Letters, November 4, 2010, part two

PUBLISHED: 12:32 04 November 2010

Pool scheme concerns continue

SIR – I refer to your recent front page article (St Albans edition, October 21 – Harpenden residents can read the e-edition online at www.hertsad24.co.uk) on the debacle over the 19-month negotiations to end the lease of Bricket Wood sports complex.

When will the skullduggery, ineptitude and monumental waste of taxpayers’ money surrounding the cabinet’s plans for new leisure facilities ever cease?

Prior to making the decision to close the Bricket Wood centre to residents, didn’t portfolio holders, leisure, legal and estates officers check the terms of the lease before blundering on, seemingly failing to understand the basic rudiments of property management; most leases have a full repairing element to them.

The estimated cost back in 2004 to maintain Bricket Wood Sports Centre in its then condition was over £1m, so goodness knows how much that has risen in the interim.

Who therefore can really blame HSBC if they choose to hold the council to the terms?

Especially as the council quite blatantly proclaimed that one of the reasons for surrendering the lease would be the significant capital investment required over the next five years to the natural end of the lease.

Last week, at the council’s overview and scrutiny meeting, it was disclosed that only 22.2 per cent of those displaced from Bricket Wood had moved to Watford’s Woodside facilities.

Where the rest had gone, unsurprisingly, the head of leisure did not know.

Neither could he shed any light on how residents will benefit from the proposed Cotlandswick leisure facility, which will be built and run privately on our land generously donated by the cabinet. They will appoint a preferred developer for that vague scheme in December.

The ramifications of the coalition government’s spending review are now becoming clearer. Councils will have a reduction of income from central government of about 28 per cent over the next four years.

As reported in the Herts Advertiser, the district council will have to make deep cuts.

It was also announced in the government’s spending review, that to “better reflect the availability of capital funding” the Public Works Loan Board, where the council will have to borrow substantially to pay for their fatally flawed scheme for Westminster Lodge, will raise their interest rates by one per cent.

This, according to the Local Government Association finance director Stephen Jones, will raise local councils’ borrowing costs by 25 per cent.

Therefore for every £10m borrowed, this equals an extra £100,000 in interest per annum, which equates to a one per cent increase on our council tax.

However as they cannot raise council tax for at least another year, I would suggest this will mean further large increases in the future.

Yet on November 2 this grotesquely out-of-touch cabinet will award the construction contract to build the new Westminster Lodge, without knowing how much extra this and the Bricket Wood early contract exit will actually cost.

This state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue, the situation is now grave.

The cabinet and some officers, many senior, must be called to account, now, before any more of our money is wasted and before essential services are cut more deeply to pay for this growing obscene leisure fiasco.

We should not be made to pay for cabinet loss of face.

I call upon the chairman of the district council audit committee to call an emergency meeting immediately, to investigate what appear to be projects and business plans dreamt up, with negligible consultation and understanding of existing contracts, when the financial climate was more benign, which now have huge potential for runaway unaffordable costs.

After this hopefully cathartic process, we then might start to build cohesive affordable leisure facility projects, listening to what residents need and working with project facility neighbours such as the Abbey Theatre and not against them.

VANESSA GREGORY

Tennyson Road

St Albans

SIR – Like a lot of other people, it seems, I can drum up no enthusiasm at all with regard to the Westminster Lodge swimming pool project; in fact I have to admit to a sinking feeling every time I consider what will inevitably be, in the long term, a millstone around the taxpayers’ necks.

The scheme seems to be a replica of the Super Hatfield Hospital idea which we had no need for (we couldn’t even afford to keep the perfectly adequate hospitals that we already had going). In the end common sense had prevailed and the project was shelved after a good deal of money had been thrown at it.

I have a sneaky feeling the same could happen here.

For a long time I have been swimming at Westminster Lodge: on average three times a week to keep myself fit.

Apart from the water usually being a bit cold, so that I have to take a deep breath before I go under, I can see no reason to abolish it; in fact I can only see sense in the retaining of it, despite its need for some renovation.

At the beginning of the year I visited the pool one day with my grandson and granddaughter who spent the whole hour that we were there jumping and diving off the boards (a facility they lack at their own Harpenden pool).

Unfortunately, to their disappointment, the “inflatable dragon” was out of action, owing to some overweight father, who obviously thought he was still a teenager, jumping heavily on it and puncturing it. I haven’t seen it since.

Why, why, why, is our perfectly-adequate swimming pool and leisure centre being pulled down in the first place when it has all it needs?

What about the impinging of the project on the Abbey Theatre? I really do object to this as I’m a regular there also; it would be unforgivable.

I can’t help feeling that if this very controversial scheme goes ahead it will prove to be yet another unnecessary, very expensive, pig-in-a-poke.

On my regular travels home from swimming as I drive up Holywell Hill and through the town, I can’t help thinking how scruffy things are looking with all the boarded-up shops and hoardings.

What a disappointment to any tourist who might be visiting. Shouldn’t these councillors be giving their attention to this plight?

Are they aware that we are in the throes of a recession and don’t need these vast schemes thrust upon us and let’s face it, by the time this needless commodity of theirs comes to fruition, they will all undoubtedly be seeking to retire to somewhere less expensive to live.

ELIZABETH DUMPLETON

Wilstone Drive, St Albans

Nicolas Breakspear pitch plans rejected

SIR – We are all 11 or 12-year-old boys who play football for St Albans City Youth Under 12s West team.

We have played together as a team for five years now and we all really enjoy playing for St Albans City.

For a long time we have been helping to raise money for a new all-weather sports pitch at Nicholas Breakspear School.

Our parents have now told us that this is not going to happen any more because some of the people who run St Albans council have decided that we cannot have it.

We are really disappointed about this. What makes it even worse is that there has been support for this pitch for a long time and the people at the council have now rejected it at the very last moment.

If we had an all-weather pitch it would mean that thousands of children in St Albans would be able to use it in the years ahead. This would mean that we could do more sport and get fitter, especially in the winter.

Our parents are always telling us to do more exercise and stop watching television, but without an all-weather pitch we cannot play in the winter.

It is very expensive to rent pitches so it would save more money in the long run if we had our own. St Albans is the only place in Hertfordshire to say no to an all-weather pitch like this.

We are really sad about this and we hope that the people who run St Albans will tell us why they have done this and then change their minds.

ST ALBANS CITY YOUTH UNDER 12s

(Harry Lewis, Harry Deacon, Harry Hawkes, Bradley Hawthorn, Ben Yates, Finley Long, Joe Daymond, Alex Tyers, Barney Hodge, Brodie Mee, Ben Pattison, Josh Emmins, Robbie Pennthomas, Jake Beels, Jamie Fanning)

SIR – I was absolutely amazed to hear that the planning application for an all-weather pitch at Nicholas Breakspear School was turned down on the grounds that St Albans City Youth is a commercial enterprise.

Do councillors not understand that the club is a charitable enterprise?

Hundreds of volunteers give freely of their time to coach our city’s youngsters. This gives children as young as eight the opportunity to be part of a footballing community, being part of a team, developing skills such as co-operation, self respect and teamwork.

I am saddened that our councillors felt the need to turn down an application which benefits so many of our children and which to all intents and purposes met every other criteria.

I will declare an interest – my son plays for one of the teams. In the last year I have watched him become a more confident and self-assured boy. He is completely dedicated to his team and the coaches.

As a parent, I am delighted to have him so closely involved with an enterprise like St Albans City Youth, having a purpose, being proud to represent the club against other Hertfordshire clubs and getting a lifelong habit for fitness.

Shame on you councillors.

KAREN MILLS

Paxton Road, St Albans

Save the 712!

SIR – I agree with previous letters from Matthew Jackson-Hale and P. Field regretting the termination of the 712 coach service in January.

The change to the 757 at Bricket Wood is not well co-ordinated in the present timetable and is particularly unpleasant waiting in darkness.

My experience as a pensioner travelling mid-morning is that the service provides a marvellous link for elderly shoppers to Brent Cross, Oxford Street and the Victoria area.

The publicity mentioned by the Arriva rep never crossed my path. St Albans deserves a direct link to London.

I would urge the district and county councils to support this service as of real asset to the community. I ask other users to speak up for it.

N.P HARRIS

Hillside Road, St Albans

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