Your letters to the Herts Advertiser...

PUBLISHED: 19:30 05 October 2016

St Albans Abbey

St Albans Abbey

Archant

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May I take this opportunity to thank the dozens of St Albans residents who have taken the time to write to my team and I expressing their sympathy for The Brickyard closing. They have touched us deeply and made the loss of my business easier to bear.

There has been a great deal discussed on social media and it has lightened my heart to see so much praise for what we were providing the city and the loss that many feel with our demise. However I am also seeing comments about how my failure to wait for the extended delay to our planning permission before bowing to economic pressures and progressing the rebuild of this derelict site, should justify the vindictive campaign I have received from near neighbours. The National Planning Inspectorate had to intervene and confirmed that that which was built met every one of St Albans policies and the rebuild enhanced the conservation area.

Two members of the APRA committee, who live next door to The Brickyard, were on BBC Radio justifying their actions. They are still bemoaning this planning approval and in their newsletter they refer to the Brickyard, with its historic beer garden, as “this highly unsuitable location”.

Three of APRA’s committee live on College Street and have gardens bordering the pub’s garden. They say that they do not have an agenda to close the premises, but their previous statements contradict this.

One of these three, Mr Norman James, made a public statement that he moved into his house in 1992, that he had been complaining about the venue ever since and that most of the conditions imposed on the pub’s license were as a direct result of his complaining. It is also known that, when the pub was the Spotted Bull, this same committee member entered the pub on a Tuesday afternoon to complain about children in the garden at a wake. Another of these three has complained about four ladies sharing a bottle of wine on a Sunday afternoon and on a cold February evening complained about loud conversation in the garden, which was found to be two council officers talking quietly with me in the garden about earlier allegations!

If these neighbours were more honest about their desires, it would be easier for all parties to find a way forward.

The neighbours make much of how there was a public nuisance. They complained so much that officers, from the council, visited dozens of times. The official logs of their visits to the venue and the complainants’ homes show that they at no time found that The Brickyard was causing a statutory nuisance.

This is the level of noise that businesses and the public may make, without being deemed by statute to adversely affect neighbours. However a pub can be found to cause public nuisance if a group of people say they are disturbed, the level at which they need to be disturbed is not defined. In other words public nuisance is easy to prove against a pub where a group of residents are set against it.

In our case the College Street residents were successful in convincing a sub-committee of this and The Brickyard’s licence was changed so that it was no longer viable as a business.

Trading conditions for hospitality businesses are grave, with dozens closing every week in the south of England. By engineering for the garden at The Brickyard to close earlier than any other premises in the city the outcome was entirely predictable, especially at a venue focusing on the needs of those in their 30s, 40s and 50s.

Customers found being asked to leave the garden before 10pm intrusive, they simply did not want to do it. Therefore, instead of coming to The Brickyard for the evening, they went elsewhere. The venue needs the income from the summer months to survive the quiet months before Christmas. Without it we had no way of going forward.

The previous three operators of this venue, when it was The Spotted Bull, went out of business, because they could not afford the investment to update the premises to the needs of 21st century St Albans. I invested half a million pounds and my considerable industry knowledge in rebuilding it. The neighbours were invited to site visits throughout the build and their requests were incorporated. We went further fitting 250 square metres of sound studio foam wall lining, top end air-conditioning (to allow the doors to be closed earlier in the summer) a state of the art stereo system that allowed the sound to be spread throughout, rather than a few big high powered speakers. The Brickyard was exceptionally well managed, with SIA and BIIAB qualified staff.

The neighbours have portrayed us as an ‘under aged disco’ and ‘outdoor party venue’. This could not be further from the truth and we would not have been supported by the Chamber of Commerce if we had been. It must be wondered what neighbours, who bought houses which were presumably cheaper because they were next to a pub, might have to gain from its closure.

However this is the fourth time in recent years that the business has failed and it seems unlikely that a solution can be found that could now make it viable. I have tried to sell it, but other operators see how difficult the neighbours are and that no one is willing to remind them that they chose to live next to a pub and no one has come forward to buy the business.

For now it will have to be boarded up, as when I bought it and I will then see what may be done.

The neighbours refused mediation and will not collaborate. They have now got their wish. I have had to close my beautiful new business.

JAMES HANNING
The Brickyard, Verulam Road, St Albans

I refer to Frank Casey’s letter regarding The Brickyard. I think Mr Casey needs some Imodium, urgently, such was the diatribe of verbal diarrhoea contained in his missive. It’s all very well sitting a few hundred yards away in his New England Street back garden where the cacophony of carefree and careless under 35s all getting merry on Mohitos cannot be heard - but for nearby residents, it must have been a living hell. The owner has a string of failed similar businesses behind him, business management issues, a history of flouting planning laws according to your paper and when he introduced late night parties, must have been a proverbial pain in the backside for the homeowners of College Street.

I applaud the decision to close The Brickyard. I live nowhere near it yet the concept of a “cocktail club” playing loud music and where patrons have access to make that awful chattering noise of multiple conversations within earshot of peoples’ back gardens is anathema to its location. There is a place for venues like The Brickyard, it is somewhere inside a city centre, not on the periphery right on top of a residential area; a major misjudgement of the owner when he first bought the Spotted Bull. Whether the building is converted into housing or a restaurant next remains to be seen. I’m personally just so glad for the residents of College Street and feel that we should very definitely get the bunting out and community trestle tables where cucumber sandwiches and lashings of ginger beer can be served en-masse. At the head, one seat should be reserved for the duplicitous numpty who moaned about others’ misery when it did not affect them yet would be the first in line to complain if it did. I, for one, will gladly accept an invite to such a celebration party and will bring along some home made pop to celebrate the demise of an anachronism perhaps more belonging to an age of square shoulder pads and brick sized mobile phones. Cocktail bars, who needs ‘em!? I thank you.

BARRY CASHIN

Green Lane, somewhere far enough away from a cocktail bar to have an impartial view, St Albans

Like many readers I have been disgusted to see the hate campaign waged by the Abbey Precincts Residents Association (APRA) against The Brickyard pub. From APRA’s publicity one would gain the impression that all of the Abbey Precinct area was affected by the alleged intolerable noise emanating from the Brickyard. Having investigated further I find a very different and disturbing reality.

The end of the rear gardens of numbers 9, 11 and 13 College Street overlook the garden of the Brickyard. These three neighbouring houses are those of Norman James, an APRA committee member, Geoff Dyson, APRA deputy chairman and Robert Pankhurst, APRA secretary. These committee members have proclaimed that APRA as an entity is against The Brickyard but in reality they have hijacked three of the seven committee places and are using APRA for their personal objectives. They have formed what, quite rightly, the Herts Advertiser has called a cabal.

The association’s website states that APRA covers an area bounded by Holywell Hill, the High Street, Verulam and Branch Roads and the River Ver.

That is approximately 0.7km by 0.5km, an area equivalent to probably 15 football pitches. Yet Robert Pankhurst, APRA secretary seems to claim that all of APRA is against The Brickyard. In reality the objectors are principally four people who live within 100 to 200 metres away and are using APRA to wage their war of attrition. This isn’t democracy, it’s a lynch mob.

A small and totally unrepresentative group has clubbed together professing to speak for many residents but in reality have one selfish aim. Have they balloted their members over the actions taken in their name?

These people should have realised that there was a pub at the bottom of three of their gardens when they purchased their houses. Cynically they are now clubbing together to shut down the pub.

They should be truly ashamed and and allow a well-respected and hardworking businessman to carry on his trade.

Maybe there have been some rowdy customers, but this can be curbed given understanding and cooperative neighbours. Fellow APRA committee members Peter Trevelyan of Abbey Mill End (chairman), Andrew Yaras of Fishpool Street (treasurer), John Hedges of Abbey Mill Lane and Justin Douglas of Lower Dagnall Street don’t appear to have supported the College Street gang. Perhaps the chairman should speak up now and curb those who are besmirching the name of not only APRA but residents’ associations countrywide.

NAME & ADDRESS SUPPLIED

Your article about the letter from Mike Penning and some Dacorum residents (Is review of our hospitals being rushed through?) was published without any comment from Herts Valleys CCG and

I wanted to take the opportunity to respond to some of the issues in the piece.

We have been conducting a review of services in west Hertfordshire – Your Care, Your Future – for some time. How we make much-needed changes to hospital services is one element of this review and patient representatives have been keen for us to press on with this so we are surprised at the notion that this is being ‘rushed through’.

It is really important that readers understand that we have been undertaking a very thorough and comprehensive process to evaluate a range of options, and that many patient representatives including those who signed the letter your article quotes from – have been very closely involved in this. So much so, that we asked patient representatives to sit on panels with professionals, scoring the options against a range of criteria. Options include a new hospital on a brand new site and this possible solution is being considered just as seriously as options which would retain Watford as the main hospital site.

This process is also looking at where local people might get their planned care in future – including the kinds of care that patients currently go to St Albans for. Many of the options under consideration include the continued, and possibly enhanced, provision of services in St Albans.

And this is true of those that see Watford as the main site just as much as those that are based around having the main hospital on a brand new site.

It is simply not true that the process is geared towards keeping the Watford site and downgrading St Albans. We are undergoing a thorough, genuine and painstaking process to arrive at the right solution for all the people of west Hertfordshire – including a widely promoted survey. The decision on which is the preferred option to progress to the next stage will be taken by the West Herts Hospital Trust and Herts Valleys CCG board meetings in November. And we must press on with making a decision to give us the best chance of securing investment in the changes we all agree need to be made.

DR NICHOLAS SMALL

GP and Chair, Herts Valleys Clinical Commissioning Group

As your article of September 15 showed, the future of St Albans City Hospital is still in doubt. This is of great importance for the citizens of St Albans. It is equally important that they are informed of the issues and make their views known.

There are currently three main options for re-configuring hospital services in West Herts. First, concentrating A&E and acute, and maternity and all planned care, at a re-developed or even re-built Watford General Hospital. Second, concentrating them at a new build hospital on a green-field site. Third, providing A&E. acute and maternity and major planned surgery at Watford, but offering day-surgery, cancer care, complex diagnostics and other out-patient services at St Albans.

The second option is especially attractive, a bold, imaginative and strategic solution to hospital issues in West Herts, the prospect of a new hospital on a green-field site, accessible to all the people of West Herts, but concentration has implications for St Albans City Hospital.

A briefing document prepared for St Albans district council’s health committee has concluded that “This [concentration of services at Watford] will mean the closure of St Albans City Hospital in its current form, possibly to be replaced by a health hub.”

It is possible that concentration at an accessible green-field site, which the health committee supported, would have the same effect.

Thus if options one and two are chosen, St Albans could lose its hospital, unless steps are taken to safeguard its future by retaining surgery, which the health committee also supported.

JOHN WIGLEY

Chairman St Albans and Harpenden Patient Group

With reference to the exhibition in the Abbey, organised by The St Albans and Hertfordshire Architectural Society, about Lord Grimthorpe:

I was astonished to read in the Herts Advertiser of September 15 that the untrained amateur “architect” Lord Grimthorpe “saved the Abbey.” He did not. Sir George Gilbert Scott did that. When the south wall of the nave partially collapsed in 1832, it was temporarily shored up while funds were raised for major repairs. Unfortunately there were no millionaires in the area and our aristocrats, the Cecils, were engaged in running the country, while the Earl of Verulam was concentrating on saving St Michael’s church from falling down. Local merchants donated what money they could, and the brilliant Rector Nicholson did much consciousness raising, as we call it now, to engage the local middle class in giving money to save the Abbey. Sir George Gilbert Scott came (he loved the Abbey above all other churches) to design a hydraulic system of jacks to straighten the nave wall which was twenty-eight inches out of the perpendicular. When the tower was in danger of collapsing in 1870, it was discovered that it had been undermined in the 17th century, and was in danger of collapse. Scott, from his sickbed (he had ‘flu and a temperature of 104 for five days) ordered the tower arches to be bricked up, and Miskins the builders worked for four days and nights without rest to do this, and to re-install the foundations of the south west pier, which were discovered to be full of wooden rubbish after the Roundheads (we assume) had started, then abandoned, a pull-the-tower-down campaign.

Alas Scott died of overwork in 1878, and the childless millionaire Edward Becket, later Lord Grimthorpe, decided to adopt the Abbey as a retirement project. He was a good mathematician, and had made a fortune in railway law. He designed Big Ben, though he never gave Dent any credit, which he should have done. Grimthorpe was no Marshall Hall, but often won his cases by sheer brute force of character. Pevsner describes him as “A venomous, pompous righteous bully,” and he was indeed president of the Horological Society for many years. But it was made clear to him soon after he was elected that he was NOT to attend the dinners, as always he ruined the social evenings by his unpleasant bullying. Robert Maxwell, Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams graduated from the same charm school.

As Scott lay dying, he wrote to the Bishop telling him that he had done all the vital work on the drains, and had moved tons of earth from outside the north side, and that the west front could be restored for £400, a lot of money in 1878, but not a daunting amount. He listed other things that needed doing, assuring the Bishop that the projects could wait for many years, and could be tackled one at a time, as money was raised. But Grimthorpe wanted control over the restorations, and with Scott out of the way, he blustered his way onto the restoration committee, hinting that he would provide all necessary funds for repair. Oh, what a dangerous man is a childless millionaire. As an untrained architect, he had the maths to construct new buildings, but had no idea how to restore an old one. So he unbricked the side doors in the west front, (which Scott had bricked up until funds were available for repairs) and the beautiful perpendicular window built by John of Wheathampstead (c.1440) promptly split open. “It’s a ruin” said Grimthorpe, and pulled down the west front and constructed an elephantine Victorian Gothic west front instead. In the porches he chose the wrong stone and his poor construction made expensive repairs essential only 100 years later. Compare this with the Norman range in the Abbey, which was built in 1077 and has never needed any repairs. Robert the Mason knew how to build properly.

The South window had been replaced by Hawksmoor after the Great Storm in 1703, and was in perfect order in Grimthorpe’s time. But Grimthorpe was a Low Church man who despised the perpendicular style as being “popish” so he tore it down, including the two turrets of 1077, and replaced it with a fake York Minster window. The north transept window was also perpendicular in style, and perfectly sound, but out it went to be replaced by what a contemporary critic called “ a nineteenth-century colander.” The Society of Protection of Ancient Monuments was unable to get past the bully and stop him, alas for St Albans Abbey.

In the Oxford English Dictionary there is a definition which reads: To Grimthorpe: to restore an ancient building with lavish expenditure rather than skill and taste.

JANE KELSALL

Cathedral Guide for 40 years

Avenue Road, St Albans

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