Obviously there are differences between a commercially run cinema screening films seven days a week, and a volunteer-run, not-for-profit community cinema showing nine screenings a season. However we would agree with Mr Wakely when he expresses concern about the amount of money which it would cost to convert the Maltings Arts Theatre to a cinema. From your previous articles we understand that they would not have the right to screen films when they are on their commercial run, but only when they come out on DVD. This would put them on the same footing as ourselves and other films societies like Rothamsted International Film Society. The question is whether there is the demand to sustain the Maltings Arts Theatre on this basis once the renovated Odyssey cinema opens in St Albans.

We would like to place on record our thanks for the support we have received so far from local businesses, St Albans District Council, Harpenden Town Council, Herts CC and the community as a whole. We are amazed at how much we have achieved in just nine months – here’s to even greater success!

Sean Gough

Chair, Harpenden Film Society

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