Letters April 7 2016

Have your say and write to hertsad@archant.co.uk

Have your say and write to hertsad@archant.co.uk - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Council failings over flytipping offences

SIR - Flytipping is a self-evident big problem in our district. Offenders are selfish opportunists rarely witnessed. Prosecutions are few. The cost of clear-ups is huge and met by Council Tax payers. What can be done? Imaginative thinking by our council officers to harness the eyes and ears of the public might assist? But a radical change of thinking will be necessary as illustrated by my recent experience of trying to help. On October 6 I saw fly tipping on the verge of House Lane, Sandridge clearly visible from my home on Jersey Farm. It was contained in distinctive large builders’ bags consisting of rubble and waste that could be associated with a builder’s clear-up. Clearly visible was an A4 sized invoice bearing the name, address, email address and telephone number of a man living on the Jersey Farm estate. I retained the invoice fearing the wind would blow it away. A short walk to the address revealed a signboard containing the same details and on the ground close by was an identical builders’ bag. The police-advised protocol required that I should report to the council. I did by telephone and was advised someone would attend my home shortly to collect the invoice. I gave a printed précis of the above and the invoice to the council officer who attended. The nest day I received a very brief email from a Ms Koller advising that there was no evidence on which she could act . Perplexed I complained by letter dated November 14 to the Chief Executive about the lack of action. I chased for a reply on December 12. I received a response from a Mrs Stagg dated December 18 explaining my retaining the invoice had prevented any council action as only nominated council staff are allowed to find and retain the invoice I found. Also had the person been interviewed he could have alleged that I had planted the invoice. I complained further to the Chief Executive on January 6 and received an interim response dated January 21 from Charles Turner, legal services manager. He promised to look into the council’s policy and whether an investigation could be undertaken and a substantive reply by January 29. I explained to Mr Turner that I have professional experience of the prosecution process including the finding and preservation of evidence for criminal prosecutions. Mr Turner’s eventual substantive reply was dated March 21 – seven weeks later than originally promised. The essence of Mr Turner’s reply was that he supported the council’s approach that the council could only act on evidence found by nominated council staff trained in finding and preserving such as an invoice. My professional experience in such matters did not provide an exception to this approach. He explained various reasons why a prosecution could be difficult – all irrelevant as I had not asked for a prosecution. I had simply asked why the council did not interview a person whose name and address was in flytipped rubbish dumped on public land – a perfectly reasonable question to ask when the council are responsible for clearing the rubbish? I have asked Mr Turner what should a concerned member of the public do who sees a paper clue in flytipping at a time when the wind is blowing, the weather is inclement and council staff are not working. Turn a blind eye? No wonder the council has an abysmal record of prosecutions. Some imaginative thinking is required if any impact on the problem is to be made. How about the council offering a reward to any person who provides information of whatever nature that leads to the detection of an offender? Not necessarily a prosecution. The council could take alternative action such as requiring the offender removes offending material and pays any associated costs?

ROBERT PAGET Pirton Close, St Albans

More to consider over station revamp

SIR - It was interesting to read to the article regarding the budget agreement to fund improvements at St Albans Station. These are sensible proposals given the continuing popularity of the station. However we should not allow this to deflect attention from the issues that matter most to commuters - more reliable services, improved communication (including from drivers and that ever-extending promise of longer trains. Which will arrive first on Platform 4 in 2019 - extended trains or coffee outlets? In respect of physical improvements, there also remains the important issue of fairer pricing of car parking by Govia Thameslink. The local council and county recently issued a questionnaire to residents in central St Albans seeking information to help inform a policy for over-crowded street parking strategy. I responded with an additional request that the Station Road car park was examined to improve capacity (additional decks) as part of a broader coordinated policy. The response from the council was interesting – that the car park was under capacity and that the council were reviewing this with Govia Thameslink. The implication has to be overpricing by the operator. While there has been an exceptional transformation of cycle parking capacity at the station, Govia Thameslink are less responsible in playing their part to reduce pressure on commuter street parking in surrounding areas as far as 1.5km from the station. There should be some transparency to justify the pricing and a trial period to significantly reduce parking costs to examine how this alters commuter parking preferences. The balance of revenue earned via coffee and newspapers or via more responsible parking provisions that have a significant impact on our streets appears to need redress. Govia Thameslink appears to be in the sidings on this matter.

NICK BIRCHALL Glenferrie Road, St Albans

Own goal by Saints?

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SIR - The owners of St Albans City Football Club and their planning consultants seem to have taken a dive in the penalty area, going public with a complaint that the club’s future needs have been ignored (so far) in the preliminary version of the emerging SLP which is, at this stage, what it says on the front cover - a draft blueprint for development in the district. There is plenty of time to add or subtract before the public inquiry. Maybe the consultants feel they need to create a fuss every now and then to show they’re value for money? Co-owner Mr Levy believes the SLP and its infant child the DLP (Detailed Local Plan) will be the vehicle to deliver the district council’s commitment “by supporting the club and its aims to build a modern, sustainable and successful football club, creating opportunities in sport, leisure, and employment for the whole community”. This sounds very ambitious considering the club’s recent modest success on the pitch and home crowds as low as 500 and only rarely more than 1,000, which is hardly surprising considering the nearness of so many Premier League and other local professional clubs. And in any event, as Cllr Daly is reported to have said in reply: “It’s a strategic document, we don’t mention everything, we will consider their representations. If there is somewhere in mind they want to build, there is nothing to stop them from applying for planning permission.” And there’s the rub. Way back in time - 10 years or so? - the previous chairman and owners bunked up with Oaklands College with ambitious plans to build a new stadium and associated facilities, all of which would be underwritten by a large housing scheme for which the developers would be - amazing coincidence - the owners of the club! Subsequently the new and present co-owners of the football club were reported to have identified a piece of land off Colney Heath Lane to build a new stadium and associated facilities - but with an ‘enabling’ housing development to underwrite the cost. However, lack of traction for this plan didn’t rely on the proposed developers going bust, it got a straight pre-application red card from the planning department. If Mr Levy and his co-owner Mr McGowan are set on building a modern, sustainable and successful football club, creating opportunities in sport, leisure and employment for the whole community, they should be talking to John Breheny and his directors about a scheme to take the late-lamented Butterfly World site off their hands. At 27 acres, with a road and services already installed, one large hotel almost in the grounds and another about to be developed, and with no realistic chance of developing the land for housing, this would be the football club’s best chance of fulfilling the owners’ aims and ambitions. They could work in partnership with the Breheny civil engineering group who say “...we have undertaken works in various conditions and locations, including greenfield and brownfield sites, which have formed the basis for various developments including... football stadiums.” Maybe they already are?

ROBERT HILL East Common, Harpenden

Different sides of the wall over signs?

SIR - In his letter ‘Excessive signs’ (March 24) Nick Chivers questions the need for “such a quantity” of Heritage Watch signs in the vicinity of the Roman wall in Verulamium Park. The sad story is that there has been recent damage to the Roman wall, where it runs along the Causeway, south of the London Gate up to King Harry Lane, which has been caused by some members of the public, not only clambering and cycling on it, but also removing material from the wall. This damage has been exacerbated by the removal of the railings, which protected the wall, when the cycle path was introduced (see Letters August 6 and September 3 2015). St Albans and Hertfordshire Architectural and Archaeological Society and St Albans Civic Society have been meeting with St Albans district council (with the specific support of two local councillors, Edgar Hill and Jessica Chivers), English Heritage and Historic England (the national responsible bodies), and the Hertfordshire Constabulary, to address the issue of damage to this heritage site. English Heritage have now carried out consolidation of the wall, repairing with lime plaster mortar (see Herts Advertiser March 10). There is a debate as to how best create some form of demarcation between the path and the wall. The council are working on some permanent signs, asking people not to climb on the wall, but, meanwhile, the police have been most helpful, both in patrolling the area and in putting up temporary signs, explaining that Heritage Watch aims to protect our historical sites – it is a heritage crime to damage the wall. After they were first put up, all but one of the police signs disappeared and have had to to replaced. I am sorry if Mr Chivers considers the number now overkill, but as Cllr Chivers says, “ humans need to hear the same message repeatedly for it to sink in”. The wall was built around AD 270 to protect Verulamium, one of the largest cities in Roman Britain. The message of how important it is to preserve this part of St Albans’s heritage needs to be understood by fellow citizens, as our descendants may not forgive us, if the Roman wall is harmed, because of our neglect!

PROF TIM BOATSWAIN Chairman of St Albans Civic Society Sopwell Lane, St Albans

‘War-torn’ roads

SIR - As a former resident of St Albans I have family and friends who reside in the area, so I visit regularly. Every time I come I am totally appalled at the condition of the roads in and around St Albans. One of the richest and affluent cities in the UK must have, arguably, (only because I have not visited all other rich cities) definitely the most disgusting and dangerous roads in existence. They remind me of the roads in post-war Bosnia and Kosovo where I spent considerable time in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. I am amazed that the residents and road users of St Albans have not taken the council to court and sued the council for their statutory duty to maintain the infrastructure. You pay these ridiculous amounts of council taxes, yet risk your safety every time you take to the streets. Especially cyclists. We hear that the goverment is going to try and promote more cycling, what with roads and incredible potholes like you have in St Albans? Would you want your children cycling on these roads risking their safety? Hit one of these massive holes and fall off or get hit by a car swerving to avoid some of these holes which are akin to open cast mining on residential streets.

DENNIS MILNER Loughborough, Leicestershire

Lack of promotion for city’s history

SIR - What a great letter from Ernest Barnes in the Herts Ad pointing out St Albans’ inability to promote itself. We live in this wonderful city with history all around us. From the Romans through the Wars of the Roses to more recent times – there’s literarily a good story around every corner. And yet it’s never mentioned, anywhere. So much more could be made of our lovely city if only someone had the imagination to bring the history alive. Whilst the town tour guides do a sterling job they really do need some physical back up. Strategically placed plaques would be a start or graphic story boards (like St. Stephen’s Parish have provided in Black Green Wood) or, at the very least, city walk pamphlets describing the areas of significance - all of which would certainly arouse interest and help attract tourists. In his letter, Ernest mentions the area opposite the White Hart Tap where the Yorkists assembled their troops prior to skirting around the Royalist defences and charging through private dwellings bursting into the town and defeating the Lancastrians. What a cracking story. Perhaps the person within the council responsible for promoting our city is an Lancastrian?

SAM COTTINGHAM Park Street, St Albans

Praise where it’s due for Colts

SIR - Over the last few weekends I have witnessed what, in essence, must really be an excellent and long standing example of what David Cameron was pleased to call the The Big Society. I am so impressed that I feel compelled to write and publicly acknowledge and thank a group whose work may go unrecognised. My grandson is eight and is a member of Harpenden Colts. Every Saturday he attends coaching, which he loves; that lasts an hour and a half. Then on Sunday he plays in matches either at home or at other clubs in the surrounding area; home or away – again, including time to set up etc. that is another hour and a half. I watched these coaches prepare the equipment, teach the necessary skills and the rudiments of an effective game of football, encourage the boys (or girls), pick them up if they were hurt and generally enable these youngsters to develop into a team. This is all done on a free and voluntary basis and from what I have read, seen and discovered it is happening all over the country; on school pitches and other fields these activities are taking place on Saturday and Sunday mornings. It is possible that some of these coaches may have children in the squad; but they work with the whole squad (in all honesty I would have been hard put to recognise which was the coach’s son till I saw them getting into the car at the end) with patience, kindness, and a balance of challenge and encouragement. I am impressed by their commitment and their willingness to give their time and their skills – a real example of a Big Society which has been taking place since long before David Cameron ever used the phrase.

TERRY WILLIS Epsom Court, Rickmansworth

Support for annual Christmas market

SIR - I write as a Hertfordshire resident, who though not living in St Albans visits regularly. I found the 2015 Christmas Market a bit disappointing when compared to the previous year’s, however I would not label the stalls’ content as all “tat” (ref: Ian Hall comment, March 24). There were certainly a few excellent craftspeople there – particularly those offering some larger items of woodwork. I do hope that the Christmas Market will continue and thrive with even more interesting stalls – it is a lovely festive season focus within St Albans.

PATT TRIGG Armitage Close, Watford Historic problems on railway line

SIR – The first complaint against the Midland Railway’s Bedford to St Pancras service was recorded in the Herts Advertiser in May 1870 – 21 months after the opening of the line. The Midland Railway bus from St Michael’s was diverted by a lady passenger to her home in St Peter’s Street to pick up four large boxes. The resulting delay meant that all the passengers missed their train! Since then reports of delays due to fatalities, both accidental and deliberate, signal failures, locomotive failures and derailments have been faithfully reported in the Herts Advertiser. In August 1874 the St Albans slip coaches became uncoupled from the 5pm down Manchester express and left the passengers stranded in the stifling atmosphere of the Belsize Tunnel. Then in July 1898 the 7.25pm from St Pancras was delayed 10 minutes at Hendon while a horsebox was attached to the front of the train; and on arrival at Elstree there was a further delay in detaching a horsebox from the rear of the train. St Albans was reached 21 minutes late. Passengers were always writing to the Midland Railway to improve the train service. In 1907 they successfully petitioned the Midland Railway to give precedence to commuter trains over late-running overnight sleepers from Glasgow and Edinburgh saying it was more important that businessmen arrive at their offices on time than the passengers on the sleepers arriving a further 10 minutes late. We had our problems in the 1950s. Soon after the re-signalling at St Pancras they signalled the 7.47am (2-6-4 and 10 coaches – 972 seats sitting chummily knee to knee) into platform 1 (capacity engine and six coaches). We in the last carriages had to clamber down on to the track and walk the last few yards to the station. Then twice on the 5.18pm Harpenden train we ran out of steam with the same engine, 42237. On the second occasion we struggled along to Mile House Lane bridge before the brakes leaked on. The crew of the 5.10pm all stations entered into the spirit of the situation, storming up the bank from Radlett and sweeping past us with much waving of evening papers. On the positive side, the 5.18pm was worked by top-link crews from Kentish Town depot. We had some spirited runs down the fast lane to St Albans culminating in Harry Edwards arriving four minutes 10 seconds early on the 27 minute schedule, much to the astonishment of the bowler-hatted city gentlemen. Today’s train operators have got it relatively easy. A train arrives at its destination and the driver simply changes ends and goes back from whence he came. In the old times the train arrived, a locomotive was coupled to the empty coaches, the empty coaches were hauled to the carriage sidings for servicing and finally the train engine reverses back to the locomotive depot. Also there are now no miscellaneous freight or trip working to be incorporated in the schedules. But the operators are hindered. There are now very few crossings where trains could by-pass an obstruction, locomotive depots where a spare engine could be requisitioned or sidings where failed stock could be stabled. And if a coach develops a defect the whole four-coach unit has to be taken out of service. So have sympathy to those who have to sort out the problems – I’m sure they are trying their best.

HOWARD GREEN Jennings Road, St Albans

Trivial pursuits

SIR - Just for the record, it was a Bedford Dormobile, not Doormobile (Letters March 17). A camper van based on the Bedford CA and CF vans. I don’t have a copy of the February 25 issue, but the vehicle pictured could well have been a CA or CF van and not a Dormobile! Of such trivia is this world made.

ROGER MILES Upper Culver Road, St Albans