Letters, April 3, 2014

Picturesque garden

SIR – I must congratulate St Albans council on the beautiful display in the walled garden that borders Bricket Road and St Peter’s Street. This has been done with much thought and careful planting and remains an oasis of quiet in a busy town centre. In the recent fine weather it has indeed been a pleasure just to walk through this garden and enjoy the spring plants flowering and seeing people enjoying the very pleasant surroundings whilst sitting in the all too rare sunshine. Well done St Albans council.

GERALD STONE New House Park, St Albans

Tories to blame for destruction of town

SIR – Loathe as I always am to disagree with a fellow citizen, I find I must take issue with Linda Sheridan over her criticism of Mayor Annie Brewster for being pictured at the demise of the Glen Eagles Hotel in Harpenden (March 13). It is entirely appropriate that this Mayor should preside over the destruction of a much-loved landmark. The political party she represents has presided over the destruction of so many things since it assumed the reins of control here in Harpenden. Trust, Localism and Democracy are but three of a list so long I would not bore your readers by citing it all. The fact that Tory Mayor Brewster wears the “livery’’ of a particular local developer is also entirely appropriate. For different reasons.

CAROL HEDGES Harpenden Independent Partnership Coldharbour Lane, Harpenden

Bus pass lifeline

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SIR – I would like to totally agree with the facts presented by Roger Pennell in your March 13 issue regarding the free bus passes. In my experience the majority of bus travellers are the pensioners, especially after 9am. Most of us get to do our shopping and attend appointments at the doctor’s/hospitals and socialise with the use of these passes. Although I am an owner of a car I find it very difficult to find parking spaces when attending hospital appointments and paying the exorbitant parking fees. Also of course it is one less car on our roads! If some of the older people do not have the bus pass they will not venture out of their houses. This will be detrimental to their wellbeing. They could suffer from depression and other health conditions by secluding themselves at home. This will lead to a bigger burden on the national health service. The bus pass doesn’t just benefit the pensioners it helps the society as a whole by helping to keep the elderly population healthy. It is a lifeline!

NANDIKA YOGENDRA Windmill Avenue, St Albans

Society fighting to preserve town

SIR – Every week I read about people complaining re: the proposed school, The Red House, the Green Belt, traffic, Harpenden House Hotel, etc. How many of these residents belong to the Harpenden Society, I wonder, the local group who try and fight for the well being of Harpenden? Unfortunately since St Albans district council took over Harpenden Town Council we are just the rich relations filling the district councils’ coffers for their often harebrained schemes. If every Harpenden family belonged to the society at £8 single and £10 family membership imagine the clout they would have when discussing these schemes. They are a small, exceedingly hard working group of people desperately in need of volunteers, so please Harpenden residents if you want to retain any concept of Harpenden village please look at the website at www.harpendensociety.org

JILL HILL Lodge Gardens. Harpenden

Badge holders are fighting back

SIR – I am constantly fed up with people who do not have disabled parking badges constantly parking at Tesco in Batford disabled space and also using the High Street’s disabled parking bays for waiting for people who they have dropped off or just using the space to park when running into a shop. Leaving disabled badge holder drivers to drive round trying to get parked and having to park further away from these spaces or on double yellow or single yellow lines obstructing the pavements sometimes and risking getting a parking ticket themselves which has happened to me. I hardly come out down the High Street unless I really have too because of this as I am totally annoyed with drivers being inconsiderate. When drivers are confronted by disabled badge users we get abuse! Hello! These spaces are valuable to those who can’t walk far and genuinely need them or for badge users shopping for disabled persons. I must add there is never a traffic warden around when you need them? They should be stopping these people especially on the High Street. These spaces are being abused! I must also add the disabled spaces are all on the wrong side of the road on the High Street as there are none outside or near Barclays Bank or along the road by Nationwide/Halifax and around by Waitrose, for instance and there is ample parking to allow for a couple of spaces along there. The council/highways need to look at this and sort it out. Disabled parking spaces also need some policing but again it’s all about budget cuts yet again. Disabled badge holders get abuse for sticking up for themselves. By the way I’m warning people parking in Tesco at Batford disabled bay you will be blocked in by disabled badge holders as you show absolutely no compassion to those who need them. I’m not throwing all my toys out the pram but feel this needs highlighting and addressing.

JAY JOSEPH Station Road, Harpenden

Protesting against 20mph bullies

SIR – We write to fully support Eric Bridgstock against these 20mph obsessed bullies of the Green Party, and the lavish county “speed management strategy” when we really need a “pothole management strategy”. We support 20mph zones on cul-de-sacs and residential roads. We do not however support blanket 20mph zones including main roads which damages our city. The business case for these zones is based solely on safety cost reductions by reducing casualties. It takes no account of increased costs to business by slowing journey times for people who work to earn a living and pay council tax and business rates, increased costs to the NHS by slowing ambulances, increased air pollution as we now contravene EU limits, ugly extra road signage, nor reductions in commercial bus provision or the shocking condition of the city’s roads, especially Watford Road. When the 20mph zone in the city centre was introduced, the consultation was flawed so it is legally unenforceable. The 724 coach service no longer serves the city centre, as it is just too slow. The Greens can have 20mph zones or better buses, not both. The LTP 3 commitment for a new express bus from St Albans to Stansted, increased 724 coach service to Heathrow and Abbey line light rail/passing loop have all stalled, denying residents real alternatives to the car. The Greens cite Portsmouth as a 20mph “success”. Just north of Harpenden, Luton also has blanket 20mph zones, where there has been a 27 per cent drop in bus services since 2010 including the new Translink which cost millions, increased unemployment, rising drug use and depression increasing NHS costs. Empty shops in Bushmead tell their own story, and people are moving north to booming MK and Northampton. No one is citing Luton as a 20mph “success” story. St Albans got off lightly with a five per cent cut in bus services – in Potters Bar increased restrictions and cuts have led to a 37 per cent plunge in bus services since 2000. Contrast this with beautiful Harrogate and York, with good road and rail services, few petty speed or parking restrictions and bustling commercial and historic centres?

PAUL SPELZINI Parkland Drive, St Albans

Memories of The Dell and Butts

SIR – How pleased I am that Beech Bottom Dyke is at last being given the recognition it deserves! As a child I spent many happy hours wandering “The Dell” as it was called then, and imagining what it must have been like in Roman times. During the Second World War, John Lehmann wrote a poem – The Sphere of Glass – about a brother and sister who walked along the dyke and felt the presence of the Roman soldiers and the grief which the dyke had known, and they could feel a mystical connection between that war and their own. Young as we were, my brother and I could feel the same kind of harmonious link which John Lehmann had experienced. As I read your article, all those wonderful childhood memories came flooding back! It is certainly worth preserving, and making into a site which so many more people can enjoy.

WENDY LEWIS Sewell Close, St. Albans

SIR – When I was a child, Beech Bottom Dyke was known as The Butts, and I was told that in the Middle Ages, when it was compulsory for men to practice their skill using the long bow, they used The Butts as a safe place to do this. I wonder how many lost arrows are hidden in that soil?

JANE KELSALL Avenue Road, St Albans

SIR – We were delighted to read of the CMS plans to protect and promote Beech Bottom Dyke and of your visit with Peter Burley to rediscover its historical importance. The Dyke is just one of the little-known or neglected visitor assets on the northern outskirts of St Albans which the Sandridge900+ initiative, which launched on March 30, was conceived to make better known both to our immediate neighbours in the city and district and to visitors from further afield. May we add our support to the CMS search for funding and renew our invitation to your readers to “Discover Sandridge” in 2014.

VIVIAN NUTTON Chair Sandridge900+ Steering Group Sandpit Lane, St Albans

Coffee wars continue

SIR – What a pity that the Civic Society and a sadly predictable group of worthies have decided on such an utterly wrong-headed attitude towards Caffe Nero’s planning application. The Society that fought so valiantly over the future of Chequer Street back in the 1970s and early ’80s unfortunately seems to be stuck in those days. Let’s be very clear: there is no future for St Albans city centre as a major shopping centre. The moment passed a long time ago and only the lunacy of the pre-credit crunch era gave false hope. Its units are mostly too small and the nearby competition too fierce. Look at the evidence to see our real choices: PoundWorld and 99p Stores at the top of St Peter’s Street and Poundland in The Maltings. I’ve nothing against any of these stores – they fill an economic need – but let’s not pretend they are a sign of vitality in a town centre. We have even seen a loss of retail to a new hotel and there’s a pawn broker next to The Boot. Is that what you want? Or St Albans can move to encourage things that let people hang around a bit. Coffee shops are where young mums meet up for a chinwag, where self-employed people (like me) go for a bit of a break or for informal meetings, or where professionals go to get free of the distractions of the office, taking advantage of the WiFi; where we can catch up with friends without being surrounded by booze (that really matters to some of us); they are where students like to sit and write essays. And then there are those who just like coffee, or the assortment of snacks they also sell. The landlords of the old Monsoon unit tried to let it to a retailer – which had outbid Caffe Nero – but the deal fell through. Sorry, but landlords are as entitled to a viable business as anyone else. It is a little unseemly to see an organisation with the heritage of the Civic Society rabble-rousing against a company going about its lawful business. The business world has never been more brutal, and St Albans is too small to be big and too big to be Berkhamsted-style small. An outbreak of café culture would do the power of good – yes, let it spill out onto the streets, let them play music, hold poetry readings, host local arts groups, and more. It may not be the only viable option to pound stores and betting shops, but it is the one on the table and there is no-one else coming over the hill to save us. We don’t have time to stand on past glories, because the past is where they are. So instead of trying to preserve it in aspic, perhaps the Civic Society could start thinking how to exploit its coffee shops – and all the other eateries – to bring people to spend time our beautiful city.

IAN CUNDELL Partridge Road, St Albans

SIR – I am of the view that there are two strands to this debate: are there too many coffee shops, or are there too many chain coffee shops? I have heard and read the views of many that St Albans has too many coffee shops – “too many, full stop”. This is plainly nonsense – the market will decide for itself when it is saturated, and it is difficult to argue that this saturation point has been reached given the trouble one has finding a table at peak times. Chain coffee shops however, are a relentless scourge on towns and cities throughout the land. I once believed that St Albans had enough small coffee businesses to keep this infectious plague at bay. Alas, we can now see that they have come to fester on our High Street, as they do on every High Street in the country. Often, they enter our towns well aware that they will run at a loss for the first few years, confident of their colossal financial backing as they wait for the local competition to be slowly overpowered. But I do urge residents not put all coffee shops in the same basket just because we might perceive them all to offer the same product. St Albans should open its arms to entrepreneurs like Angelo Padormo who runs Barrissimo on St Albans High Street. There could never be too many coffee shops like his – better coffee than the chains, brilliant service, and great homemade food too. It is an entirely different experience and a different proposition to the Costa, Starbucks and Caffe Nero machine. Caffe Nero are well known for their bullying tactics, especially with regard to obtaining planning permission. In November 2011, the chain opened a branch in Skipton, North Yorkshire, even though planning permission had been denied for all previous applications. The chain was once again denied retrospective planning permission at a hearing in December 2011, and despite this they refused to close the premises whilst a second appeal was launched. At the time, a spokesperson for Caffe Nero said that they would “continue operating...whatever the outcome of the appeal”. There are not too many coffee shops in St Albans, just too many multinational coffee chains. I would urge the council to stop dithering, and get Caffe Nero away from this district as quickly as they have tried to enter it – the lessons from the past are clear: As you fiddle, Nero earns!

JOE HAMES Gonnerston, St Albans

Cashin keeps up the pressure

SIR – To Gerald, thank you for your kind words. No, my pen has not dried up, nor will it ever. It’s just that some personal issues take precedence over writing letters to the local newspaper. Suffice it to say in response to your own and other correspondents’ letters and indeed to all readers, the council’s seemingly continuous position of recalcitrant defence may soon be coming to an end. I cannot reveal exactly how at this stage but I am given to understand that plans are afoot to allow citizens of Hertfordshire to actively report, monitor and therefore record instances of potholes so that, should future claims arise, the council’s usual defence that they were not aware of the road defect can be blown out of the water. It should make straightforward, well evidenced and genuine motor damage claims a lot easier to pursue. Certainly, the small claims fast track process of the County Court has been made much easier in recent years via the www.moneyclaim.gov.uk website but soon, it should be even easier to seek justice and fair reparation for damage caused by negligence or negligent repairs when the people of Herts have access to detailed pothole reporting information in their immediate area which can, in an instant, prove or disprove whether the council knew and therefore should have acted to repair a road defect. For too long, the men in suits have been riding roughshod over beleaguered motorists, throwing excuses and in some cases even untruths to repudiate genuine claims. Well not for much longer. Watch this space!

BARRY CASHIN Green Lane, St Albans