Concerns over conservation

SIR - There are three houses within the St Albans conservation area where three close members of two generations of my family were born and raised. In those days the poorest of St Albans residents inhabited the terraced houses so sort after now. These hou

SIR - There are three houses within the St Albans conservation area where three close members of two generations of my family were born and raised.

In those days the poorest of St Albans residents inhabited the terraced houses so sort after now. These houses have witnessed the full lifetime of all three; they only moved a few roads away from their roots in all their lives. Hopefully another house in the same area will witness my third generation life span too.

I therefore have very personal reasons for being passionate and incensed when I hear of irrational decisions being taken affecting our conservation areas and worst of all party political ping-pong over St Peter's Street.

It is hardly surprising, in view that St Albans conservation area is now officially at risk, that I continue to rage over the cuts to our conservation team and the continuing stain on our city centre of the now infamous design error made by Mouchels over the paving.


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Recently I contacted Cllr Ellis, who has covered vast tracts of conservation areas with unsightly wheelie bins, to ask him to reconsider his decision to ignore the all party O&S request for him to write to the county council regarding the granite paving issue, which incidentally English Heritage allude to in their reasons why St Albans is at risk report.

He refused, in a highly party-political response, saying that the "opposition parties" did not call that decision in for review. Toys and pram comes to mind!

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In my reply I sighted the totally baffling decision taken by him and his fellow cabinet colleagues recently to set aside �200,000 over the next two years towards pedestrianisation or part-pedestrianisation of St Peter's Street.

Apparently Herts Highways has agreed, at the district councils request, to pay for the traffic modelling.

Not only did this prove the district council can use its influence on highway matters when they chose, but also the ludicrous notion to remodel yet again, only a few years after the last disastrous scheme.

It seems they can flush down the toilet taxpayers' money more quickly than we can earn it.

Now to the ongoing top-secret talks on the cuts to our conservation team, that only last year Cllrs Donald and Brazier stated at a full council meeting would not take place.

I guess that despite English Heritage writing to the council, a nugget that was disclosed in public, asking the council not to cut the conservation team those cuts have been made. Now English Heritage has put two of our conservation areas on their at risk register. Well what a surprise!

Recently I was asked, with others, and was delighted to help two senior district councillors, of differing political parties, to produce a sort of roadmap to help produce a public-realm strategy worthy of the name and worthy of the whole district.

The lack of such a strategy has I feel been at the heart of many of our conservation areas problems.

It was a thoroughly well researched document; well I would say that! Incorporating best practice studies from around the country.

The strategy would dovetail in with the city vision work and the emerging Local Development Framework, require cross-departmental working, sound and tight policies and budget merging to ensure what money is there will be used wisely. In other words joined-up thinking with joined- up working and better use of scarce resources.

Our conservation and design team should naturally have a major role to play in the strategy. Too often our conservation and design officers have been ignored and developers have got away with poor-quality developments.

Residents too, have their part to play, who have the privilege of living in these wonderful old homes to make sensitive alterations when needed.

In fact we all have our part to play in ensuring our heritage is turned into a worthy legacy for future generations.

Once again St Albans is on the map for all the wrong reasons.

Money is going to be tight for many years to come - all the more reason for whims and party-political posturing to be thrown out of the window, sleeves rolled up to ensure our conservation areas are off the at-risk register ASAP.

VANESSA GREGORY

Tennyson Road

St Albans

SIR - In your edition of June 25 you report that English Heritage has highlighted St Albans city centre as one of the country's most at-risk Conservation Areas.

St Albans' main Conservation Area is quite large, with several particularly interesting historic streets given the added legal protection of an Article Four Direction. This means that every building in those streets, whether listed or not, is subject to much more rigorous control regarding its effect on the character of the locality as a whole.

Also within St Albans' main Conservation Area there are many "listed" buildings. The District Council has a legal duty to ensure that all aspects of planning law are properly observed. To control what happens to listed buildings and their surroundings and contexts requires the services of a specialist team who have sound architectural knowledge and judgement: there is no substitute for their advice.

In the recent past you reported that the council were minded to get rid of the Conservation Group from the Planning Department or reduce it. This would be irresponsible and it should be apparent from English Heritage's findings that, if anything, the group should be reinforced.

English Heritage's report also rightly deplores the gradual erosion of the character of whole areas and streets caused by the myopic, casual vandalism in replacing original, well-designed details that were integral to good overall house designs with standard, modern DIY components. This touched rock-bottom a few years ago when whole facades of houses were being covered with slabs of artificial stone stuck to the original wall surface in a vain attempt to replicate a Lake District cottage.

Councillor Melvyn Teare, who has the portfolio for culture and heritage, was reported as saying he was committed to the City Vision project. Good. One hopes therefore that, in cabinet, he strongly resists any attempts to emasculate or remove the Conservation Group which surely must be one of the most important agents in achieving that Vision.

DENNIS OWEN

Fishpool Street

St Albans

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