Letters, June 6, 2013

PUBLISHED: 09:51 06 June 2013 | UPDATED: 09:51 06 June 2013

Democracy, Harpenden style

SIR – Just before Christmas, a public inquiry was held to decide whether Westfield Playing Fields in Harpenden could be registered as a Town Green. Local residents contributed witness statements, documents, filled in evidence questionnaires and allowed themselves to be photographed using the field for “lawful sports and pastimes”.

However, instead of acceding to their wishes, Harpenden Town Council chose to expend a great deal of taxpayers’ money on hiring a barrister to oppose them. Many of the reasons why may lie in the “Transfer Plan” passing ownership of the field from St Albans district council to HTC .

In this document it was agreed between the two councils that the transfer of the playing fields was granted subject to the adjacent allotment land being turned into a housing estate, fed by an access road, crossing the landlocked field at Willoughby Road. The deal was sold to residents as getting the land back to use as “public amenity space”.

However, even before the independent inspector’s report was sent, HTC submitted a planning application for what they euphemistically described as “access” to the field.

This planning application failed to indicate there were protected wildlife species on the allotment land, omitted to say there was a Town Green decision pending on the field, and initially did not supply an Ecological Report commissioned by his own council in 2011. The report clearly indicates the damage any development would have on the rich biodiversity of the area.

An official complaint about the application was submitted to the monitoring officer, along with additional supporting material obtained under Freedom of Information.

In any other organisation or business this should have resulted in disciplinary action being taken. Instead, a large bucket of whitewash was produced, wagons were circled and nothing was done.

When it finally arrived, the report from the inspector recommended refusal, or the possibility of awaiting the outcome of an appeal on another very similar Town Green case (the Barkas Case) which had been refused, but was undergoing an appeal to the Supreme Court.

The Rights of Way Unit at the county council decided, and I believe wisely decided, to go with this latter recommendation, given the strong feelings of the local community.

However, ex-Mayor Cllr Nicola Linacre, on behalf of her colleagues, but not on behalf of the residents she and they were elected to serve, has launched an objection to this recommendation. More money has been spent getting their barrister’s opinion that the Town Green must be decided before the appeal is heard. ( I cannot help but speculate how different the actions of the council might be if this field were situated on the other side of the dividing line of the High Street.)

Words like unbelievable barely come near describing the council’s actions. The Barkas Case appeal will be handed down in 2014. Is it not beyond the realms of decency and respect for local people to await this decision?

Given the strength of local opposition to yet more encroachment upon our dwindling green space? Especially as HTC acquired the land, so they say, to use as “public amenity space”. Apparently not, and maybe for another very good reason.

In his report, the council’s barrister states that any delay could be prejudicial to HTC, which “may have plans for the land”. As indeed they have.

Also contained within the “Transfer Plan” is a clause giving HTC future permission to sell off portions of the playing field, with SADC having first refusal if, and whenever they choose to do so.

As a further “incentive” to the county council to play ball, the threat of legal action has been made. Given the huge cost of such a procedure, the outcome of the final decision can probably be predicted.

How low can they go? It is not enough that Harpenden Town Council has behaved with callous arrogance to local residents for many years, treating them with contempt, riding roughshod over their wishes and refusing to consult, listen or work with them.

It has allegedly skewed a planning application for its own ends, choosing to omit crucial information. Now we are faced with the ludicrous situation of a Tory council threatening to sue another Tory council, at taxpayers’ expense, for suggesting a course of action that favours its own residents.

Seriously, you couldn’t make it up if you tried.

Yours disgustedly,

CAROL HEDGES

Coldharbour Lane, Harpenden

Station closure is nail in the coffin

SIR – With reference to your front page of May 23, ‘Police cuts threaten face-to-face service’, and your editorial.

It seems to me that at roughly half the cost of the Police and Crime Commissioner hiring a new PR guru (spin doctor to you and me) St Albans police station front desk can remain open. An interesting choice for the PCC to make.

We are advised that this is all due to a Government cut in funding of £39M (£38M according to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, but what is a million between friends?). Either way an interesting figure since we were advised last year that there was already a shortfall of £73M.

Perhaps the PCC’s Chief Financial Officer can advise us as he also fulfills the same role for Hertfordshire Constabulary.

Or the Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner, or the Chief Executive, the Deputy Chief Executive, the Assistant Chief Executive or the heads of departments such as Business Management, Performance and Policy, Compliance, Policy Development, Executive Assistant, Internship or even a plain old member of staff (hierarchy taken from the PCC’s website).

So what is wrong with using the phone on the outside of the police station, as, for example, in Harpenden? Potentially a number of things of which possibly the most important is getting someone to listen and advise face-to-face, and understand.

I say this because of an interesting review of Hertfordshire Police by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary last year. It said: “HMIC looked at 120 incident records created by Hertfordshire Constabulary as a result of calls for assistance from the public. This is a small sample compared to the 2,200 calls that the Constabulary typically receives each day, but it provides an indicator of how accurately crime is being recorded. Seven had been closed without a crime being properly recorded...”

So that’s all right then – unless you gross up these figures. Out of 120 cases, 113 were handled correctly.

But seven were not which, grossed up on a daily basis gives, roughly, a figure of 128, or 896 per week.

On the basis of the HMIC review, then, we can say that annually some 46,000 cases are closed without a crime being properly closed! Possibly the call centre should be outsourced to Mumbai.

Add to this the question in your editorial: “When did you last see a police officer patrolling the city centre streets of St Albans?” As another study by HMRC (Demanding times, The front line and police visibility, 2011) says: “Previous research indicates that one of the most successful ways of increasing police effectiveness is by improving the visibility of (and so familiarity with) the police through foot patrols and problem-solving in the community.”

It seems the beat does not go on.

C COWLAND

Gorham Drive, St Albans

SIR – After reading the article about closing the front desk at our police station (Herts Advertiser front page, May 23), this must be the last nail in the coffin with regard to our so-called city. Maybe it is time to take the name city out of St Albans as we have lost our hospital and Oaklands College, cinema and our High Street.

I found David Lloyd’s statement extremely patronising, saying that the public should use a phone or use the internet. What about the elderly who have no internet? If a person has their purse stolen, they know that they could go to the police station and report it straightaway, face-to-face. It gives people some sort of security, especially now as we have no police presence on our streets. If you do see a policeman nowadays walking the beat, you stand back aghast as it is so rare today.

Who invented this job for David Lloyd and his sidekick? Surely what he is being paid should be the first thing to be cut. I don’t know anyone who voted for him to become crime commissioner. Why are these job titles trumped up for people which are not needed?

What the people of St Albans need is to feel safe and secure to walk the streets of St Albans, no matter what time of day. I can actually remember the days when the police would walk the beat at day and night but those days have gone.

We must make a stand with regard to the front desk at our police station, otherwise St Albans is no longer a city. Also bring back a police presence on to our streets which is greatly needed.

MRS MS PATERSON

Liverpool Road, St Albans

Not everyone is on the internet

SIR – Why do most advertisements only print a “web” address?

After seeing the advertisement abut the reopening of the Home of Rest for Horses, I thought I would like to visit – but there was no address included on the advertisement.

When I phoned the number given there was a message to say that, “it would re-open in May” and reported information about hurt animals, etc..

There was a note (verbal) suggesting one could leave a message “after the tone” but there was no “tone”, just a repeat of messages.

Perhaps you could suggest to your advertisers that they give addresses in the circumstances (perhaps they make money from their phone)?

Many advertisers (not only in the Herts Advertiser) give phone numbers but do not say what hours they are open so one wastes money trying to contact them

MISS L BARWELL

Old Watling Street, Flamstead

Don’t judge me on first appearances

SIR – May I through your letters pages explain something? I am weak and shaky on my legs and stagger about and stagger around. I give the appearance I’m drunk – well I’m not, I’m in the early stages of Parkinson’s.

This is to the people who stare at me strangely in the city centre and The Quadrant in Marshalswick – stop thinking I’m drunk and ask me what’s wrong instead of giving me dirty looks all the time.

May I thank the man/woman who asked me if I was alright when I was sitting by the Waterend Barn on Wednesday afternoon, May 22.

PETER SMITH

Perrycoste Court,

Taylor Close, St Albans

Greens vs UKIP row rumbles on

SIR – I presume that the rambling rant against UKIP from Simon Grover (Herts Advertiser letters, May 23) was his reaction to the relatively poor showing by his Green Party in the recent county council elections.

He cites some obscure survey claiming that Green Party policies are far more popular with the public than are UKIP policies. However the electorate clearly does not share this view. In the seven divisions where UKIP and the Greens were in opposition, the Greens received well under half the number of votes that were cast for UKIP.

I have supported UKIP since the party’s inception for the very basic reason that I believe in parliamentary democracy. This system used to be the practice in this country until we joined the European Union.

Since then successive British governments have given increasing amounts of power over to the EU such that some 75 per cent of our laws now come from that body. The so-called EU parliament is clearly no democracy insofar as it has no power to initiate legislation nor to modify any, nor to repeal any that has previously been passed.

All significant power resides with the EU Commission. This is an unelected body which alone decides what legislation goes before the EU parliament. It may indeed be wondered just how much work is left for our Westminster parliament to do, apart from our MPs deciding upon their level of expenses.

Incidentally I understand that the Green Party remains fully committed to Britain’s membership of the EU.

DR JOHN BUTCHER

Saberton Close, Redbourn

SIR – Your correspondent from UKIP went on the attack in last week’s letters, telling us, as if we didn’t know, that his party has seen a rise in votes recently.

The point I was making in my previous letter is that this is largely due to the extraordinary amount of attention that the media gives to them, considering how small they are – no MPs, no Assembly members, and the same number of councillors as the Greens.

Unfortunately, any party that takes gutter press headlines that sensationalise phobias about “others”, and turns them in to policy positions, is going to get a lot of votes. They are also the beneficiaries of the big parties’ failure to engage voters.

The people behind UKIP itself may or may not be, as the Prime Minister described them “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists”, but they are certainly not good representatives.

Barely a week goes by without news of another resignation of a UKIP councillor, either shamed by their racist comments on Facebook, or realising that they are just not interested in the job. Their leader doesn’t set much of an example – as an MEP he sits on the EU Fisheries Committee, but has attended only one out of 30 meetings.

Your correspondent points out that UKIP has recently got more votes than the Greens. Attracting attention, however, doesn’t necessarily mean you have anything useful or important to offer the country or the community.

My point, which your correspondent does not address, is that the Green message of respect for each other and for the finite resources of our world, is, by contrast, vitally important. And when people stop to look at Green policies, more people agree with them than any other party. That’s the argument that Downing Street should be listening to, instead of media-fuelled xenophobia.

I urge any interested readers to take a look at the policies for themselves. Our local ones are at stalbans.greenparty.org.uk/minimanifesto, and our national ones at policy.greenparty.org.uk. And, if you have the stomach, why not check out ukip.org while you’re at it.

CLLR SIMON GROVER

Green Party, St Albans

Countess controversy

SIR – In response to Roger Thomas (May 30), I was never questioning the merits of Highfield Park as his letter connotes that I had.

Does it seem unreasonable to him that in one of the three articles, based heavily on the Countess’ personal qualities, there should be a mention of these “blood-stained gifts” (Peter Tatchell)? Considering her choice of footwear was mentioned, it does not appear that the pieces were cramped for space on her personality, rather than the woodland.

If unlike myself, you had not heard of the Bahraini jewels incident, these articles would portray her as a “very special and beautiful lady” – this, it seems to me, is highly questionable (my judgement may be harsh here, after all, she was able to have a conversation).

JONNY HALL

Briar Road, St Albans

Investment wasted at Verulamium

SIR – Although it was lovely to see in these pages last week a picture of Mayor Annie Brewster’s finely turned ankles at the opening of the new beach volleyball courts I couldn’t help but wonder (whilst reading the suitably gushing accompanying prose) at the gross misallocation of resources that led to us investing in facilities for this most minor of minority sports.

I have nothing against beach volleyball, few red-blooded males do, but how can we have money for this when the hoards of people who play football and cricket in the park each weekend have to play on a hillside?

If one were to write a “top 100 ways to invest in Verulamium Park” list, I doubt beach volleyball would make it in. I understand the funding came from grants and donations of sand, but it still ultimately all cost us something, money that I feel could have been better spent.

Ditto the Adidas-branded fitness area. Not only does it look particularly ugly and out of place with its urban styling in what is a managed rural environment, I have also never seen anyone do any fitness training on it. Instead it seems to act merely as an unsafe overspill children’s play area (certainly that’s how my family uses it).

Now, instead of my “top 100” I give you my “top five”:

1. Some flower beds – yes, some actual gardens rather than patches of nettles and overgrown copses;

2. A new, much larger and more interesting play area – this is a big draw for the families in the area and is currently (at best) underwhelming and jaded. Ever seen the play area in Hyde Park? One of those please!

3. Level playing areas for the football and cricket – buy some topsoil in, level off and add grass seed. Easy;

4. More native trees and a proper coppicing programme. Remove the self-seeded sycamores that are taking over;

5. A big mound of earth. Could be a fort (or whatever your imagination allows) in the summer and a tobogganing hill in the winter;

6. Some water fountains (maths, not my strong point).

NICK CHIVERS

Jerome Drive, St Albans

Selective memory over NOHAG vote

SIR – Unsurprisingly Sandridge Parish Cllr Bolton has a selective memory about what happened at St Albans district council’s meeting on November 28 2012 when Cllr Beric Read and his Conservative friends voted against Item Four of the NOHAG recommendation.

I will remind her of the wording of Item Four: “Oaklands should retain its Green Belt green field status in any future policy review or boundary change to prevent urban sprawl and coalescence with Hatfield.”

It is recorded in the council minutes on St Albans DC website – Agendas & minutes Council Meeting November 28 2012 – that all opposition councillors in a nam-by-name recorded vote supported retaining Oaklands in the Green Belt.

Conservative councillors including Cllr Read voted against the Green Belt status for Oaklands. This could have sent a signal to the developers that they could expect Conservative support when the plans are presented.

This is the record of support for Oaklands by the Conservatives. Weasel words from Ms Bolton and her friends will cut no ice with the many local residents who were present at the council meeting on November 28. She and her Conservative friends need to apologise to local residents for letting them down.

GEOFF CHURCHARD

Lib Dem County Cllr – Sandridge Division

Pondfield Crescent, St Albans

Chequer Street closure chaos

SIR – Further to your article saying the roadworks needed to close Chequer Street for 10 days, I wonder whether 1) it couldn’t be done more quickly; 2) one side of the road could be open until unavoidable to close both and 3) there was any reason to close it on the Monday when nobody was working on it late in the day and all they had done was erect street furniture to block traffic.

Also there may be problems for buses crossing each other’s path as they turn between St Peter’s Street and Victoria Street, but did the traffic lights need to stay on? When the lights aren’t working, I assume people cope with this corner safely...

On a separate issue if you have space to include this, I just want to say well done for being flexible enough to include longer letters than the “maximum” recently, when they contained solid, useful information about green issues.

S BEAVER

London Road, St Albans

Disabled parking fees scrapped

SIR – As a member of the Local Services Scrutiny Committee, at SADC, I am extremely pleased to hear that West Herts NHS will not be charging Blue Badge holders to park in their hospitals.

We as a council “called in” the Trust to explain why they were considering this. Chief executive Samantha Jones was extremely open and honest in her answers, explaining that they were awaiting results of a public consultation before making any decisions.

As a result of a majority of the public being against a charge they have decided not to.

I also bought up the unfairness of a set charge for parking, they are now introducing a graduated charge by August.

Well done Samantha Jones.

CLLR SIMON CALDER

London Colney Ward

Norris Close, London Colney

Credit where it’s due at Chelsea

SIR – I enjoyed Deborah Catchpole’s feature on the Chelsea Flower Show.

It seemed a pity she didn’t research the piece on the Herbert Smith Freehills garden for WaterAid a little deeper, as it was constructed by Ruperts Landscapes of Childwickbury Goats and I know Russell Brook, who was proud of the gold medal and recently did some lovely work in my garden, would have been delighted to have received a mention in the article.

JEREMY BIRKETT

Bury Green Cottages, Wheathampstead


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