Letters, May 10, 2012

PUBLISHED: 11:10 10 May 2012

Blind to flights?

SIR – Steve Pryor of Harpenden claims in his response to John Davis’ letter that Luton planes droning overhead is not true. Steve Pryor states he could hear and see planes “last Friday” but not over Harpenden.

Steve should realise that the route Luton take-offs follow depends on wind direction. If there is any east in the wind then almost ALL Luton take-offs heading west fly directly over the centre of Harpenden. I attach a set of plots for daytime on May 1 this year (above), in relation to Harpenden. The wind was largely in the east. Interestingly in these easterly wind conditions NO Luton departures fly anywhere near St Albans.

PETER SWINSON

Cambridge Road, St Albans

SIR – Mr Pryor, with his assertion (April 26) that Luton planes don’t overfly Harpenden, must be one of the most unobservant folk around. Obviously they do, as he would see from the published radar tracks – but perhaps he doesn’t believe those either.

As to road traffic, simple arithmetic shows that an additional six million passengers a year accessing the airport mainly by car, friend’s car or taxi, even assuming many use the M1, will add some thousand extra vehicles a day (coming from other directions) to the local road network.

In contrast to Mr Pryor’s rhetoric, your own editorial (April 19) made a series of entirely valid points, including the suggestion that it would be fairer if Luton’s planes went more over Luton, the financial beneficiary of all this extra activity. Interestingly, LADACAN put forward such a plan in the early 70s (the “northerly route”) whereby westbound planes being told to take off into the east – common in spring/early summer – would veer sharply to the left, rather than to the right as currently, taking them back over north Luton.

Much to the disappointment of the “Serve ’em right brigade”(!) of the time, it was deemed impractical due to possible conflict with military aircraft from a now long-closed airfield in Oxfordshire; but now?! (no, it still wouldn’t work! – 10 times the number of flights as then).

JOHN DAVIS

LADACAN (www.ladacan.org)

SIR – If Steve Pryor thinks that planes from Luton do not fly over Harpenden he must walk round with his eyes closed and wear ear plugs.

I live in Roundfield Avenue and my brother lives in Crabtree Lane and we get planes from Luton flying right overhead regardless of which runway they are using. We not only hear them, we see them as well. Planes do fly over Harpenden close enough for me to photograph them and to be able to identify the airlines. If you are denying this fact then you must be a shareholder in Luton Airport

JOHN OLLEY

Roundfield Avenue, Harpenden

SIR – David Mosberg and Pauline Wilson (Letters, May 3) have wrongly assumed that as I live in Granby Avenue this was where I observed planes following the flightpath to the west of Harpenden.

This is an incorrect assumption – I was actually on Harpenden Golf Course ironically near to where Mr Mosberg lives on West Common.

So I was not talking from my ivory tower but simply observing that the problem of aircraft noise for Harpenden residents is nowhere as bad as some would want us to believe.

I was questioning the exaggeration of the volume of planes and indeed Mr Mosberg seems to agree with me – he states “aircraft do not fly directly above Harpenden” – it is the exception rather than the rule. This view is supported in the article ‘Airport apologises for flights disturbing St Albans residents’ in which the map shows minmal flights over the Harpenden area in a nine-hour time slot. So I repeat my request – please cut out the scaremongering.

STEVE PRYOR

Granby Avenue, Harpenden

County shame over school places

SIR – May I offer my sympathy to the families in Harpenden (and not forgetting the surrounding villages) who’ve failed to get a place at any primary school in the district. Herts County Council say applications for primary places were up six per cent this year across the county which meant they needed 800 more places – another class at 28 schools.

I was very interested to read the recent interview with Michael Gove, Tory education secretary, in particular his comments that academies offer greater freedom and opportunities. Michael Gove said: “Being an academy means the school can make sure it absolutely meets the needs of the community... Schools benefit from becoming academies too, like Samuel Ryder which is improving fast and as a result of these improvements it’s going to become – I can confidently predict – oversubscribed.”

As one of many Wheathampstead families on Continuing Interest for a Harpenden/St Albans secondary school place and about to undertake three appeal hearings for our nearest three schools, we’ve obviously been in communication with HCC since March 1 and one documented email received the following reply from Kate Leahy, senior planning officer, school planning, Herts County Council: “I have already spoken to all the schools at great length about taking any further additional pupils, and I am afraid that is not something we are able to pursue further this year.

“All the schools are academy or Voluntary Aided, which mean they are their own admitting authority and are responsible for deciding the number of pupils they can admit as well as publishing their own admission rules. As a local authority we work closely with these local schools and have exhausted discussion about additional places for this academic year.”

Taking Gove in hand: “Obviously, we want the best possible buildings but the real issue with the population growing is that we need more school places”. Mr Gove said such places took time to create but that the first step was to provide primary places. In due course the focus would move to providing secondary places, particularly in and around Harpenden where there was a shortfall in the number of places available: “We’ve given money to Herts County Council specifically to allow them to expand existing schools or establish new schools ...”

So where has the money, received by Herts County council, been spent? Harpenden Parents Group (HPG) claim that HCC has failed to heed their warnings that this year the shortfall would be more severe than last year. How can HCC get the figures so wrong? Where are all these extra children coming from? If there’s a shortfall in primary school places now then these same children will find themselves without a preferred secondary school place in the future!

I’m sure HCC are being thorough with their checks on postal code renters but are they asking the right questions, i.e.: “How long have you been renting?”, “Do you own a property elsewhere?” If yes, “Is the other property rented out or lived in?” “Is the other property under offer or sold?”, etc.

In your recent front page article, one distraught mother said: “Why are parents having to fight so hard for the fundamental right to have their children educated at their local school?”

The Wheathampstead parents (as a group) feel HCC can make small changes to the admissions process, therefore enabling those families with a non-ranked allocation more likely to gain a place on CI, e.g. those families offered their second or third choice of school should not be allowed to stay on CI.

If parents still want their second or first choice of school then be prepared to argue your case for that “better place” at an appeal hearing. Why should those families without a school have to attend up to three appeal hearings and argue their cases? If the CI rules were changed by HCC then more families would benefit in the long run.

I’m sure many parents reading this now will be appalled at such an idea but spare a thought for those parents whose children don’t have a preferred school and be happy to accept one of your chosen three but also accept you need to argue your case for your second or first choice at an appeal hearing. I can absolutely say, hand on heart, this has been, and continues to be, the most stressful thing I’ve ever had to deal with and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

This problem won’t go away!

T DOWNING

Marford Road, Wheathampstead

Growing gaps in city centre

SIR – On Saturday, April 28, I paid a visit to the St Albans Music Centre on Holywell Hill – a shop that I have frequented periodically for most of my life.

I was dismayed, if not entirely surprised, to be told by Miss Barber (the proprietor) that she was just “weeks away” from calling it a day and closing up for good. This was doubly painful it seemed, as she had just received a nomination for a retail award.

The reason she gave for being so close to folding was that the council rents on Holywell Hill had become prohibitively expensive.

I am realistic enough to realise that this will not be the only reason why the shop is encountering difficulties – we are in a recession, some bigger named shops have disappeared from the city centre and traditional book and sheet-music retailers are struggling to compete with the internet.

However, St Albans is an affluent, cathedral city in the prosperous south east. We support three independent schools with thriving music departments – not to mention over-subscribed state schools with similarly high reputations for music. There are numerous choirs, orchestras and amateur operatic and dramatic groups in the locality and umpteen instrumental teachers operating both privately and through the county music service (of which I am one). There is, therefore, really no reason why St Albans should not be able to sustain a traditional music shop.

It seems to me that the council needs to ask itself two questions. First of all, what sort of retail experience do we wish to offer potential customers – both local and visiting? Do we simply want more of the same names that one can find anywhere, or are we aiming to match the city’s attractive centre with similarly individual, independent stores? If the latter is the answer, then surely the council needs to recognise its own role in supporting local businesses.

Secondly, whilst I am admittedly no expert on business rental rates, surely it is better for the council to lower its prices and receive some rental income than to maintain high rates and lose revenue since businesses are simply unable to afford them?

From a national perspective, I understand that St Albans is doing pretty well in maintaining a relatively thriving shopping centre in lean times.

However, nobody can fail to notice the gap-toothed effect of empty units in St Peter’s Street and Holywell Hill. It strikes me that if the council continues on its current path, the streetscape in the centre of the city is going to become a whole lot gappier – and we are all poorer as a result.

MATTHEW WOODWARD

Wyedale, London Colney

Action needed over taxi spaces

SIR – I wholeheartedly endorse the points made by Victor Lowry (‘Too many taxis at Harpenden Station’, April 26).

He asks three questions and I will add a fourth – why, on a regular basis, is there a taxi to be seen parked in one of the three parking spaces allocated to the public? On Sunday, April 29, at about 10.30am I found all three spaces filled by taxis whilst the allocated taxi spaces were mostly empty! Needless to say I parked in a taxi space.

The situation is indeed farcical – and dangerous particularly at peak times. Surely the licensing authority should intervene to resolve the situation, or the council, and maybe regular visits by traffic wardens would not go amiss.

JR GUNNING

Field Close, Harpenden

SIR – Paul Briggs (Herts Advertiser, May 3) draws attention to “the proliferation of taxis at Harpenden station”.

Two or three years ago their number reached a level where an unofficial “overspill” taxi rank established itself in Stewart Road, approximately a third of a mile from the station.

The taxi drivers take unfair advantage of a parking concession granted to Elms Surgery patients who are unable to find spaces in the surgery’s own car park.

One hour’s kerbside parking is permitted along the 100 yard stretch of Stewart Road between the surgery and Carlton Road. But I have counted as many as nine taxis occupying that length of available parking.

Alright, one or two of those taxis might have brought patients to the surgery and were waiting to take them home again; but not nine.

The signs which make clear that parking in Stewart Road is for one hour only should say “no taxis”. Those who call a cab to take them to the surgery would in any case be better advised, from a cost point of view, to call for another cab at the end of their medical consultation.

ALAN BUNTING

Ridgewood Drive, Harpenden

Energy figures are out of date

SIR – Allan Siao Ming Witherick (May 3 edition) quotes the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) as saying that our energy bills will be seven per cent lower in 2020 than they would have been without EU requirements for the use of wind power, solar panels, etc.

These are old figures which were produced at the behest of the then DECC Minister; that pillar of integrity, Lib-Dem Chris Huhne. The figures were rigged by assuming an astronomical escalation of fossil fuel prices by 2020. In fact, the price of coal and natural gas has recently fallen. The price of gas is unlikely to rise for many years as there is now a glut of natural gas in the USA and they no longer import it.

Lying about energy matters is an old habit of the civil servants. My school textbooks boasted that Britain had a plant for converting coal to oil for the war effort. No such plant ever existed and no civil servant ever got the sack for lying on behalf of a Minister.

RICHARD DURRANT

Park Avenue, St Albans

Dogs much worse

SIR – I read a letter from dog lover Joyce Goodwin deriding the behaviour of cyclists with some amusement (May 3).

Talk about the pot calling the kettle black! Ask any parent what the biggest hazard in Verulanium Park is and they will tell you it is dogs. Give me a bike over a dog in the park any day.

Bikes don’t terrorise children by running at them and barking in their faces, bikes don’t chase the many birds who make their home in the lake (or slurry pit as it is now known), bikes don’t treat the park as a giant toilet and bikes tend not to have arrogant owners who think their bike is the centre of the universe and can do no wrong.

If you ever speak to a dog owner about the unruly behaviour of their dog you are usually given short shrift, I have learnt over time that you would get more sense out of the dog than the owner.

As for Ms Goodwin’s assertion that cyclists are deliberately trying to cycle in to dogs, it is frankly “barking”.

ADRIAN SLAVIN

Flora Grove, St Albans

No sense in splash park closure

SIR – Can we have some common sense on the decision to close the splash park due to water restrictions.

It already uses recycled water and is only topped up from the mains. With water at about £1 per cubic metre are we really talking about significant amounts of money here?

Has the council done the maths, and if so let us know what they plan to spend the saving on? As you reported the splash park attracts “thousands” each year.

I suggest that a paltry donation of 10p per user would easily cover the incremental cost for a few cubic metres of water to support the impoverished shareholders at Veolia. The splash park is a great addition to the park and shouldnt be closed due to petty, poorly though-out regulations.

TIM SMITH

Westfields, St Albans

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