Letters, May 17, 2012, part one

PUBLISHED: 15:38 17 May 2012

Election aftermath

SIR – What a surprise! Harpenden remains a one-party town.

Despite the poor showing of their party nationally, Harpenden Conservatives seem to go from strength to strength.

Of course, I realise that calls for a proportional (i.e. fairer) electoral system are likely to be met with howls of derision. Even the one party that believes in proportionality has blown it by losing the referendum on the pale imitation of true PR, namely the Alternative Vote system, and by cuddling up to the Tories, most of whom would rather die than see a proportional system of voting introduced.

To those readers who do not vote Conservative, I would ask them to consider this. If, for example, Harpenden Town Council were to be elected on a proportional basis, the council would comprise something like ten Conservatives, four Lib Dems, one Labour and one Green. Can anyone honestly say that this would not be fairer than the current situation where non-Conservatives are effectively disenfranchised?

It seems to me that this is a much more important factor in enhancing democracy than the chimera of so-called “localism”, which will almost certainly mean decisions being taken by many of the same councillors as at present, only through different channels, or worse by unelected and ill-equipped “community groups”.

I do wonder how long it will be before non-Conservatives in Harpenden (and other places where one party holds overwhelming sway) come to the conclusion that taking part in the charade of first-past-the-post voting is, quite simply, a waste of time.

DR JOHN COAD

(Disillusioned ex-Lib Dem councillor)

Tuffnells Way, Harpenden

SIR – I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank the residents of South Marshalswick who came out and voted for me on May 3.

As a new candidate, I tried to meet as many residents as possible prior to the election so they might gain an understanding as to who I am, the principles I stand for and for the dedication I will give to them as their councillor.

Inevitably however, I was not able to personally visit every household and therefore would like to extend an invitation to anyone who I missed and would like to meet or speak with me, to feel free to contact me directly at any time – my door will always be open.

I feel honoured to have been elected in South Marshalwick. I understand the responsibility that has been given to me and I therefore promise to serve the ward in the coming years to the very best of my ability.

Cllr HEIDI ALLEN

Waterside, London Colney

SIR – Not wanting to sound picky, I’m afraid that your analysis of the election results is incorrect (Herts Advertiser, May 10).

The Liberal Democrats did not see “their vote increase...in Park Street”. In absolute terms they polled 133 votes less than in 2011, and out of an electorate of 5,730, they polled just 16.5 per cent of the total. Given that in losing last year they polled nearly 20 per cent of the available vote, I can’t see how that increases their position, notwithstanding that turnout was so poor that they managed to win regardless.

It would be nice to see more voters taking an interest in local elections, and using their hard-fought-for right to vote to make local politicians more accountable for their (in)action. I would be prepared to go out on a limb and say that local politics has a much greater effect on residents’ quality of life and over a shorter timeframe than national politics does. Ask anyone who wades through litter-strewn streets or pot-holed roads and precarious pavements.

STEVE BOWES-PHIPPS

Centaurus Square, Frogmore

SIR – The cabinet system of local government does not “disenfranchise whole swathes of the district”. The real turn-off that produced such a low turn-out is not to do with that part of the process, how local government works.

Why do we pay for one county councillor per division but many more than one district councillor per ward to do the same job? You are right that local government is a vital part of democracy, but so are you and your colleagues, “the local Fourth Estate”.

The problem of turn-out and turn-off can be solved by all of these democratic elements working together maturely.

Why does only one political party organisation here produce a regular newsletter for its own members and helpers? Why is that regular newsletter the only example of its kind in the whole country within that party? Most local political party leaflets ask householders to give the their email address. So, send them such a newsletter.

But mobile texts and tweets of 150 character are where the action is, say the users: “Who needs politics?”

Don’t try to regulate this “Fifth estate”, because our first three estates, the Houses of Parliament, and you and yours in the media haven’t a clue what to do about it. So, just start with little things here first: fade the blue background to your leader (why is it not also Alban yellow some weeks?) so we can read it easily. And apply “Fog Index” audit (Google it) to make it readable by youngsters. Some of them might then decide to vote at all.

MICHAEL JAMESON

Marlborough Gate, St Albans

Dogs vs cyclists park debate

SIR – I was saddened and shocked by the vehemence of your reply to my letter regarding the cycle paths through Verulamium Park. Obviously, as a dog walker, I tend to forget that not everyone likes dogs.

We all share the park, and share the pleasure of it. It is a wonderful place for all of us to use, safely and without danger – which is why I expressed my fears about the cycle paths.

However, on behalf of the sensible, well-mannered dog walkers, I would like to apologise for the irresponsible careless dog owners who give us all a bad name. I hope that bad experiences of dogs are in the minority, and hope that Mr Slavin’s future encounters are with well-trained, properly supervised dogs.

In the past, I would have suggested to Mr Slavin that he contact the dog warden if he had concerns. Sadly, in the cost cutting process that took place last year, St Albans council made her redundant. I wonder if her salary will be put towards the cost of the cycle paths?

JOYCE GOODWIN

Puddingstone Drive, St Albans

SIR – As a cyclist only too aware of the hazards on the public roads which surround Verulamium Park, I of course support the proposal to permit cycling on restricted paths across it, as a means of safe journeys and in encouraging a reduction in the need to make short car trips within the city.

Though Joyce Goodwin claims that the menace to children, dogs and adults at risk of being knocked sideways in Verulamium Park may deter many from further use of the amenity, her invitation to share a more peaceful outing in Highfield Park is curious in that most paths there have always been shared with cyclists, apparently without such qualms.

The avenue in Rothamsted Park in Harpenden has likewise been subject of a long shared path trial, with no recorded serious incidents.

The St Albans Cycle Campaign certainly participated keenly in the wide public consultation that led to the present plan, which after lengthy scrutiny has been approved as a community benefit. There is to be no general freedom to cycle through the park, and the proposed routes are being subject to design considerations to limit confrontations.

It is regretted that your correspondent experienced the trauma quoted, none of us want inconsiderate cyclists, no more than we want inconsiderate dog owners whose pets molest other users, of fail to clear up their dogs mess.

Neither are representative and there’s little reason to suppose that we cannot all share the pleasure and security of Verulamium Park with a bit of all round tolerance. Nevertheless it must be categorically understood by all cyclists that pedestrians have precedence in any situation on such shared paths.

DOUG NEVELL

(St Albans Cycle Campaign committee member)

Barnfield Road, Harpenden

SIR – I have never experienced any problems with cyclists in Verulamium Park. Dogs on the other hand charge around the park park chasing ducks, annoying walkers, barking loudly and defacating on the grass!

To the best of my knowledge cyclists do none of these things! Let’s ban dogs.

RM SHEPHARD

Coleswood Road, Harpenden

SIR – I have just read Adrian Slavin’s letter ‘Dogs are much worse’ and I totally disagree with him.

I am always walking my dog around Verulamium Park and I have never seen any dog run up to children and bark in their faces or terrorise them. I have seen dogs chase the ducks and I have told the park warden who has then told the owner off. I have seen cyclists speeding through Verulamium Lake and they have no bells on their cycles, so pedestrians cannot hear them and don’t know they are behind them. If you don’t know they are there, how can you get out of their way?

Making Verulamium Park into a cycle path is an accident waiting to happen. Cycles were made for roads, not pavements or parks.

He also said we dog owners use Verulamium Park as a giant dog toilet. Most of us dog owners are responsible and pick up our dog’s mess. Does he pick up his litter? I myself have seen loads of litter scattered around the lake and the Abbey Orchard and that is people’s mess. Give me a dog any day.

MISS MG FOSTER

Dalton Street, St Albans

SIR – With regard to the dogs and cyclists issue that has featured recently on your letters pages, the fact is that there are good and bad dog owners, and good and bad cyclists.

My dog Ruby loves everybody, despite having been rescued by the RSPCA – a barely living skeleton – from a cruel home. She would never terrorise or bite any child or adult and does not chase bicycles. In the lane where we are often walking together, most cyclists are extremely courteous, politely sounding their bell to let us know they are there, exchanging greetings as they pass, and sometimes stopping to stroke Ruby.

There are the others, however, who seem to view the lane as their personal race track, and refuse to reduce speed regardless of the presence of children or animals. The saddest encounter we have had so far was a man telling his young son to run his bike into Ruby. The confused boy had more sense than his father and chose to ignore him, but this is the type of attitude that gets cyclists a bad name, just as irresponsible owners get dogs a bad name.

Don’t blame cycling; don’t blame dogs: blame idiots who ride bikes and idiots who own dogs.

LEE DUMPLETON

The Ridgeway, St Albans

Now nursery places are in crisis

SIR – The nursery allocations have now come out and it would seem that we have no nursery place. People are being offered two places by the county which is ridiculous given that some people have nothing.

It seems to me that the county are unable to control this situation as well as pre-school teachers who have managed to give spaces to all of the children I know.

Maybe I am an angry parent, however these people are dealing with our children’s lives and future

JANE RAY

The Uplands, Harpenden

Quality of decisions is suffering

SIR – Your correspondence re. King Harry Park (May 3) cannot go unanswered – and shooting the messenger is certainly not the solution.

At Plans Central on April 2 the members were clearly unhappy with the proposals and so a deferral was agreed to allow the officers further time to consider their recommendation which – contrary to the inspector’s decision – essentially was to permit another executive housing estate.

At the subsequent meeting the officers’ report sadly added nothing new to the debate – and in addition members were twice forcefully reminded of a previous successful appeal on this site which resulted in significant legal costs being awarded against the council.

Despite the valiant efforts of Cllr Teare (as chairman ) – who argued that at the very least the “affordable housing” calculation should be re-visited and myself – who proposed that the “cumulative impact” of the changes was now a material consideration – the officers remained unmoved.

Whether or not they were dazzled by the prospect of the c£300k in S106 monies on offer we shall never know – but at the stroke of a pen Berkeley Homes were likely to pocket c£5m in additional profit (a comment ruled out of order on the night).

I would suggest that the current pre-occupation with ticking performance boxes is inevitably impacting upon the quality of the decision-making process.

In protest at this latest debacle I immediately left the meeting in disgust – and have resolved not to participate further as a councillor in the planning process.

Having said that none of these things will be evident for the minutes. Let residents not be in any doubt – there are good people at the council – but whilst we continue to observe established custom and practice, Alice is alive and well and living in AL1.

ROD PERKS

Lib Dem councillor for Marshalswick South

We must support Music Centre

SIR – My heart goes out to Elizabeth Barber and colleagues who are struggling to keep St Albans Music Centre afloat in a “very difficult sea”. Without more support the business may have to close.

The shop truly is one of our outstanding independent specialist retailers and provides a real service to our community. Most big high street chains can only dream of giving the level of customer service that Elizabeth believes is essential.

However the shop is finding these tough economic times very difficult. Competition from the internet doesn’t help.

Since Quench bookshop had to close, the Music Centre is no longer able to share the costs of running their premises. And to add to their problems they face another big increase in business rates.

I can really identify with this struggle because, in 2007, we had to close our own shop in Holywell Hill (Paton Books). So St Albans please get behind the Music Centre and don’t let them go the same way.

If you are a musician who doesn’t already use them, please give them a try. Also, if the council are able to assist them with their business rates, the Music Centre really does deserve supporting.

RICHARD CHILD

Old Garden Court, St Albans

A&E situation is a real scandal

SIR – I wholeheartedly agree with Mr Kilpatrick’s letter regarding the closure of A&E facilities. It is a scandal that this city has no A&E and the fact that they have closed Hemel and now the QEII.

A member of my family has severe health problems and has been in and out of hospital. Most recently he was admitted to Watford which is an absolute nightmare to get to and then when you do you can’t park.

I brought this to the attention of councillors and our MP during the last election, but thy were not interested.

This is an absolute scandal when we can give the IMF millions, send millions to India, spend money on Afghanistan and Iraq and now have to pay over £67,000 per annum to keep Charles Taylor in prison, yet we don’t have enough money for a hospital in this city.

People need definitely to voice their concerns more openly.

LINDA RYAN

Mile House Close, St Albans

Park the right way

SIR – The Highway Code states that, according to the law “you MUST NOT park on a road at night facing against the direction of the traffic flow unless in a recognised parking space.”

It is quite obvious, from looking at the streets and talking to car-drivers, that most people are either unaware of this regulation or can’t be bothered to obey it .

Now that street lights are being turned off in the area, and the law no longer demands that cars should have their lights on, it seems to me that the police should enforce the law before we have a spate of accidents.

ELIZABETH RAYNER

Wordsworth Road

Harpenden

Identifying planes would aid argument

SIR – The argument about whether the Luton aircraft flight paths are kept to seems pointless if we cannot identify the planes going overhead. Why not make all aircraft identifiable by having the registration number painted across the bottom side of the wings? Come to that,why not have car registration numbers on the roof so that they can be identified by police helicopters?

RICHARD DURRANT

Park Avenue, St Albans

Reckless students should be prosecuted

SIR – Having read your front page article about work experience students causing mayhem at the council, the headmaster of Roundwood Park School is quoted as saying he would “take appropriate action in due course”. Surely the only appropriate action in this case is for a charge of criminal damage to be brought against these two vandals.

An appearance in the Youth Court of St Albans Magistrates’ and subsequent punishment might help them to see the error of their ways before their anti-social behaviour has a chance to escalate.

Hopefully their parents’ would support this course of action. After all, if vandals wreaked similar havoc on their property they would expect the perpetrators to be brought to justice.

I do not agree with your suggestion that the council were at fault.

These were fourteen year old pupils on work experience, i.e. experiencing what life is like at work, not two nursery school pupils requiring constant supervision (I’m sure their end of work experience report will make interesting reading for any future employers).

They have let down their school, their parents, their ‘employers’ and ultimately themselves, and have caused hundreds of pounds worth of damage to council property and distress to council employees for which there should be some serious reparation.

NAME & ADDRESS WITHHELD (With editor’s consent)

1950s reporting values?

SIR – Reading the article on the jilted boyfriend who slashed his ex-girlfriend’s horse (May 3), I noted that you referred to Nathalie Kelderman as “blonde-haired” Miss Kelderman, yet made no reference to the colour of Sebastiano Mauro’s hair.

In reporting news, surely it is preferable to represent both sides?

Better still, make sure that your news reporting represents modern values, rather than those of the 1950s.

SAMANTHA ROBINSON

St Albans

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