Letter, November 7, 2013

No excuses

SIR – Perhaps someone should draw the owner(s) of Pizza Express on Verulam Road’s attention to the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, which states that such establishments have a duty to provide “reasonable adjustments” in order to make their premises accessible to disabled people. I am shocked that in 2013, the management confirmed to your correspondent that “they cannot cater for wheelchair users”

CORINNA PRESTON Goldsmith Way, St Albans

Just a pinprick...

SIR – The headline above the report in the Harpenden edition of the October 17 edition of the Herts Advertiser “Grant helps secure future of Harpenden’s crown jewel” is quite misleading. Small annual grants from government quango Natural England – in this case less than £4,000 – are a pinprick on the annual running costs which are by some distance the highest item in the council’s budget. Until the present clerk Mr Bagshaw took up post his predecessor’s empire building ran the Commons and Greens budget a close second but in these more frugal times the council now spends considerably less administering itself. The award of a Higher Level Stewardship grant from Natural England will oblige the town council to review its policy whereby very attractive wildlife corners of the Common are routinely flattened not by lumbering longhorns but by a large herd of butterfly habitat squashing motor cars for the annual Festival of Worship.

ROBERT HILL East Common, Harpenden

Sorry state of buses

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SIR – So we’ve lost the 621 bus service in favour of 652 which diverts through Park Street village over the M10 roundabout via Vesta Avenue to Griffiths Way and into town missing out Tippendell Lane and Chiswell Green. Worse still, Uno seem to have found the oldest and worst maintained vehicles in their fleet for this route. I have seen a lack of destination board (a piece of A4 paper stuck in the windscreen suffices), a broken card reader (no passes scanned), a malfunctioning “Stopping” sign (is it/isn’t it), and a fierce auto gearbox (hold tight). If they can’t get these simple items sorted what other maintenance issues are there lurking beneath the vehicles? Without a working card reader how can Uno possibly measure the route utilisation accurately? Our experience is that there is a minimal passenger collection/drop off between Griffith Way and How Wood and this includes the school children. So, it would seem that the change of route may not be as successful as first thought and what’s worse, the Uno measurement of the new route utilisation is probably flawed. Maybe, they will abandon these routes altogether as they did the 712/714 to London.

SAM COTTINGHAM Bluebell Close, Park Street Romeland row

SIR – I was totally incensed to read the letter from Peter Godwin, Chairman of the Fishpool Street Residents Association. Reading his letter it is obvious that the Association doesn’t care where the coaches go as long as they do not traverse Fishpool Street. Whereas I agree that these monstrous coaches should not negotiate ancient and winding streets like Fishpool Street neither should they be allowed down George Street and into Romeland. Why should the residents and businesses of this area have to put up with the congestion, noise and pollution created by these behemoths. The solution is obvious – use the car park near the running track and Leisure Centre off Holywell Hill/St Stephens. The pupils can walk down Abbey Mill Lane to get there, they are young and fit. When I was at school we had to walk. What is so special about the pupils of St Albans School? Go along Watling Street and Watford Road when Marlborough School finishes for the day and you will see pupils by the hundred spilling along these busy roads towards Chiswell Green, etc. No problems there about pupils walking!

RONALD HALL King Harry Lane, St Albans

SIR – I have been following the debate over the school buses with interest as, some years ago when I was chair of the Civic Society, I was asked to chair a meeting at the council chambers between various residents, the police and the school over the pollution, noise and congestion caused even then by school buses in Romeland. The buses are now more and bigger and even more unsuited to using the surrounding narrow and historic roads let alone circling Romeland. The suggestions reached at that meeting were for buses approaching from different directions to use three wider spaces: High Street – where it widens between Waxhouse Gate and the lights at Holywell Hill; the two wider areas in Holywell Hill where buses for the Abbey often stop – below and opposite the White Hart; the coach stop beside the Old Town Hall. The pupils could easily walk from all these spots and, if necessary, be controlled by staff or prefects. None of these spots could afford buses to wait long there but if timings were correct it should be possible. The police were in favour of this and pointed out that it was actually bad for children to be too cosseted about using and crossing roads as they needed to learn road sense. The school, however, demanded that they be dropped at the door or else they would be unsafe and thus rejected all suggestions. Perhaps it may be worth revisiting these ideas as I feel that the present system and options do little to respect the beauty and age of the area.

PAM MARTIN Elm Drive, St Albans

School site support

SIR – I write in response to Alex Collins’ letter of October 17 questioning the representation of Harpenden Parents Group (HPG). HPG was formed in 2011 from parents concerned at the lack of school place planning by Herts County Council (HCC). HPG campaigns for local community schooling at both primary and secondary level. Our membership numbers almost 400 parents from across Harpenden as well as the surrounding villages such as Wheathampstead, Redbourn and Kimpton. With a widely drawn membership, we endeavour to campaign for the interests of the Harpenden area as a whole. In 2019, there is a scheduled shortfall of 228 secondary school places in the Harpenden area with significant shortfalls in all upcoming years – a new school is imperative and must be established as soon as possible. I wrote on these pages in March that HCC needed to publish its plans due to the urgency of the need for a new secondary school as HPG has been greatly concerned at the lack of action by HCC to establish a new school. Contrary to the assertion in Alex Collins’ letter, HPG was not consulted and did not lobby for any particular site for a new school. We welcome the recent publication of the feasibility study for a new school site and plans to open a school by 2017. Based on the study, HPG has supported the proposed location since it is viable from a planning perspective, is located at a site which meets the areas of increasing pupil demand and is most accessible by walking/cycling/bus. Both HCC’s consultants and their planners are unanimous that the chosen site represents “the least worst Green Belt option”, by some distance, of all sites chosen to be evaluated. Much work remains to be done before a school can be established. HPG now urges all parties in the town: residents, parents, councillors, planners and others to work towards the establishment of an outstanding new school with first class facilities, which is an asset to the whole community. There remains a major issue over the next three years with many parents still facing the prospect of their children being separated from their friends and being allocated school places outside of the Harpenden area. We urge HCC to develop and communicate their plans for how they are going to deal with this deficit as well as continuing to push ahead with their plans for a new school.

BEN BARDSLEY Chairman, Harpenden Parents Group Overstone Road, Harpenden

SIR – Having expanded Grove Infant and Junior Schools and with plans to extend High Beeches Primary School to meet an ever-increasing demand for primary school places, the council has a responsibility to ensure that there are sufficient secondary school places for these children to move on to. The situation is going to get worse as more and more large housing developments are built in Crabtree Lane and Kinsbourne Green (with 100 new homes planned) encouraging more families into the town. As a community, and as parents, we have to support the council’s plans for the proposed new school and we have to trust their officers to identify the most appropriate site. Infrastructure is always a concern when any new development is considered but this should not be a reason not to build the new school on the proposed site, Rather, it should be seen as an opportunity to put in places measures which will alleviate the traffic problems for all. Whichever site was chosen for the development was going to be met with opposition, especially in the NIMBY culture we live in. However, building a new school on the proposed site will help to regenerate Batford, and inevitably lead to increased house values in the area, benefitting not only the whole town but also the very people who oppose the plans.

F GEORGIOU Pipers Avenue, Harpenden

Sneak tactics?

SIR – I recently parked my car in St Albans City Station car park on a Saturday morning prior to travelling into London by train. The ground floor area was quite full so I drove around and back towards the entrance where the line of parked cars ended. I parked in the next bay and paid the required £2. I had driven past several clearly marked reserved bays. On my return I found a penalty charge notice on my car, as well as four others which were parked nearby. There were no visible signs preventing parking, but on close inspection of the floor I saw a painted “Reserved” notice. This was not visible on entering as the lights were not on and the area was dim. The charge is £50 for early payment or £70 for later payment or if an appeal is made. On several recent visits to the car park on weekends I have seen a number of cars in the same area with penalty notices attached. It is clearly in the interests of “Popla” (sic) Parking of Uxbridge not to make the restriction visible, but to keep their easy source of income flowing. How many other St Albans residents, and others using the car park at weekends, have been caught?

GORDON GLENCROSS Harness Way, St Albans

A lack of localism

SIR – As Harpenden Town Council have decided not to embrace the principles of localism, in refusing to recommend to invest in the equipment to film and record their meetings, they were asked to ensure that, in future, all meetings are advertised and minutes are published on their website. This would allow the public to attend, if they so wish, or at the very least, view the minutes on line. At the last full council meeting, the corporate body delivered its prepared response to that pre-submitted public question stating that they were already doing so and that “the public had every opportunity of following the workings of the town council, which prides itself on its openness and transparency”. Amazed at such audacity, I had to challenge this statement when there were still unpublished agendas and minutes of council meetings, that had taken place throughout the year. HTC has now finally accepted, after five months of dismissing residents’ concerns, and now apologised for such failings and have given a number of assurances. Also contrary to these claims of “openness and transparency”, not only were residents refused permission to record the last full council meeting themselves, as it was deemed “inappropriate”, but also at the following environment committee meeting, they were similarly refused but with no explanation. It is assumed this refusal, as we have heard previously, is to ensure members of the public do not edit and misuse material, collected during a meeting, however HTC regularly does just that. Residents have been witness to various examples of this, such as residents’ public questions being censored, no record of votes, no record of who instigates certain proposals, discreet entries in contracts and certain declarations of interest not being minuted. Just recently, in asking for full council’s approval, Cllr Williams advised members that monies required for legal advice were in fact to progress a HTC initiative to provide affordable housing and a site for Harpenden Mencap on the former Westfield allotment site. Although he must have felt this information was necessary for their understanding and subsequent agreement there is no written record of this detail available to the public. Why? How can any of this be deemed appropriate? The public should rightly expect our elected representatives, who have put themselves up for public office, to be prepared for their decisions to be as transparent as possible. We are tired of hearing the corporate response of “we are where we are” without them being able to show us a map of the journey.

PIP MARTYN Harpenden Independent Partnership, Marquis Lane, Harpenden

Stiff upper lip

SIR – Generally, I believe that all facial hair on men should belong back in the 1970s with the Peter Wyngardes and Kevin Keegans of this world. However, November is a month that makes me positively bristle at the prospect of facial hair. I talk of course about Movember, the once a year campaign which begins on November 1 to raise money for testicular and prostate cancer. Prostate cancer is one of the UK’s leading male cancer killers, the masculine equivalent of the female curse that is breast cancer – and for the merry month of “Movember,” men can commit to grow a dashing moustache or the full Monty of a facial beard of hair to raise money for these very worthy causes. Many more younger men in their 40s and 50s are sadly now being diagnosed with prostate cancer which, although a good thing because of better screening and better outcomes if found early, does present major lifestyle issues with a condition that was only ever considered to be an old man’s disease a few years ago. Well it clearly isn’t confined to old men and as 11,000 of the 41,000 diagnosed annually with prostate cancer die, then giving via Movember is a novel way of making a real and tangible difference. When it comes to charity donations, I have to be brutally honest and say that, like many people, I have become de-sensitised over the years to so many adverts, appeals and campaigns asking for money, albeit that each of these causes is very worthwhile – and so am cautious if not reticent about dipping into my pocket. But serious illness can hit any one of us at any time when we least expect or need it – a devastating interruption to normal lives that throws everything including one’s hopes, dreams and plans out of kilter, placing tremendous and very alien stresses on an entire family unit. It is only then, when one needs them most, those wonderful, giving and yes, loving, gifted professionals that make such a diference on a cancer journey - by that I mean the support staff in addition to the medical doctors – when one realises what all the fundraising fuss was about. So, without further ado, if you would like to find out more about Prostate Cancer and the Movember tash campaign please visit uk.movember.com or www.prostatecanceruk.org. If, when you’ve done that you feel like making a donation and helping more men survive, especially younger men in their 40s and 50s struck down by prostate cancer in the prime of their lives, there are many ways you can give, either directly to a Movember fundraiser in your area, or a dedicated charity listed by The Charities Commission. To give, especially at a time when finances are so tight shows true human empathy and every single penny counts, so do not be embarrassed to offer a small amount. It will still have great value for men hit by, or coping with serious illness when all they should be suffering from is a mid-life crisis of a very different kind. I thank you!

BARRY CASHIN Green Lane, St Albans Scrum down over bully-boy Gove

SIR – I was rather bemused by the comments given by the Director of Chamber of Commerce in response to the visit of Michael Gove to St Albans recently. She said “he tackled the questions fairly and answered them all with knowledge and a sense of responsibility and understanding”. Knowledge, understanding and responsibility are not the words I, as a member of the teaching profession, equate with Mr Gove. I would precede these words with “lack of” in the light of the ridiculous changes we are being faced with. However, “tackled? is far more appropriate. Being a sporting term, it is used to describe the act of stopping an opposing player carrying the ball, especially by forcing the opponent to the ground. Sadly this is what Mr Gove is doing to many teachers and the profession. He is forcing us to the ground by making decisions of which he has no knowledge and understanding, and this is being done unfairly!

ELIZABETH HOUGH Deva Close, St Albans