Letters, April 19, 2011

Fishing for answers from both sides

SIR – I echo Jon Humphrey’s concerns (Dead fish do nothing for Verulamium lake, letters April 6). I regularly uses the park as both a cut-through into St Albans and a place for a Sunday afternoon stroll, and I vividly recall coming across a poor dead fish in the shallow end of the lake.

My surprise was not so much its demise, but that it was there in the first place. This lamentable event happened over a year ago and, as far as I can see, nothing has been done to remedy the obvious deterioration in the water quality of the lake since.

I keep both pond and tank fish, and know the vital importance of regularly cleaning their habitat and checking the PH levels of the water to maintain the optimum healthy environment.

Has Cllr Chichester-Miles done a water quality test on the lake recently, and if so, would he care to share the results with us? I am happy to bring my testing kit down and perform such a test myself, if he is unable or unwilling so to do.

Mr Humphrey also hints at something equally perturbing –what has happened to the money set aside by the Liberal Democrats to clean up the lake? Does it still exist or has it been spent upon other pet ‘projects’? Would Cllr Chichester-Miles, or anyone on the current Harpenden Conservative Cabinet care to share this information with local residents? It IS our money, after all.

Mr Humphrey ends his letter with the trenchant remark that: ‘the only person who appears to be “running down St Albans” is Cllr Chichester-Miles with help from his Conservative colleagues’. Spot on, Mr Humphrey. And aren’t they doing it well!

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LakeTooBad Group, anybody?


Coldharbour Lane


SIR – I was interested to read that Cllr Altun had “met a project coordinator from an established waterside and landscape habitat company” by Verulamium lake last Tuesday and that this “expert” said that the “lake was in good order”. How any “expert” could say this without undertaking any research is beyond me.

The fact that Cllr Altun refers to the problem posed by unsightly underwater debris completely ignores the fundamental questions posed by the lake’s current condition and the research conducted by my brother last year indicating that it is polluted. Indeed by rabbiting on about the physical appearance of the lake, a suspicious mind might think that Cllr Altun, on behalf of the Conservative administration, is seeking to divert attention from the real issue that needs to be addressed by the council.

I think that we deserve to be treated like adults and be spared vacuous generalisations like those paraded by Cllr Altun. Perhaps he would be good enough to provide details of the research that his “expert” undertook and an indication of his “expert’s” identity and origins.


Ryder Seed Mews, St Albans

SIR – Further to the letters regarding the lake and pollution, I am officially advised that the inlet is open but water level is too low to pass through, so until the level is raised naturally or by other means, the flow of cleansing water will not occur.

So we must either wait for a considerable increase in flow in the river or try and achieve some flow by blocking off the outfall into the fish ladder and damming that end until water rises to the required level to pass over the lake inlet. My suggestion to SADC for this to happen has received a raspberry type of reply.


Riverside Close, St Albans

SIR – In the line of animal correspondents a plaintive call from a distressed duck, with apologies to Ogden Nash;

The critic crouches in his blind,

Neat camouflage of every kind,

And conjures up a quacking noise,

To lend allure to his decoy,

The grown-up man,with pluck and luck,

Is hoping to outwit a duck.

The duck in turn lands by the lake,

And builds a nest for future’s sake,

Instinctively she makes no fuss,

To feed and raise her fledglings thus,

But critics in their turn destroy,

Their rivals,be they girl or boy.


Fishpool Street, St Albans

SIR – My mates and I in the heronry at Verulamium find plenty of fish and other wildlife to eat here, but we do chat with our friends in the Royal Parks.

Our park used to be maintained less cost-efffectively than those in London, and we had to keep explaining to pelicans in St James’s Park why we still like nesting here. OK, so our geese outnumber swans compared with when our ancestors oversaw our lake being built between the wars.

Yes, maybe the Ver is not yet the chalk-stream idyll that it ought to be. But why does a fireman – sorry firefighter – have to be hired every June to spray the Alban Pilgrimage on cue?

Aerate the lake with a proper Jette D’Eau every day, for God’s sake, like the fountains in London parks. They are not just for show but combat anaerobic bacteria, albeit from guano.

Put the pump house on the scruffy old Tingy’s Farm site behind the RSPB’s booth by the Causeway. And stop that yellow wiggly-worm with floppy feathers from squawking “polly ticks!” and fishing for votes. The Conservatives are beginning to manage the park much better for us now, so don’t peddle dis-information from frog-men.


c/o Michael Jameson

Marlborough Gate, St Albans

SIR – I am a regular user of the model boating lake in Verulamium Park and a member of The Friends of Verulamium Park.

I would like to correct some of the negative views being expressed about the lakes.

I agree that the level of silt in the lakes is too high and that there is too much debris to be seen.

However it is not true to say that there is nothing living beneath the surface of the water. In Summer my friends and I often see shoals of small fish (fry) and last year we watched the gulls feeding upon them. We could see the fish in the gull’s beaks.

We also watched crayfish crawling through the silt in the boating lake.

It is a pity that so many thousands of pounds were wasted on consultancy fees by the previous council. With a little common sense the money could have been used to remove the silt and carry out the necessary maintenace to the jammed sluices and the crumbling concrete edges, etc.


Lattimore Road,


SIR – I would be grateful for the opportunity to correct a number of misconceptions your readers may have following your recent coverage of the lake in Verulamium Park.

On April 5, you reported a Liberal Democrat press release alleging that the lake is “an environmental health risk”.

A recent report, produced by respected environmental biotechnical company Symbio, shows this not to be the case. The report is openly available.

The Liberal Democrat press release calls “for a report into the matter”. The above report has in fact been available since February.

The press release also makes reference to “fully-costed” proposals. However, there was no specification of the works the Liberal Democrats wished to carry out, so the “proposals” could hardly be described as fully-costed. In fact, when the Conservative’s took office in May last year I was urgently advised by officers to put such plans on hold as they were neither affordable nor required.

Your readers have been told about “expert evidence” from a local resident. No one has yet seen detailed evidence or the author’s credentials to back up the claimed expertise. However, I like many, have repeatedly asked for the opportunity to see it.

If the lake is “bereft of life” as the expert evidence claims, why is it regularly visited by herons?

Mr Humphrey raises the issue again (April 5), however, it is only fair to point out that when he first approached me in November 2011 I was surprised by his claims, but took his concerns in good faith. I immediately introduced him to Daniel Goodwin, chief executive of the council and other senior officers to discuss the problem. I hope it could be said that any councillor of any party would take a possible environmental health risk seriously.

Subsequently the council’s officers took the advice of the Royal Parks Service and they advised me that our lake is in considerably better condition than those in central London. I wanted to be absolutely sure, however, that the lake was safe, so asked Richard Shwe, head of community services, to commission the report you are able to access via the link above. Of key concern to me was that this report should focus on any risks to public health. It found there were none.

Mr Humphrey has also had two further meetings with officers at the council, both while the survey was carried out and to discuss its final findings. On neither occasion did he raise further concerns with me. It should be noted that these measures were taken because I took Mr Humphrey at his word and wished to respond in a responsible manner. At every stage he has been treated with courtesy and respect. Are these the three occasions the Liberal Democrats refer to when they say we “ignored” the issue?

I hope the evidence above shows the opposite.

If this is such a serious issue to the Liberal Democrats it is reasonable to suggest they would have been aware of any problem some time ago. Why then did they not choose to deal with the lake during the best part of 20 years when they were in power?

In this regard I note that not only is Mr Humphrey an unsuccessful Liberal Democrat council candidate, but I understand a regular attendee of their local management committee. At what point does a concerned resident become a partisan activist?

To conclude, the maintenance regime for the lake currently in place includes regular checks for blue and green algae, biological sachets added to the lake to maintain the appropriate PH balance, and regular sweeps for any rubbish less careful users of the park may have deposited there.


Environment Portfolio Holder, St Albans District Council

Deceived over age restricted housing?

SIR – The scandal in the Herts Advertiser of April 5 was not your front page story about the deferred announcement and revelations of alleged private lobbying of ministers over the proposed rail freight terminal. That’s politics and big business at work.

The application by developers Berkeley Homes to vary a fundamental condition of planning permission granted, on appeal, for the construction and sale of 65 dwellings reserved for the over-55s on the King Harry Lane site and the apparent impotence of St Albans District Council’s planning officers and elected councillors is the real scandal.

This application was so fiercely contested by the late Barrie Mort and members of the Verulam Residents Association that the decision to restrict occupation of half the new development to a particular sector of the market was a real achievement and sensible compromise.

Now, with the new boxes springing out of the ground, we hear a cynical greedy developer has decided to exploit a perceived weakness in SADC’s defences and shaft the elderly, infirm and disabled for whom the 65 dwellings were intended by offering a �21,000 bribe “towards sustainable transport initiatives” in exchange for releasing 68 per cent of those dwellings from the strict eligibility criteria.

Unless committee chair Cllr Teare has not been misquoted it looks as if SADC has already resolved to lay down with its legs in the air inviting Berkeley to tread all over them/us. Maybe the councillor, who is campaigning for re-election next month, took his eyes off the ball and wasn’t concentrating? Like being given out to a no-ball but volunteering to walk all the same.

The comment by the council’s planning officers that “there would be little increase in traffic generation” if 44 of the 65 homes were to be sold without an age restriction is both implausible and, frankly, ludicrous. Furthermore, retired singles or couples would probably have only one car, if at all, instead of the average family’s two or even three, and they would be unlikely to be leaving and entering the estate at peak commuter times and adding to the afternoon school “run” (crawl more like) congestion.

But the real insult is that SADC might be taking the �21,000 offer seriously when more than �1million has already been allocated through planning agreements for improved local bus services and the creation of a very expensive new cycle path through Verulamium Park.

Our councillors should stand firm against unscrupulous developers and helpful officers. A significant part of this new housing development was quite clearly intended to be reserved for a specific age group, of which I happen to be one. If Berkeley Homes can’t bully and bribe our council into submission, let them eat cake and submit an appeal, a process which would add delay and further costs which they may not recover. Tough toot.


Chairman, St Albans District Access Group

SIR – The article on age restricted housing on the King Harry Park site (April 5) vividly describes how residents are being ever increasingly deceived by developers and councillors.

The most facile statement imaginable is that “it may not be possible to let them to the over 55s”. This was part of the contract to limit traffic that such a large development would create. We all know perfectly well the homes can be sold at a price set to what the over 55s are prepared to pay. Time and time again, the public are let down by councillors who allow developers to change the goalposts by repetitive planning applications that gradually wear down public and councillors resolve.

On a recent visit, nobody knew where a local bus stop would be for site residents, some elderly, to avail themselves of public transport – surely, this is a vital part of limiting extra traffic. The existing S8/9 route has no bus stops convenient for the site. I invite councillors to inform the public what the plan is for public transport.

Finally, outside visitors are being grossly deceived by hopelessly exaggerated claims on perimeter hoardings such as “London 20 mins away” and “boulevards”. These statements are pure fiction.

P H Field

St Stephens Avenue

St Albans

SIR – I was concerned by your article in the April 5 edition on the question of age-restricted housing in the King Harry Lane development.

As your correspondent said, the original plans were in part approved because of the provision of housing restricted to over 55s – not only was this seen to meet a genuine social need, but it had the added benefit of limiting the impact on traffic and on demand for school places that local residents had complained of.

It is very difficult to understand the argument that there are no reasons to oppose the developer’s request to lift the age restriction, given the terms of the original planning consent. Perhaps more interesting would be the developer’s reasons for making the request. Presumably this has much to do with the profitability of the project for them – but in the absence of a more open discussion it is difficult to judge.

I assume we will hear more before further decisions are taken.


Trustee, Age Concern St Albans

Split between road safety and pollution

SIR – You report (April 5) of yet more attempts to reduce pollution levels at The Peahen junction and in Holywell Hill in particular.

As I see it, it is a simple decision by the council as to which is the more important, road safety or pollution. Currently the council has voted in favour of road safety.

You report that The Peahen was declared an Air Quality Management Area in 2004 by SADC. Yet also in 2004 this very same SADC agreed to changes in the layout and in the phasing of traffic lights at this very same Peahen junction.

According to information given to SADC by Herts Highways these changes would increase average journey times through The Peahen junction in the rush hour, thus causing more traffic waiting, more congestion and more pollution.

Is this a case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand was doing or was it a deliberate decision to put safety above pollution?

For the record the safety improvement at The Peahen for the three years since the work compared to the three years prior was a reduction of 70 per cent, from 20 injuries to 6 injuries, so the new layout clearly reduced injuries.

For your info the predicted extra journey times made by Herts Highways in Sept 2004 are Morning Peak, N-S 156sec, S-N 40sec, W-SE 39sec, SE-W 40sec

Evening Peak, N-S 75sec, S-N 207sec, W-SE 112sec, SE-W 103sec.

So looking specifically at Holywell Hill (S-N) each vehicle was predicted to spend an extra 40sec in morning peak and an extra 207sec in evening peak, so no wonder there is more pollution there. The $64,000 question is ‘Is it worth five fewer injuries per year at The Peahen junction?’


Association of British Drivers

Forge End, St Albans

Time is running out over airport

SIR – Readers need to be aware that London Luton Airport Limited (LLAL – the airport owners) recently consulted upon proposals to increase capacity at Luton Airport to 18 million passengers per annum. This consultation closed on March 26.

Further to this, London Luton Airport Operations Limited (LLAOL – the current airport operator), have commenced a consultation on their own proposals to increase capacity at the airport.

LLAOL are consulting on proposals to increase capacity to 15-16 million passengers per annum.

This consultation is web-based and the link to the consultation material is http://www.london-luton.co.uk/en/content/8/1171/masterplan.html

The consulation closes on April 25, 2012, and I encourage readers to respond to LLAOL using their online questionnaire, by email, letter or phone.


St Albans District Council’s representative on London Luton Airport Consultative Committee

Divide between town and country

SIR – I have been following with much interest the long-running debate in your columns on the subject of pheasant shooting. I have nothing to add to this debate, but it seems to me that it points to a much wider social issue; namely the lack of understanding between town and country.

It is quite true that those of us who live in the towns have little understanding of many traditional countryside practices.

It is equally true that many who live in the countryside have even less understanding of the urban traditions that have made this country great.

A more recent and more disturbing phenomenon is that many who live in the “leafy outer suburbs” of the rural-urban fringe understand neither town nor country, and therefore develop a ferocious misanthropy, disapproving of almost everything.

A simple example should serve to illustrate this. A countryside or outer-suburban dweller drives into town in a gas-guzzling Chelsea tractor. Having parked on the nearest convenient double yellow line, they are surrounded by a group of “hoodies” who proceed to rob them.

Few of these unfortunates realise that there are many different explanations of this behaviour, two of which are a subject of much debate among urban scholars.

The more erudite would point out that these youths are simply maintaining the traditions of many of the monastic orders of the Middle Ages. I claim no expertise on the subject, but it is common knowledge that the postulants of the Cistercians and the Knights Templar were sent out into the streets to collect “alms for the poor”.

The overwhelming evidence of the hoods worn in deference to ecclesiastical tradition seems to pass many people by.

A simpler explanation, favoured by many academics of the redbrick universities is that the “assailants” are merely registering their disapproval of the blatant and ostentatious pollution of the environment. Either way, it points to the increasing sense of social responsibility of today’s youth.

A simple way of avoiding such attentions is to shave a patch of skin of roughly two inches diameter on the left hand side of the scalp.

Remarkably, even many urban dwellers are unaware of this simple expedient. It is clear that there needs to be a greater level of understanding between town and country.

I remain, sir, your obedient servant.

PETER BARROW Sherwoods Rise, Harpenden

How we’re all working together

SIR – At the previous council meeting Liberal Democrat Cllr Anthony Rowland raised two questions to myself.

One where a resident, having paid for years about �4.70 for a Westminster Lodge fitness training period, found himself being asked for over �8 and secondly why were we still awaiting from his period in office (when I was his shadow) for the transfer of Marconi Way play area.

Good questions and I am pleased to confirm that we found for the resident some times when he only has to pay �3.15 per fitness session during the day and secondly a letter has been sent to Taylor Wimpey for formal adoption of the Marconi Way play area. Excellent to positively work together for residents.


Conservative portfolio holder for sports, leisure and heritage

Oakfield Road, Harpenden