Letters, April 18, 2013

Market campaign is much needed

SIR – Your front page headline re St Albans’ market traders was bang on and all power to your campaign: ‘Don’t Stall Our Market!’

Over the past 25 years, I’ve witnessed ineptitude on a grand scale on the part of market organisers watching traders, casuals and even regulars get turned away because there have not been enough stalls put out.

I have heard and witnessed heated conversations between casuals and market supervisors and on one occasion, nearly witnessed a punch up because of a jobsworthian attitude. In this time I have also seen a gradual diminution in the market’s size and impact on market days; where stalls once used to reach all the way down to The Boot pub but now stop just short of Millets.

If I am not mistaken, weren’t the stalls and canopies replaced/refurbished a few years ago (at great expense) to provide more than enough pitches to cater for a great traditional market such as St Albans is?

Heaven knows our city has become less and less of a destination of choice for shoppers over the years because of the almost non-existent (and where they do exist), punitively priced parking facilities, over-zealous traffic wardens, pot-holed roads, clogged Victorian residential streets and basic lack of major draw retailers who have wised up to the fact that St Albans, albeit a city in name, offers little in the way of incentive for shoppers who live outside to visit.

There’s another problem too in that, like most other retail vistas, we also have our fair share of boarded-up and empty shop units – and before people retort that this nothing to do with the council, it damned well is, for if the council let these units out cheaply to entrepreneur, fledgling or artisan businesses, St Peter’s Street might look a little like it used to, full and bustling, instead of the white elephant with a wide Chinese granite pavement walkway it has become.

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Our great St Albans market is a fantastic shopping arena and has a wide diversity of stalls and products that has been the hallmark of our city for many centuries. It is crass stupidity therefore not to have enough market stalls (or for spokespeople to BS about the reasons why there are not enough) to traders whose very livelihoods depend on a lucrative pitch.

Not only that, a St Albans market that isn’t firing to capacity is not working to its full potential and is therefore not such a draw meaning huge losses in revenue for other retailers and businesses in the area.

Simple message: no more froth, blather and excuses. If we have a finite number of stalls, put them all out. Don’t base next week’s stall numbers on last week’s usage, for the effort in putting out those extra few stalls is worth the revenue should enough casuals turn up to take them.

The present regime is creating a reputation that is putting off potential stallholders from turning up. If there isn’t sufficient take-up then the market workers who erect the stalls will just have to work a little harder and longer. And if you haven’t the workforce, there’s a recession on and many people, I’m sure, would jump at the chance to earn a little income putting out a few extra stalls.

But please, don’t patronise the good readers of the Herts Advertiser with rubbish excuses and poor planning. Our centuries old, vibrant and highly successful market deserves much better than that! Get to it Herts Ad and start that campaign to halt the stalling of our great city market! I thank you.


Green Lane, St Albans

Debating the benefits issue

SIR – I do approve of J Cambo’s attempt in your letters column of April 4 to take “poor politics” out of benefit calculations. He doubtless will agree with me that a similar issue arose in Tory times when during the mid-’80s boom the benefits bill rose by about three per cent a year, a very similar annual rate of growth as under Labour’s best years.

More strikingly, Labour inherited a benefit bill of about 12 per cent of GDP in 1997 as compared to the 13 per cent it bequeathed in 2010 or the nine per cent it bequeathed in 1979. I say striking, because although one per cent is a lot of money, as is the three per cent rise under the Tories, it’s nothing compared to the escalation from four per cent in 1950 to about nine per cent in 1979, a relentless rise under all governments whilst gaps in provision were plugged. The striking thing is that, by and large, the bill is now stable.

What concerns people most is that we are no longer prepared to tolerate any abuse of the system. I’m sure that the Philpott case will be seen by historians as a defining moment in British politics – it would be wrong to blame the Tories or the Lib Dems for allowing this to happen – indeed it was Anne Widdecombe who struggled valiantly to persuade Mick Philpott to get a job.

The problem is to make work pay. The Lib Dems invented negative income tax. Labour implemented this through tax credits and new deal. Now we get tax credits being abolished by the Lib Dems and replaced with personal allowances by them and Universal Benefit by the Tories. I’m not sure that all this change, for change’s sake, is “good politics”. Far better to steal your opponent’s good ideas as Labour did, than to rubbish them with something different that might work even less well; we should not forget the immense teething problems encountered by the tax credit system.

More fruitful perhaps would be to consider whether direct or indirect taxation is a greater deterrence to work. High VAT rates, as traditionally favoured by Tories, affects people on low wages disproportionately. If you spend all of your wages on essentials that are over-taxed, then the cost of holding down a job becomes proportionally much greater. Is that the reason why in the past, when VAT was only eight per cent, there seems to have been fewer benefit cheats? Is that the real “structural flaw” J Cambo is writing about?


Holywell Hill, St Albans

Mental health service failings

SIR – I am responding to Ms K Broadley’s letter ‘Nowhere to turn?’ (Herts Advertiser, March 28).

First I apologise to Ms Broadley for her experience, which was not up to the standard any of us expect from our mental health services. As soon as we saw the letter in your newspaper, we got in touch with Ms Broadley. We are looking into what happened and will do our best to put right what went wrong.

The best way for people to get help if they feel depressed, anxious and unable to cope is to contact their GP, who will either manage the situation themselves or refer the patient to the Trust’s Single Point of Access (SPA) for specialist mental health services. Patients can also self refer between 8am and 7pm Monday to Friday by calling 0300 777 0707.

A member of the SPA team talks on the phone to everyone referred to the service. The clinical staff assess each person’s needs and make sure they get the right kind of support. This might be an appointment with the most relevant mental health team, or it might be by giving them advice or referring them to the local voluntary group support network.

In evenings, overnight and at weekends, the 0300 777 0707 number directs people to our 24-hour, seven-days-a-week crisis service and mental health helpline. The GP on-call service and NHS 111 are also able to access the crisis team directly.

The helpline worker will discuss a range of options with the caller and will get immediate support if necessary. Between 9pm and 9am and at weeends, we concentrate on those in most need of support so some people will be asked to see their GP or mental health team during the working week.

Unfortunately, inpatient services such as Albany Lodge cannot accept referrals or arrange for patients to be seen – but, in view of Ms Broadley’s experience, we are making sure the staff there are aware of the advice in this letter and can give it to anyone who needs it.


Consultant Psychiatrist

Clinical Director for West Hertfordshire Strategic Business Unit

Hertfordshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust

Cadets were definitely begging

SIR – With regard to the letter headed ‘Misinformed over Sea Cadets’ from Francis Fitzjohn (Herts Advertiser, letters, April 4).

I was certainly not “misinformed” but F Fitzjohn seems to be.

Whether the Sea Cadets raised a lot of money was not the subject of my letter – it was the fact that the ones who approached me and others, while we were waiting at the bus stop were asking for money.

This constitutes begging.

As I said before – begging is a criminal offence.

Perhaps St Albans district council should issue guidelines when they are issuing licences to collect.

Also, of course, young people should not be encouraged to commit crime.


Old Watling Street, Flamstead

Standard handed over to museum

SIR – From its original formation in 1985, the St Albans Normandy Veterans Association has been a familiar feature in St Albans, selling the poppies for the Royal British Legion on the streets and at the station, raising money for funds to provide help to our members and other veterans, arranging commemorative visits back to Normandy, talks to schools and organisations and commissioning two benches, one at the rear of St Peter’s Church and one in the Gardens of the Rose.

Our standards have been paraded at the annual Armistice ceremonies in St Albans, at the Commonwealth Forces Remembrance Cemetery in Hatfield Road and at all formal funerals of our members.

Nationally the standard was paraded in Whitehall, Horse Guards Parade, Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s Cathedral, York Minster, the Albert Hall, the Arboretum and countless other occasions throughout the years, too many to enumerate, and on all occasions it has been carried proudly by our dedicated standard-bearer, D-Day veteran Harry Hopkins.

But our branch became too small and a couple of years ago it was re-formed into a very active social club. We kept our standard for funerals but now, sadly, it is time to call it a day and lay our much-travelled standard to rest.

There could have been choices – maybe the Abbey or St Peter’s Church – but the remaining few veterans feel that St Albans council and all the people of St Albans who have been so supportive of us for 25 years should have our standard (the original from 1985) in their own museum – effectively it belongs to them.

So on February 28, 2013, veteran Harry Hopkins presented it, quite informally, to the council and it is now displayed in St Albans Museum, Hatfield Road.

Our thanks to Harry for an incredible 25 years of dedication and St Albans citizens for their support over the years.

ERNIE BREWER (D-Day veteran)

Willow Way, Radlett

Who can afford these homes?

SIR – We know that Harpenden Town Council will be offering land at Westfield to Mencap (probably for a nominal £1), this will enable Mencap to sell “Stairways” in prime development area Douglas Road to Jarvis. Can HTC please tell us which of the one six-bedroom house or two-five bedroom houses that are planned for the Stairways site would be “affordable”?


Lea Road, Harpenden

VAT hike hit drinkers hard

SIR – Whilst we’d all welcome the scrapping of the Beer Duty Escalator in March’s Budget, Roger Protz forgets to mention in his article “MPs answer call of duty for beer drinkers” that in 2010 both Greg Mullholand and Andrew Griffiths voted through George Osbourne’s punitive VAT increase, which put 6p on the price of a pint and probably cost the industry around 8,000 jobs.

Taking a penny off a pint might’ve sounded great, but it’s the VAT hike which really left drinkers with a bitter taste.


Park Street, St Albans

Democracy in action

SIR – I see from your front page that the “controversial” football pitches scheme in North Harpenden has been withdrawn after “planners recommend refusal”.

Of course, nobody has leaned on or exerted any pressure upon any single individual, group or local government department, have they? And the fact that this decision has been made two weeks before local elections in this area is pure coincidence, isn’t it?

Wonderful thing, democracy.


Coldharbour Lane, Harpenden

Badge abuse

SIR – Robert Hill is right to protest about able-bodied drivers who do not possess a Blue Badge wrongly using disabled parking spaces. Many other examples of abuse are witnessed regularly in the local area.

Drivers borrow Blue Badges from family and friends and park in disabled spaces and therefore deny the spaces to those that need them. Equally abhorrent are those that have applied for and received Blue Badges even though they can walk considerable distances.

Robert Hill exercises his dog on Harpenden Common every day and walks considerable distances. Perhaps he would like to use the facility of the Herts Advertiser letters page to clarify whether or not he has a Blue Badge.


West Common, Harpenden

All Green Belt land must be protected

SIR – Here are some comments following Madeleine Burton’s article ‘The Battle of Bricket Wood’.

Councillors who do not sit on planning committees can and do voice their opinions openly regarding planning applications.

However, councillors who sit on such committees must be guarded when making public comments about applications. Otherwise the councillors will rightly be seen to be guilty of having pre-determined the planning decision, i.e. not going to the planning meeting with open minds. All the St Stephen councillors sit on Plans South and one member also sits on Planning Referrals.

The importance of not pre-determining a view is stressed in the training and I for one take the responsibility seriously. It must also be remembered that any trained councillor may be asked to act as a replacement member at a planning committee, even if they do not sit on it normally.

The fear is that while we do not have a Strategic Local Plan (SLP) there is a probability that planning applications will flood in. The lack of an SLP compounds the problem with defending ourselves against development in the Green Belt or over-housing at sites such as the Building Research Establishment (BRE). We do not have an SLP because in November last year Cllr Lee and her colleagues voted to derail the Plan which her party had originally brought forward. Yet the areas of Green Belt most at risk because of her vote form a wide crescent to the south of St Albans City.

Therefore I was astonished at Cllr Lee’s comment about the north of the district, where sections of the Green Belt to meet housing needs could be sliced off and no one would be any the wiser.

I fear that many residents and councillors will take her comment as a huge insult! How can she assume people are so ignorant?

It just shows how little regard she has for the Green Belt when it is in a different area of the district.


St Stephen Ward

Mount Pleasant Lane, Bricket Wood

Make sure your vote counts

SIR – With county council elections due in a few weeks time the majority of electors are probably seized by a feeling of apathy, most likely because people are disillusioned with political parties.

We must all, however, remember that our right to have a free vote was won for us (and millions of people in other countries) by many of our countrymen who fought and died for freedom for everyone. With that in mind we should all consider it not only our right to vote but also our responsibility.

The problem arises as a result of our disillusionment with political parties and a belief that “nothing changes”.

May I suggest that we all vote, but consider very carefully whether or not we vote for the same old political party nominees. Should we vote for someone who has already been on the council for years, or should we bring new faces and ideas on to the council? Should we vote for candidates who believe it is right to be a member of more than one council at the same time? Should we vote for independent candidates rather than the same old political parties?

However we approach it we should all vote, otherwise we dishonour the memory of our courageous ancestors, some of whom may have been from our own families.


Reynards Way, Bricket Wood

Is half-mast flag deserved?

SIR – I notice that the district council plans to mark the death of Lady Thatcher by flying the flag on the Town Hall at half mast on the day of her funeral. This seems reasonable to me because it has been customary in the past to make this gesture on the death of a previous Prime Minister.

However, I doubt whether there were many flags flying at half mast on the town halls of cities in the North and Midlands where Mrs Thatcher was regarded as a malign influence on the government, industry and home life of the nation and certainly not someone who should be revered in the present day.

Even in St Albans there are many people who resent the fact that millions of pounds are being spent on what is in effect, a state funeral for a Conservative icon who caused so much harm to the nation.

A fundamental cause of the financial crisis which destroyed major UK banks was Mrs Thatcher’s wanton deregulation of finance; a fundamental cause of the housing crisis which makes it so difficult for young people to find affordable housing was Mrs Thatcher’s decision to sell off council houses at knockdown prices and not to build any more with the proceeds; and a fundamental reason why so much of British industry including gas, electricity and water supply are in foreign hands was Mrs Thatcher’s determination at all costs to privatise national assets.

Finally, it was Mrs Thatcher’s government which began the long and sustained drive to increase inequality in Britain – to make the rich richer and the poor poorer.

Mrs Thatcher was a redoubtable person and I can understand that she is an iconic figure as the first woman to become Prime Minister. But does someone who had such a divisive influence on Britain deserve a quasi-state funeral or even a half mast flag?


The Dell, St Albans

Bravery of the outspoken

SIR – Through the portals of your newspaper I wish to pay homage to your reader who bravely spoke out agains the Hertfordshire mental health system.

Many other people are suffering from its archaic and Dickensian workhouse approach .

I have friends who have been attached while under their care and it would appear the entire system is worthy of review.

Stories abound of a slipshod and careless attitude by staff treating patients in a supercilious fashion.

Mental health services appear to be the Cinderella of the health output, and under the thick machete of Cameron and Clegg they are doomed for further Dickensian treatment.


Roundwood Lane, Harpenden

Businesses suffer from rates hike

SIR – Here we are in April and once again the business rates/council taxes for shops have gone up. For many shop owners this will be the 15th year in a row their rates have increased, while council tax for residents has been frozen for four years.

We now for example have small independent city-centre shops paying a staggering £3,500 per month in rates. This is now 23 times the highest council tax band based on an equivalent property value. As far as I can see, this country has the highest shop taxes in the world.

As a shop owner we also have to pay 12 times the amount of a resident for a parking permit, £500 or £38 for a resident. St Albans council is also increasing parking charges for shoppers. It seems that as a small shop owner we are just second-class citizens and it is no wonder 60 city shops have shut in the last year. If you are a supermarket you are given an extra 150 free car parking spaces in London Colney.


Holywell Hill, St Albans

Colour change?

SIR – Interesting to observe that the Anthony Rowlands election billboards are now coloured more like Labour red rather than Lib Dem orange and the slogan of previous years “Liberal Democrats are winning here” has been dropped.

Also delighted to see that Barry Cashin is now addressing more serious matters in his support of UKIP. His straight talking approach mirrors exactly the ethos of UKIP in addressing the issues directly rather than engaging in petty party politics.


UKIP St Albans

Nomansland, Wheathampstead

Rail freight costs are worthwhile

SIR – I was more than surprised to read in last week’s edition of the Herts Advertiser about the criticism levelled by Huw Smith at St Albans district council for having spent our rates money on defending our city and district from the devastating impact of the rail freight terminal being actively promoted by Helioslough.

The nearly £1 million spent over the past seven years represents less than £1.50 per person per annum in the St Albans/Radlett district, and to suggest that sensible people would regard this as less acceptable than the long-term pollution, congestion and ugliness of a massive freight terminal is frankly absurd.

Nor is it at all a balanced judgement to assume that such a blight on our district should not be opposed because of the current financial belt-tightening.

In reality, which is the most “expensive” option: a huge commercial 24/7 operation permanently in our midst that is totally unsuited to our area and brings degradation with no benefits, or a pound or so per person for a few years to try to save the area from such a fate?

The figure of £1 million is actually modest in comparison with the more than £12 million Helioslough had spent up to November 2011 (as stated by Simon Hoare of Helioslough) in aggressively pursuing the imposition of this disaster on our area.

Mr Smith appears to display the kind of short-term judgement that makes one glad the council did not adopt his view that residents should have been asked (at considerable logistical cost) in advance of this expenditure, although, as our petition of approximately 11,000 signatures to the HCC demonstrates, a very large majority of residents would actually have fully supported St Albans council.

Indeed, had the council not fought this monstrosity as they have done, most of us would have considered that they had totally failed to protect our environment and future.

I therefore propose a vote of thanks and support for the council in its continuing judicial fight to oppose this greedy and destructive planning application.


Park Street, St Albans

Call our public servants to account

SIR – Much has been written in your pages about councillors, i.e. elected public servants, being paid for services to commercial organisations. Old-fashioned I may be, but I think that – if it happens – it is wrong!

If an elected public servant with a particular field of expertise is approached in this way the faith placed in him by his electorate should be his first and only concern.

To me, an interest of any sort should be declared and certainly no money offered or accepted – bribery is still that, whatever you choose to call it.

If he cannot do this, he should not offer himself for election. There is a terrible apathy on the part of the public towards councils and councillors, who are noticed only when something is wanted, or something goes wrong.

The day-to-day business goes on unnoticed. We elect them, put them into office and then forget them! But they are spending the public’s money!

As we are more than happy to heap fiery coals on the heads of MPs whom we believe are acting wrongly, or illegally, then so should councillors be held to account in the same way, but we don’t seem to care.

To my mind the Cabinet system with portfolio holders has served to make the council more remote than ever, and further away from the grass roots, resulting in public apathy and low turn out at elections. Witness the flurry of single issue letters in your pages near election time!

It is the only way that councillors have to remind us that they are indeed “there” and seem to be “doing” something!

A party that puts itself in the public eye , and appears to be always present, will get the public vote - just because it is seen, not neccessarily because it is doing more than other parties.

The loud and noisy child will always be noticed over the quieter hard working one, but which will produce the best results? We won’t know unless we scrutinise their actions.

We elect councillors for longer than just the few weeks around elections – I hope they all remember that.


Hopkins Crescent, St Albans

Airport will not tackle noisy planes

SIR – A couple of details regarding your welcome and forthright article this week concerning the increasingly noisy aircraft that have been operating from Luton.

Firstly, in deference to those who helped at the time, to point out that the second runway threat was only seen off after a long campaign mounted by LADACAN to challenge the proposal through a Judicial Review at the High Court in 2004 – and to which many residents over a wide area contributed financially.

Secondly, that to comment on the effect of the current trial on one of its departure routes (which, as we noted in your March 14 edition, just makes it worse for some!), the e-address is rnav@ltn.aero and not as – quite understandably – printed, mav@ etc.

You quoted the usual hogwash from the airport about “encouraging” quieter aircraft, just as in their brochure last autumn outlining their proposals for mitigating the effects of a doubling in capacity, where they said they would “work with operators to encourage the voluntary phase out of the noisiest aircraft” (my italics); big deal!

Happily, after some persuasion from us, the local opinion-formers have woken up to the considerable noise, and traffic, threats, though even now perhaps not to the impact of twice as many overflights in the 6 (or earlier) to 7am period, including Sundays.

Finally, when LADACAN suggested the airport management might improve their reputation by fining the relatively few particularly noisy aircraft, we were told no chance unless they get agreement to their expansion plan: so nice to have a friendly neighbour!


For LADACAN, www.ladacan.org