Letters, November 28, 2013, Part One

PUBLISHED: 09:59 28 November 2013 | UPDATED: 09:59 28 November 2013

Rail freight decision is life-changing

SIR – With regard to the purchase of land in St Albans by Helioslough.
This issue is apparently due to be discussed in November by Hertfordshire County Council. They are legally compelled to get the best advantage for residents over Helioslough wanting to buy the land from them for the rail terminal.
However, surely issues of such complexity are not decided by a single entry on a balance sheet but by greater considerations. Should the sale go ahead, many houses in St Albans district will be devalued, vehicular traffic will increase, poor passenger rail services will result, increased noise pollution and all the other considerations that came out in the public inquiries. So it could be said, a sale at any price is poor value for residents.

Orchard Drive, Park Street

Town council’s actions questioned

SIR – Some time ago I submitted a Freedom of Information request to Harpenden Town Council. Given the ongoing interest in the future of the Westfield playing fields, and the information I already possessed via a previous FOI, I asked for an update.
My FOI was refused, on the grounds that it would take too long and cost too much. I asked for an internal review to reconsider the request. I have just been told that the review panel upholds the Town Clerk’s initial refusal.
On the three-person review panel was: Cllr David Williams, who appeared on behalf of HTC at the county council hearing to decide my Town Green application, opening his speech by making personal remarks about me, my letters to this paper and my blog. Also on the panel was Cllr Rosemary Farmer, who in a recent conversation with a Harpenden resident (who has followed my fight to save this green site for many years), indulged in a “non-stop tirade’’ (the resident’s words) ending with the words “we will win’’. The resident was so disgusted that they have written me a long letter describing exactly what occurred.
So, this is my question: given the biased and pre-determined mindset of these two individuals towards developing the site regardless of common sense and local opinion, and against me as a local resident trying to preserve it intact for future generations, how could the outcome of the panel’s deliberations be anything but predictable?
As my correspondent remarked: ‘’For some reason our councillors seem to have forgotten that they were elected to serve the Harpenden community not for their own glorification.’’
I couldn’t have put it better myself.

Coldharbour Lane, Harpenden

SIR – It is with renewed sadness that I read of Harpenden Town Council’s latest decision regarding the former Westfield allotment site. Councillors, it seems, are incapable of listening to the continual protestations of their constituants. I do not dispute for a second that the money made from the tendering of the land will be beneficial for Harpenden Town Council, but if previous behaviour is anything to be judged on I highly doubt that the Westfield community will see any of the advantages. I am a lifelong Westfield resident and have watched as time after time infrastructure has been shunned in favour of yet more housing development. Our local primary schools once lauded for low class sizes are now at capacity. At what point will our elected officials see that, in the simplest of terms, we simply do not have the facilities to increase the population of our community?
I ask councillors to give deeper thought to the impact of removing green space for yet more housing. I ask them to consider in an area with a high percentage of social housing which would benefit the community more; an allotment and garden space residents can make their own or yet another reminder that budgetary needs come before our wishes. I ask them if 20 houses are needed in an area which is about to accommodate two new housing developments?
I have watched with great interest and frustration the actions taken over the former allotment site. At 25 years old I consider this to be my first insight into the workings of local politics, to say I have been disappointed would be an understatement. Ashamed would be a better fit.

Westfield Road, Harpenden

SIR – I read with interest your recent article ‘All this could soon be housing’. To date the council has spent £80,147.41 of our local taxpayers’ money and counting on a small plot of land earmarked for social housing.
Our Town Clerk Mr Bagshaw states that “the ultimate benefit to the Harpenden council taxpayer will be the capital receipt that will be received upon the sale of the land”.
I hadn’t realised that the council was so short of money that they had to sell off part of what we locally consider to be a “valuable community asset”.
I guess moving the library to its prime High Street location cost a little more than expected.
As part of the transfer agreement between St Albans District Council and Harpenden Town Council one of the conditions made was that part of the former allotment land would be made available to Harpenden Mencap. This is subject to said charity successfully bidding for the land.
Apart from wondering why this should be a condition shouldn’t other local charities be given the opportunity to bid and if no charity is successful what happens then, will HTC be in breach of the transfer agreement and SDC require the Westfield site be returned to their control?
Another stipulation from district council was that the remainder of the land be used for affordable residential dwellings including general needs rented accommodation, over which they would retain full nomination rights.
So HTC is trying to give away a valuable community asset for a housing development which may not specifically help Harpenden people – this is an interesting take on localism.
Why not demonstrate proper localism and give it back for the continued benefit and enjoyment of the local community?
Any access road to the proposed development site would also mean a significant loss to the existing teenage play area. Something admitted in recent correspondence with the Town Clerk John Bagshaw.
“There will be potential implications related to the teenage play area. The council will have to make decisions how this will be resolved. In most instances it will be simply relocating the play equipment to a suitable location in the recreation ground [more taxpayers’ money and counting].”
Finally I can’t imagine that any housing association would be interested in the site when they will, as stated by Mr Bagshaw, bear all the infrastructure costs including ground works, new roads and services.
There’s also the potential cost of insurance in case the owner of the ransom strip at the end of Willoughby Road finds out they’ve accessed the land without his/her consent and subsequently sues. This potentially could mean that the capital receipt received could be drastically reduced and of reduced benefit to the local community. 
I am however pleased that “any scheme would need to address the issue of Roman snails on the site” and can rest assured that would mean a proper conchological survey must be on the cards (even more taxpayers’ money and counting).

Willoughby Road, Harpenden

School could do better over coaches

SIR – Is it not a bit of a coincidence that the two letters supporting St Albans School and the stance of the headmaster have come from pupils’ parents in Harpenden (Herts Advertiser, October 17 and November 14)? They paraphrase the communication sent out by the school urging them to write to your paper.
It is nonsense to talk about who was here first and what people did or did not know. I have lived in Fishpool Street for nearly 25 years. When I moved in, the school’s daily coaches totalled four, two in the morning and two in the afternoon. I doubt even the school knew then how much expansion there would be over the years to what they are today. And the vehicles are now not only much more numerous, but many are bigger and heavier too. Goodness knows what they are doing to foundations, road surfaces and aged water mains in the surrounding streets. Will the school pay for the repairs?
Neither the present situation nor the proposed experiment solve the crux of the problem of so many coaches being drawn into and out of Romeland via the various narrow historic streets. Something has to change.
As my old school reports often said: “Could do better.” The same applies to St Albans School over the situation it has created. I believe it is capable of doing so.

Fishpool Street, St Albans

Nanny state keeps us in the dark

SIR – Yet again I find my street plunged into darkness before I go to bed. At 11.38pm the lights go out and despite paying my Council Tax, as I have in the previous 21 years I have lived in St Albans, the county council feel that I, and my fellow citizens, ought to be tucked up in bed by midnight. The trains run on for hours yet and people are still socialising but “Nanny” has decided on bedtime and we are all expected to behave.
How dare the politicians leave us all to pick our way home from work or leisure holding a torch and hoping no thief or mugger is close by. I thought that women in the 60s “Reclaimed the street” for our safety but who am I, a mere taxpayer, to determine what time I should be home?
It is my right to be out at any time I choose without risking death by uneven surface or attack. When are the people to whom we pay our taxes going to treat those they serve like grown-ups and switch the lights back on? One might think they had shares in cab companies as they say they want to promote healthy living by travelling on foot or by bike, both of which are difficult in the pitch black, but actions speak louder than words.
I have signed the petition to switch the lights back on and reported the earlier than midnight problem on the county council website. Is anyone listening? I don’t know how much it costs to keep the light on until 1am (to be reasonable) but I do know that I am prepared to pay that sum for my own and my children’s safety. I thought The Dark Ages ended long ago but it appears they began again in 2012 if only in Hertfordshire.

Charmouth Road, St.Albans

More homes means more school places

SIR – I read with interest about the sale of Beaumont playing fields for housing development. The proposed 75 houses here, together with the 348 houses proposed to be built on the Oaklands College field, adds up to a total of 423 houses being built on the doorstep of Beaumont School, which is already heavily over-subscribed. 
Like many parents I’m sure living in this area, I have big concerns over where my child will go to school. With this number of new houses, inevitably will come a large number of children (Marshalswick already has the biggest density of children under five in the district). The likelihood is that those living within the ‘normal catchment area’ for this school will be pushed out and forced to go to school miles away, possibly to a lower performing school and no doubt entailing a daily run by car (more traffic!).
Now, my question is, why am I expected to accept the potential jeopardising of my child’s education for the ‘better good’ of the redevelopment of Oaklands college to provide education for others, many of whom will not be local? What about those of us who already live here? We have a right to have our children educated locally and in their own community. Surely the city and the council have a responsibility to provide for the needs of those already living here. Why prioritise the education of someone else’s child and not mine?

Sandpit Lane, St Albans

County scuppering children’s play

SIR – I was prompted to write after watching some archive film footage on TV last week. It featured children playing in a Manchester street in the 1950s – as the camera panned along, it focussed briefly on a signpost which announced that the street was closed for play daily between certain times all the year round. I was amazed at this piece of forgotten civic history – clearly the ‘Playing Out’ movement has precedents!
Contrast this with my attempts to talk to Herts County Council about simplifying street closure for children’s play (currently you need to fill in a separate seven-page form for each closure – do the maths!)Bristol and Norwich Councils have a scheme which entails one application for the whole year. When I phoned the HCC asking to discuss this, I was told that they could not reveal the names of the officers who dealt with street closures as this was confidential! I have not received any reply to my email suggesting a meeting and offering to send details of the schemes run in other counties.
It is a very worrying development that we cannot communicate directly with HCC officials – or know their names.
It is also very sad that they have no interest in promoting initiatives which are successfully re-building a sense of community in other towns and cities. I would be glad to hear from any residents who are thinking of organising street play for their children.

St Albans Green Party

Church expansion plan is unwelcome

SIR – Congratulations to Harry Thompson who has drawn this newspaper’s attention to the proposed new church centre at St Helen’s in Wheathampstead.
Despite plans being discussed within the church for many years there has been no public consultation and only once the planning application had been submitted was the public made aware of it. Indeed, many villagers are still unaware of the proposal. At the very least, an article in the parish council magazine, which goes to every household, could have drawn people’s attention to what was planned.
We concede that the church has the need for a kitchen, toilets and a hall, which could be sub-divided into meeting rooms. However, a large two storey extension, built out of brick rather than flint, with a 13-metre glass link will totally destroy the unique setting of the Grade I listed church in the centre of the Conservation Area. Walkers and visitors approaching the churchyard from the west will be greeted by a tall brick wall and narrow walkway rather than an open view of the church and historical box tombs which are currently seen.
Cllr Johnston states that there is a shortage of local meeting rooms for community groups and the parish council as a whole seem to have jumped on the bandwagon that the proposal will be “good for the village”. The site of St Helen’s Church is not the place for new village facilities. Not only will a two-storey extension dominate and urbanise the churchyard, but the provision of four parking spaces is woefully inadequate. The current Memorial Hall site is the obvious place for any additional facilities, needed by the village as a whole, to be built.
We are concerned that many people who are in favour of the new building have not looked at all the plans submitted in the planning application. Having been to a church presentation of the new centre, it was obvious that even the project leaders are not clear on several points and were, no doubt unintentionally, giving people misleading information.
In conclusion, the current proposal is far too large for the needs of the church. We ask that members of the Plans North Committee study the plans thoroughly and consider whether the size and scale of the centre are appropriate for this sensitive, unique and beautiful location. This is the site for a small church centre, not a large village development.

Ash Grove, Wheathampstead

SIR – I’m amazed that the parish council has given its approval to these plans. We’re so lucky to have such a beautiful and historic churchyard in the centre of our village – this modern building would spoil something unique and very special.
As for Cllr David Johnston’s comments about a need for more community meeting rooms – the social club and United Churches hall recently closed down due to lack of use and now stand empty, thereby proving that this eyesore is not needed anyway!
And they want to build this unnecessary meeting facility on top of people’s graves and ‘relocate’ their headstones? It’s thoroughly insensitive and morally wrong. I wonder if Mr Johnston and the other parish councilors would be as supportive if any of those graves belonged to a dear friend or family member?

Lattimore Road, Wheathampstead

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