Letters, October 11, 2012, part two

PUBLISHED: 10:30 11 October 2012

Scoring an own goal over rail inquiry?

SIR – Could I please nominate Cllr S Bowes-Phipps for possibly one of the most spectacular own goals ever seen by an elected councillor? In many ways it is funny, but unfortunately does nothing but bring his position as a local politician into greater disrepute, if that is possible.

In the Herts Advertiser, local Lib Dem councillors Aislinn Lee and David Yates were correctly quoted as supporting a new planning inquiry into the Radlett rail freight proposal.

Like me, they have been involved in the campaign from the start, and whilst no-one likes it, we feel it is the only realistic way the proposal can be stopped. Chris Brazier was quoted as being worried about the cost to the taxpayer, we all are.

Cllr Bowes-Phipps suggested that this amounted to them not agreeing and the Lib Dems, currently the opposition on the council, being in a shambles. He then set out the Tory position as opposing a new public inquiry.

Unfortunately he probably was too busy writing letters to the paper to notice that his colleague and Tory executive leader of the council, Julian Daly was issuing a press release saying that the Tory administration had “responded positively to a proposal to re-open the Radlett rail freight planning inquiry”, and therefore was agreeing entirely with Cllrs Aislinn Lee, Dave Yates and myself.

I’ll buy anybody a drink if they can successfully explain, to the satisfaction of the editor, the difference!

As I said, it’s funny, however I do wish some people would spend even half the time they devote to trying to score points off their political opponents doing something useful, such as actually doing proper research and attending and presenting evidence at these inquiries as we have done.

Incidentally, in our response to the secretary of state’s suggestion for a further inquiry, Sandy Walkington and I have asked for public funding for both the district council and local democratically representative groups to fight the inquiry. I am sure I will wait in vain to see any response to the minister at all from Cllr Bowes-Phipps.

DAVID PARRY

St Stephens Liberal Democrats

Linking rail freight and rail service

SIR – After spending time in the driving cab of a First Capital Connect service (Herts Advertiser, August 30) perhaps editor Matt Adams could shadow one of FCC’s ticket inspectors. It might throw light on the difficult task they perform and so witness the tales they hear as to why regular commuters somehow have no ticket, are travelling on the wrong train at the wrong time or sat where they shouldn’t be.

It is hardly surprising that a fast train from St Albans to London at around 9am on a Monday morning will be packed (Herts Advertiser, September 27).

If I was pregnant, a condition I admit is most unlikely, I would endeavour to take advantage of any FCC concession or, for the sake of my welfare and baby, consider switching to a semi-fast service that starts from St Albans or back at Luton and so offers me a seat – it would be worth the little extra journey time involved.

Indeed, given the way other towns are expanding along the route, like Bedford and Flitwick, and not just St Albans, the time may well come when FCC will decide that a stop at St Albans of some of the current peak hour trains is no longer feasible in order to control overcrowding. So, a decision is taken for us.

The Department of Transport’s franchise specifies that the Thameslink route must provide some first class accommodation as it runs from Bedford to the well-heeled Brighton-line towns via the City and two major airports. By not stopping at St Albans you would lose one of the regular sources of lambast against FCC at a stroke.

And so to the council’s Strategic Local Plan and the rail freight inquiry – and there is a link. Please bear with me!

Your editorial highlighted and accepted the growing impact of more houses on our water supply. But other people and organisations, like our MP and the Civic Society, have been pointing out for years the stress that this places on all parts of our infrastructure: grid-locked roads, school places, hospital beds and, surprise, surprise, railway service.

The Thameslink enhancement programme aims to give extra services and capacity so as to tackle the ever-increasing number of commuters. These could be jeopardised if the rail freight depot application succeeds, and Network Rail agrees to squeeze in the heavy and slow freight trains during the day and allow them to crawl in and out of the sidings amongst the passenger service.

With all the information and stories the Herts Advertiser has collected on incidents involving the current overcrowding and the impact it has on passengers, could it not as part of its campaign, make a submission to the inspector at the forthcoming inquiry? This would help demonstrate that our vital railway service needs a rail freight terminal imposed onto it like a hole in the head.

ERIC ROBERTS

Fishpool Street, St Albans

Harpenden bias in Cabinet row continues

SIR – Toby Newton (Letters, October 4) accuses St Albans District Council of being Harpenden-biased, because of the make-up of its cabinet, five of whose members represent Harpenden wards. I can assure Mr Newton that there is a very different perception of council partiality amongst Harpenden residents, many of whom remember fondly the days of Harpenden Urban District Council, when we governed ourselves.

But somewhat ironically, the term ‘localism’ has become fashionable only recently to embody the desirability of decision-making by community representatives intimately concerned about and interested in local issues.

At first sight, today’s Harpenden Town Council embodies such local democracy. But I would argue that it has almost no meaningful authority.

Crucial decisions, notably on planning matters in the town, which in days of yore were taken by Harpenden UDC, are taken nowadays by the local authority with real power, namely St Albans district council.

In response to a planning application, officials with typically little or no knowledge of Harpenden’s character or heritage, arrive to inspect the site and pronounce judgment, for good or ill.

An example of the exactly opposite bias to that alleged by Mr Newton is the farcical insistence of St Albans DC that the Golden Jubilee ornamental arch across Thompsons Close in Harpenden be removed, even though it met fully with the approval of Harpenden Town Council and to my knowledge was welcomed by all. Clearly the worst of the red tape generated at the Civic Centre in St Peter’s Street’ extends menacingly northwards to blight council taxpayers’ lives in Harpenden.

ALAN BUNTING

Ridgewood Drive, Harpenden

SIR - Re: Mr Newton’s letter (‘Harpenden bias in council cabinet?’), can anyone please confirm or deny that before each public meeting, Cllr Teresa Heritage, who’s in charge of planning, warms up her vocal chords by repeating over-and-over again, the phrase: “In Harpenden in Hertfordshire, houses hardly ever happen”?

JANET BLACKWELL

Watford Road, St Albans

SIR – Mr Toby Newton’s letter (‘Harpenden bias in council cabinet’, October 4) made me smile somewhat wryly. Wake up and smell the coffee dude! Where has the good gentleman been for the past two years?

I have pointed out this Harpenden bias in the letters pages of this paper ever since the current cabinet complacently assembled itself and then proceeded to dismantle, with a ruthlessness only seen in some of the more right-wing dictatorships in Eastern Europe, everything the previous cabinet had done.

But do not fret, Mr Newton, all is not lost. Far from favouring Harpenden residents the Gang of Five are now engaged in covert action against my community here in Westfield.

Despite a town green application being submitted on our last remaining bit of urban green space, they have slipped a planning application into the back of a free newsaper, and already brought in contractors to measure for an “access point’’ ( read access road for future big development) up to the playing field.

No consultation, no letter of intent. An “unpopular planning decision”? How long have you got?

I suggest, Mr Newton, that you, and those who are like-minded, may care to select your future councillors in St Albans with an eye to creating a more level playing field. It is, sadly, a lost cause here. Or you might even care to stand for the council yourself?

The current actions of this cabinet have shown over and over again how out of touch they are with the needs and wishes of local people. You have a choice. We here in this neck of the woods do not. Do us a favour, and exercise it.

CAROL HEDGES

Chair Westfield Action Group and community lay advocate

Why your data needs protecting Mr Cashin

SIR – Following Barry Cashin’s letter of September 27, I thought I’d do some private investigative work and phone his insurance broker to see for myself whether they really were Jobsworths.

I was pleasantly surprised: the person I spoke to couldn’t have been more helpful. When I said that I was Mr Cashin, they bent over backwards to accommodate me (they clearly read the Herts Ad letters page and didn’t like the negative publicity).

Through a combination of politeness, charm, wittiness, deference and – it must be said – flirtation, I was able to confirm my (that is, Mr Cashin’s) full address, make and model of car, insurance renewal date, date of birth, together with the full bank account details for my (sorry, his) direct debit instalment payments.

I thought my impersonation of Mr Cashin was rumbled at one point, but I simply reminded them of what I’d – sorry, he’d – written about their firm, and they went back to being excessively helpful.

I actually feel sorry for the person with whom I spoke: they’d clearly forgotten their client confidentiality training, and had – unlike Mr Cashin – obviously never heard of the Data Protection Act (the maximum penalty for breach of which is £500,000 and a possible prison sentence). But that’s alright, they clearly aren’t Jobsworths; apparently a much more heinous offence.

But don’t believe everything you read.

TONY CROOK

Fishpool Street, St Albans


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