No surprise

PUBLISHED: 12:32 10 April 2008 | UPDATED: 13:08 06 May 2010

SIR, — Many regular readers of these pages will not be surprised that I could not resist an opportunity, if permitted, to comment on your report (Herts Advertiser, April 3) on the St Albans city-centre enhancement scheme being a disappointment to a distri

SIR, - Many regular readers of these pages will not be surprised that I could not resist an opportunity, if permitted, to comment on your report (Herts Advertiser, April 3) on the St Albans city-centre enhancement scheme being a disappointment to a district councillor, who strangely enough also did plenty of talking on the same issue this time last year.

I think many residents will agree with me that this is huge understatement and we have had enough procrastination on the subject. The grey granite paving which English Heritage comprehensibly rubbished even before the first raspberry hit the deck is a constant reminder of the massive sum of taxpayers' money wasted on this scheme, and it is about time restitution was demanded.

Many will recall that the council paid for a consultant to test the paving material last year and within that report the expert, a Dr Blanchard, advised that "consideration should be given to the option of not cleaning the paving (other than the removal of solid debris), as the appearance of the stone is unlikely to deteriorate further once a certain level of dirt accumulation is reached".

He also advised "...sealants only offer protection from penetration for a limited period (generally hours to days)" and went on to advise that "....any sealant would probably have to be reapplied annually". Yet as you reported, a proposal, to spend £34,000 to seal only some of the granite paving, not all, was put to the cabinet meeting last Tuesday - by coincidence April Fools Day - with the recommendation to approve.

So taking into account the paving would need resealing annually, as advised by the expert, and a reasonable life expectancy of the paving, the cost to the taxpayer would be in the region of £3 million.

That is almost the cost of the whole city-centre scheme just to keep one small section even vaguely clean. Compounded on to this would be that the sealed area would be visually darker than the unsealed area making a bad situation even worse.

Yet all I could hear many of the councillors fret about was the £100,000 that they had promised to Herts County Council a number of years ago towards the scheme, and had recently foolishly linked to the paving issue.

The sum, a distraction and a mere drop in the wasteful ocean of the scheme, is now the subject of a hissing catfight between the county council and district council.

How many more times will we have to hear this council, or indeed the county council, say they can't afford to fund worthy projects yet remain willing to consider wasting such a huge sum of our money? The taxpayer has had enough of such squandering and the sooner all parties to this particular debacle realise it the better.

Let us not forget who, in my opinion, is really to blame for this situation - Mouchel, the designers of the scheme. They recommended the material for this historical city-centre street-market area, and they should be pursued to replace the material as, in my opinion, they failed as consultants to use reasonable skill and care in the recommendations to their clients who, in the long run, are all of us taxpayers.

I am delighted the district council's Cabinet decided, albeit at the last minute, to allow the Overview and Scrutiny Committee to continue to investigate the matter and hopefully at long last decide on a route which will lead to some action to the taxpayers' benefit.

This recent trading statement might help to concentrate minds: "British infrastructure company Mouchel Group Plc posted a 17 percent rise in first-half profit on Monday, (March 31) and said its focus on Government (including local government) contracts would help shield it from any private-sector slowdown."

VANESSA GREGORY,

Tennyson Road, St Albans.

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