Letters, April 17, 2014

Buy now, pee later

SIR – Well BHS, you certainly know how to treat the people who walk through your doors like something found on the sole of one’s shoe, don’t you!? I read with unalloyed astonishment in last week’s Herts Ad that the company, tired of “regular misuse” of their in-store toilet are now routinely banning its use to members of the public unless and until they actually purchase something beforehand and key in a code printed on their till receipt. What about those customers who are disabled, what about those who get caught short in the street and need a loo urgently, or those with serious health issues that urgently need access to a loo but, although they may be in-store browsers, haven’t quite got around to making a purchase yet and what about those people who enter BHS with every intention of making a purchase but who, for whatever reason, don’t find what they want to buy? Does the fact that they haven’t handed money over at the counter for whatever genuine reason mean they are not classified as a “customer”, thus precluding them from using the toilet? Does every urgent user now need to justify to staff why they need a wee wee before being allowed access!? I think it is abhorrent that BHS should stoop so low as to implement this Draconian, money making measure when it flies in the face of public decency. Unless the store has had a recent spate of people shooting up in the loos of BHS, it behoves them to act like any other decent retailer and make the provision of an in-store customer loo available to all – not just paying punters but those with genuine disabilities, those in need or simply those who enjoy browsing. Have they actually carried out a survey with previous loo users before coming up with this lunatic policy? Don’t worry BHS, the people of St Albans are not stupid nor will they be willing to patronise an establishment that penalises the call of nature unless money is handed over for goods. Alas, with this new buy now, pee later policy, there could be a few little accidents on the floor as the elderly or less continent are compelled to urinate where they stand because they haven’t quite got around to buying something yet. Finally, the new toilet instructions ask users to press C to enter. Well we all now know what that stands for don’t we? I thank you.

BARRY CASHIN Green Lane, St Albans

Fighting the bullies of Westminster

SIR – The Herts Advertiser has recently highlighted the SKM report that was commissioned by St Albans council’s planning department to look into Green Belt sites that could be degraded and made available for development. On reading your letters section there seems little public irritation. Firstly, the council has a responsibility to use brown belt sites to build upon, before looking at Green Belt. The main advantage of this, is that any development’s significant profits could be pumped back into the St Albans community, instead of filling the boots of already wealthy land owners, giving little or no benefit to St Albans as a whole. Before I get on my high horse, have you received letters of objection or has awareness of this impending doom not been realised? St Albans don’t walk sleepwalk into this! I feel this will be your lead story for in the months to come, Chiswell Green is preparing to fend off potential loss of important Green Belt which could lead to a major high density housing development, increasing the local population in the area by 40 per cent and putting a further 1,000 cars onto the already busy Watford Road at peak times, with no mention of improving the current infrastructure when local schools and surgeries are already stressed to meet current demands and little regard for the importance of the Green Belt. I’ve a horrible feeling we’re not alone, as Government leans on our council to provide land to meet the new housing targets. St Albans is already a busy bustling city, with all major arteries clogged in the morning and evening’s rush hour. Local demand outstrips public services and generally we’re closing, not opening them. Don’t get me started about pollution, water and wildlife issues. We all pay a high tariff to live here and I’d guess homes at St Albans prices would only be affordable to the few, not the masses as Boris is proposing. Someone has to call a halt and make Westminster realise we can’t be bullied into ruining our city’s charm and character just because their policies have not been forward thinking.

KEVIN GARDAM Forge End Chiswell Green Nothing new to say over 20mph limits?

SIR – Eric Bridgstock makes a solid, well researched case against 20mph limits, whilst your correspondents Jack Easton and Rob Pearman rely on imagination and emotion in an attempt to justify them. It is of course true that the severity of an accident is generally reduced if impact speed is reduced, but how many casualties result from this form of collision? I looked on the CrashMap website and found that for the three years 2010-12 there was one pedestrian fatality and eight serious injuries in St Albans city centre, one pedestrian fatality in London Colney and one fatality and three serious injuries for pedestrians in Harpenden. Rob Pearman paints a hypothetical aggressive scenario with a battle between impatient racing drivers and the rights and needs of others. I don’t recognise this scenario. My experience both as a driver and a pedestrian is that the vast majority of vehicles are driven safely and considerately, most pedestrians look where they are going but that cyclists are the least predictable road users, weaving through traffic often ill lit and ignoring the law. The biggest danger to pedestrians is inattention, especially people with earphones on or studying their smart phone. There is a growing number of pedestrians killed or injured in these situations. Another cause of pedestrian death is suicide, this was difficult to prove until more vehicles started carrying dash-cams. I know of a firm with a large fleet of vans and lorries all fitted with dash cams who can now prove two suicides a year just with their vehicles. How many more of these pedestrian deaths and injuries are self inflicted, and will never be stopped by more 20mph limits?

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ROBERT BOLT Forge End, St Albans

SIR – The letters in support of 20mph from Jack Easton and Rob Pearman (Your Views, March 20) are based on emotion and selective reporting, and both repeat the shocking view that can be summarised as “hitting pedestrians at slower speeds kills fewer of them”. My vision of road safety is one where all road users are fully alert and looking out for each other, and there are no collisions of any sort. Mr Easton continues to cite the 22 per cent reduction in all injuries figure from the Portsmouth report, conveniently side-stepping the 38 per cent increase in pedestrian serious injuries there and 11 per cent increase in injured cyclists. The report also says schoolchildren injuries increased and that “although there was a 12 per cent average reduction in killed and serious injuries (KSI) nationally, Portsmouth recorded a six per cent increase in KSI”. That was all despite a 12 per cent reduction in traffic volume within their 20mph area. Mr Pearman declares that “drivers think the 30mph limit does not apply to them”. Why does he think making it 20mph will result in a different response, with all drivers suddenly complying? Perhaps there is a clue there as to why there is no evidence of casualty reduction being attributable to any 20mph scheme. He also asks for a constructive alternative. Strictly speaking, if something is planned that has been shown to be detrimental to road safety in other towns, the answer is simply not to pursue it – there is no obligation on me to offer an alternative. However, I will suggest that the thousands of pounds that extending the 20mph folly would cost should be spent on repainting white lines, especially on zebra crossings and mini roundabouts, as many have virtually disappeared. That would be of considerable benefit to road safety for all. And, of course, repairing potholes and the generally appalling road surfaces.

ERIC BRIDGSTOCK Evans Grove, St Albans

Researching former pub’s history

SIR – I am carrying out some research on The George and Dragon pub, a late 17th Century listed building in Colney Street, which is now a private residence. If anyone has any stories, information or pictures I would love to hear from them.

GAIL NEWMAN gailnewman1@yahoo.co.uk The George and Dragon pub 218 Radlett Road, Colney Street, St Albans, AL2 2EN

Bricket Hollywood

SIR – Your recent items covering a movie filmed in the grounds of the Hanstead Estate, the former home of Sir David and Lady Annie Henrietta Yule in Bricket Wood, and the Princess Royal unveiling a memorial stone to commemorate the screen legend and ex-St Albans pupil Dame Anna Neagle, were read with considerable interest by members of the Bricket Wood Society committee. Bricket Wood has long been used as a location for movies as well as by television companies for TV dramas and adverts. An upturned car in the Ford at Drop Lane, Warren Clarke in a front garden in South Riding, and Smug Oak Green as a murder scene in Five Days have been some of the more recent TV activities. The 1957 film Night of the Demons, starring Dana Andrews and Peggy Cummins, used Bricket Wood railway station, as have many others, and it is reputed that Stanley Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange was partly filmed on Bricket Wood Common. Lady Yule, who became one of the richest women in the kingdom on the death of her husband, Sir David, invested in the film industry and set up British National Films Ltd with J. Arthur Rank, a Company which financed more than seventy films between 1937 and 1948. One of their more notable successes was One of our Aircraft is Missing with Eric Portman, Bernard Miles, Googie Withers and Peter Ustinov, among many other well known actors of the time. However, probably the most famous use of Bricket Wood was for the 1937 film Victoria the Great starring Anna Neagle. Not quite as illustrious as Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle or Balmoral, but Bricket Wood station was turned into London Euston and the locomotive known as ‘Lion’, which also featured in the film The Titfield Thunderbolt was used for the honeymoon departure of Queen Victoria after her marriage to Prince Albert. Many local residents were used as extras and can be seen in the film running along near the railway track waving off the happy couple. The railway and the Hanstead Estate have both played a major part in the history of modern Bricket Wood and while the railway is still with us, the estate is now the subject of a major planning application for housing development, referred to as Hanstead Park, following the departure of HSBC, who until recently used and maintained the site as their global training college. Since 1977, The Bricket Wood Society has been collecting and recording material relating to Bricket Wood but identifying films where the village has been used has been a little tricky. If anyone therefore has any knowledge of a particular film or TV programme where Bricket Wood has been used as a location, we would love to hear from you.

LAURIE HART Chairman, Bricket Wood Society

Confusion at the checkouts

SIR – Many a mickle makes a muckle... Sainsbury’s are adding to their profts half a penny at a time! This is the value of the Reward point they are supposed to give you when you re-use your own bag to save them rather more than half a penny that they would spend to replace a new one that they supply. Roughly 60 per cent of the time, they forget to give me my Reward point even though their till reminds them and so do I! I am one of the few to notice and get it added back on, even though it isn’t really worth my time, but I hope the customer service people remind their staff of their omissions and improve for the rest of the customers as well as for my next visit. Now I’m told that the same supermarket has withdrawn basket-only tills in response to Tesco and Asda taking the lead in this! When I queried this, I pointed out that the tobacco till had a long queue that would normally be at an express checkout. I was reminded of the self-service checkout but I have no wish to be harangued by a recorded voice telling me of unexpected items in bagging areas! I wonder whether I should apply for a decision-maker’s job at one of these stores’ head offices, but could I sleep at night knowing they are overpaid from underpaying their staff and from profits gained from millions of transactions where customers don’t get their full Reward points? Incidentally I’d rather not have to bother with loyalty cards – cut your prices and stop spending so much on administering these schemes!

S BEAVER London Road, St Albans

Embrace change in the High Street

SIR – May I add some observations to the correspondence concerning the changing face of the city centre, which has been revived by the imminent arrival of another coffee shop. Firstly, the “wondrous array of shops” which some remember fondly, both in St Albans and elsewhere, was not the norm from time immemorial. In historical terms, the “High Street” of our youth was a relatively recent arrival. It developed primarily during the industrial revolution, when people moving from the countryside ceased to be self sufficient in basic requirements and began instead to buy them with money earned from industrial labour. Our requirements in a post-industrial age are different again. Secondly, I agree with Gerald Stone that the demise of the independent retailer is entirely the result of (perfectly rational) consumer behaviour. Most physical goods are available more conveniently and cheaply online or at out-of-town superstores. Developments in technology are constantly increasing the pace of this change. (Consider the rise and fall of Blockbuster and HMV.) The only businesses that can resist these changes in the long run are those providing direct services such as hairdressers, opticians and – yes – coffee shops. Thirdly, we live in an essentially free society. If landlords can extract more rent from a chain of coffee shops than from a traditional retailer, they will do so. The only way to preserve a traditional collection of shops would be to create a nostalgic tourist attraction along the lines of Beamish in County Durham or one of the reconstructed gold rush towns found in Australia and the USA. I think that St Albans has more to offer than that. My conclusion is that we – and those representing us – should embrace changes which are inevitable anyway and focus instead on making our city centre as attractive, accessible and user-friendly as possible. ( I will resist the temptation to digress onto car parking at this point!)

KEN PAWLEY Sunnydell, St Albans

Victorian vandalism

SIR – It was fascinating to read (Herts Advertiser, April 3) the history of the construction of the original “skew” bridge carrying the Midland Railway over London Road, St Albans in 1867 and of its replacement almost 50 years later. What really caught my eye was the fact that vandalism is no recent phenomenon; those three Victorian yobbos were out making destructive mischief on the London Road bridge site 147 years ago. So nothing changes – but does it? I note that in addition to fines being imposed, one of the miscreants was sentenced to eight days in prison “with hard labour”. But, most significant of all – and I refrain from further comment – we learn that “the bench also recommended that their parents give them a good flogging”.

ALAN BUNTING Ridgewood Drive, Harpenden

Stocking filler

SIR – What I would like for Christmas is a picture book of all the photographs of our Lady Mayor. Any chance?

JOHN RAE Orchard Street, St Albans