Letters, August 29, 2013

Fear of a budget planet

SIR – Last week, I had a dream which had me wake me up in a pool of sweat. No, it wasn’t the fact that St Albans was getting a Samuel Ryder statue, neither was it that St Albans FC might win the FA Cup this year, nor the mirage that the council had fixed all our roads or sacked all of the officious parking parasitasters that parade our pedestrian pathways in search of pecuniary pleasure.

This was a dream like no other I had had in a good few years. In fact it was more of a nightmare than a dream.

Upon waking and having my first cup of Rooibos tea, I was rather hoping that this nightmare was nothing but unfounded panophobia, but it wasn’t. It was true. As the tea relaxed me, the full force of my incubus came flooding back with rapier-like speed. Rumours are that they are coming, soon, to a town near us, and by that, I mean yet another pound store!

Not content with two of the damned things, I received the disastrous news that St Albans and in particular The Maltings, may be graced with a third budget store.

No longer do we have a fine cathedral, some of the country’s oldest pubs and a wonderful ancient market to define us.

St Albans has now descended to the retail marque equivalent of Jaywick Sands with the addition of a third cut-price calamity.

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Now I know that of our wonderful readership, many will have used these cheap budget shops (I confess I have also selectively used them myself) so I want to immediately deflect the expected criticism that I am somehow a retail snob. I am not. I was raised on a council estate and know exactly what it is like to really struggle on a non-existent budget.

The issue for me is that usually intelligent people see the headline price of 99p or £1 and automatically think they are getting a bargain when in the vast majority of cases they aren’t.

It is one of the retail world’s most convincing illusions; that by somehow shopping in a budget store for a low fixed price, one is automatically saving money. They are not!

Many of the non-food items in these stores are so badly made they break soon after purchase and because they are so cheap, people don’t complain and instead just buy another. This is a clear false economy.

Secondly, of the branded goods sold, both food and toiletries, if consumers cared to look at the sizes of the packaging, they would find that more often than not, these are smaller than those bought in conventional supermarkets which, when one compares the price per weight of the same product, it is very often the same if not lesser value than supermarkets.

The fact that items are also priced around the £1 mark causes an autonomic response to perhaps bulk buy these poor value goods ensuring the budget stores maximise their profit from us for items which are not that great in terms of true value.

To put this to the test, I implore your readers to check out the website www.mysupermarket.co.uk

On this site, one can tap in most of the same major branded goods available in the budget shops and do a price comparison based on size of packaging or weight.

If they do, I am sure that most items, not all, will offer better value in the supermarkets (and don’t forget that supermarkets also do occasional BOGOF and three for two deals as well as offering loyalty points and money off coupons which makes the goods even cheaper).

The message I am trying to say is do not be hoodwinked by these cheapo stores and their headline one pound value mantra.

St Albans people should look at these stores’ roots and the reason for them, especially their founding locations where they came to prominence. They are a million miles away from St Albans in every respect.

I believe that they have truly ridden on the crest of a wave of economic uncertainty that has built their momentum without any considered research by budget-conscious consumers.

Let us all hope and pray therefore that Cameron et al and whoever, if any, may follow at the next election gets this economy truly moving again so that the jobs are there and money is not so tight for hard-pressed families fooled into thinking these stores offer great value when, with a little savvy shopping research, better value can very often be found elsewhere.

When that glorious day happens, when the light, medium and dark toned livery of these retail rhinoceroses has disappeared from ancient and quite beautiful towns and cities like ours replaced not by more charity shops or gold exchanges but something more befitting the heritage and prestige of a notable historical place like St Albans, maybe these nightmares will cease. I thank you!


Green Lane, St Albans

Fighting back against austerity

SIR – Readers may be interested to know about a new local campaign group – the St Albans People’s Assembly Against Austerity. It’s part of a national initiative launched earlier this year to campaign against the government’s economic policy of cuts to services and privatisation which is causing hardship, division, and damage to communities across the country: http://thepeoplesassembly.org.uk/

A number of people in St Albans including NHS workers, representatives of trade unions and political parties, local teachers and college staff met recently to organise a local group. We want to bring together and give a voice to all those who disagree with austerity.

In St Albans we have already seen voluntary sector services starved of funds, cuts to adult social care particularly affecting the elderly and those with physical and learning disabilities, cuts to library services, support for homeless charities frozen, and now the threat of outsourcing of Hertfordshire Probation Service to private providers which could represent a serious risk to public safety in the district.

If you are concerned about what is happening to your local services or want to have your say on issues like selling off the Royal Mail, the bedroom tax or what’s happening to our parks and green spaces then please get in touch and get involved.

In particular many people are worried about the government’s plans for the NHS and want to protect local hospitals like St Albans City and the QEII in Welwyn Garden City. We are supporting the national Save The NHS rally at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester on September 29 and there is a coach going from St Albans (for details email: nutjon@aol.com).

Public health, education and welfare provision have improved the lives of millions over more than 50 years – please support our campaign to protect them. Email: stalbanspaaa@btopenworld.com, follow us on Twitter: @StAlbansPAAA or visit our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/#!/stalbanspeoplesassembly


St Albans People’s Assembly Against Austerity

Boundary Road, St Albans

In defence of parish

SIR – After reading the responses to our Chairman Oonah Jones in your letters column, I feel it is necessary to clear up a few points.

Firstly I should like to stress that St Stephen parish councillors are not in the habit of writing to the press but the misleading article in the Lib Dems Focus newsletter was infuriating. Despite denials by David Parry it was clearly written in such a way as to imply the total incompetance of the way we manage the parish for our residents. I was particularly annoyed as I was directly involved in assessing which bus shelters in Chiswell Green needed replacement.

The Focus article got it wrong about the source of the 106 money which was in fact from the Butterfly World development for improving bus transport facilities in Watford Road. It also stated that that two bus shelters did not need replacing, in fact one had a completely rotten base and the other was an old one made of plywood. It was also wrong to imply we do not maintain our shelters.

Our staff regularly inspect the shelters, removing litter and unauthorised notices and carry out any small repairs to maintain the soundness of the shelter. Just because there is a bit of moss on the roof does not mean it is going to leak.

Nobody to my knowledge has complained to the parish about getting their head wet while waiting for the bus!

As far as the bus shelter on the A405 at Bricket Wood is concerned it was installed years ago when there were less restrictions on working on the highway. The shelter has in the past been vandalised and set on fire and since then our staff have been trying to gain access to carry out repairs. Unfortunately, despite much correspondence to the Highways Agency, they will not allow our staff to stop on this carriageway to carry out any repairs.

This is not a red herring as David Parry puts it, but a genuine problem. So if he thinks he can do better let him arrange for the county council to replace it with one of their own shelters and so relieve the parish of the burden of future maintenance.

The other insult in the Focus newsletter and in his letter to your paper was the implication that we don’t appreciate we are spending the public’s money!

St Stephen Parish Council take all expenditure very seriously and some of our longest debates are on how we can continue to deliver our services to our residents but at the same time controlling costs. There are of course differing views, which is the way it should be, but at the end of the day all our decisions about expenditure are subject to a democratic vote and most of our parishioners respect that.

I should point out that St Stephen is one of the few local councils that has a majority of independent members (11 out of 12) most of whom are supported by local residents’ associations. This enables us to have a very close working relationship with our parishioners so we act only in their interests and not by being manipulated by any of the political parties. Clearly the Lib Dems are frustrated by this situation and judging by the last parish election results the majority of residents prefer local independent councillors to speak for them. At the end of the day our councillors are just ordinary folk doing our best for our community.


St Stephen Parish Council

False economy in road repairs

SIR – Herts Highways have recently resurfaced the road from London Colney roundabout towards Drakes Drive but failed to fill in the holes first or since, leaving the holes still there. It seems that the cheap and cheerful as long as it looks all right method of repair is now the norm.

Having worked on the highways for 30 years I am well aware of what has worked and what does not both past and present and these quick fix temporary methods do not last.

It seems that Herts County Council will not accept that they have got it wrong and that past methods worked better than present ones with local teams looking after set areas.

These quick fix methods are nothing more than money-wasting exercises.

When will Hertfordshire County Council repair our rapidly failing road network rather than build new roads elsewhere?

How many times do you see a pothole repaired and not lasting much more than 24 hours before the hole reappears. The simple answer to this is many.

Our Highways Department need to get their priorities right and fix what they have first and not keep paying out on insurance claims and continuous temporary repairs.

In the past we had works teams that carried out the repairs but now it seems everything needs to go through a stream of channels using contractors and consultants before a simple pothole can even be temporary repaired increasing the cost many times over.


Five Acres, London Colney

Politicians under scrutiny at stall

SIR – Huge thanks and appreciation to those who helped and commented at the Conservative St Albans market stall. It is an essential part of democracy that people give their time and efforts to going about, listening to residents’ views and helping facilitate solutions and ideas.

It also ensures scrutiny of elected politicians and a healthy transparent governance. What party is their choice; we will carry out the second lesson later.


District council portfolio holder for sports, leisure and heritage

Oakfield Road, Harpenden

Was fete effort worthwhile?

SIR – Given the prominence given by you to the inaugural Verulam fete in advance and afterwards, and in the critical letters I note there are plans for a repeat next year. Am I alone in thinking it would be good to know what the total sum raised was for the Anna Freud Centre some two weeks after the event? You do not mention it, neither does their website.

That figure would truly help us really judge the relevant space and positioning you gave this event and if the disruption to the free, scheduled, and published tours of the Amphitheatre was acceptable (this will have disappointed visitors to one of our main attractions).

A huge figure gets huge space after all , deservedly so. I hope this was the outcome as much effort appears to have been invested.

Let us have the benchmark before we judge, therefore, can you publish this figure?

Personally I planned to attend but events prevented this so I am now intrigued as to what I missed and fact vs fiction. The figures will out? A thousand visitors as reported should have raised a goodly sum and get the right accolade .


King’s Road, St Albans

Waste not, want not is the answer

SIR – Your series of letters “Recycling scheme is a waste of money” on August 22, prompted me to write.

As a male brought up during WWII, we did no recycling, having to eat everything or turn it into something attractive for the next day. In our house this has continued as I am married to a former school cook who wastes nothing! However, the “caddy” has come in as an excellant container for wallpaper paste or emulsion when at work.


Slimmons Drive, St Albans

Highways hijinks

SIR – Are we the only people who find the activities of the Highways department in St Albans totally curious?

On return from winter vacation in February we found the pathway closed off outside our house and a pleasant gentleman arrived in a white van from contractors who had marked out repair work to the dangerous pavement outside our house which we were told was to be carried out in the next 14 days.

Months passed and the workmen boards removed. On return from summer vacation two weeks ago the boards had returned on both footpaths and some paving slabs removed on the opposite side of road and tarmac had replaced them.

Great, we thought! But no, after three weeks their toilet facilities had been removed as had the works signs and only one side of the road’s footpath’s replaced. Predicting now more twisted ankles and damaged legs.

What are they playing at? Does the opposite side of the road pay more council taxes than our side, I think not.


Rowlatt Drive, St Albans

Airport bus row continues

SIR – After yet another letter displaying some confusion with regard to buses and Luton Airport (MW Cowell, August 22) let me, at the risk of becoming boring and repeating what I have said in previous letters on this subject, explain finally and quite simply the situation regarding Arriva buses going (or not going) in to and out from Luton Airport.

1. The Arriva 757 Greenline bus no longer goes into the airport. The decision not to allow this bus into the airport was imposed upon Arriva. They lost this contract to National Express.

2. The 757 Greenline bus never stopped in Watford, St Albans or Harpenden. It was not and still is not a local bus.

3. The Arriva 321 bus is a local bus that stops in Watford, St Albans and Harpenden and used to go into and out from the airport.

4. Arriva and not the airport made the decision to stop the 321 going in to the airport. The 321 could go into the airport tomorrow if that is what Arriva wanted. It is not true to say that the airport has refused permission for the 321 to go into the airport.

5. Arriva has decided to terminate the 321 in Luton and passengers (often with luggage) who wish to continue on to the airport must change to a new Arriva service – Bus A. This actually goes in to the airport thus dispelling the myth that Arriva buses cannot go into the airport.

6. Local people who used to be able to travel non-stop from the airport to Harpenden, St Albans and Watford now have to take service A from the airport into Luton and change (with all their luggage) onto the 321.

By deliberately curtailing the 321 route Arriva, in their wisdom, has made life extremely inconvenient for local people who wish to travel to and from the airport. If they would reinstate the local 321 service to and from Luton Airport local residents would be a lot happier.


Field Close, Harpenden

Access road concerns

SIR – I too share Mr Richard Housden’s frustration over an access road to the sports grounds in London Colney (Letters, August 22).

Mr Housden approached me last year to talk about the possibility of a new road being built as the existing entrance from the A405 is totally inadequate and quite frankly dangerous.

I arranged a meeting between us and the portfolio holder (Cllr Wakely) who agreed it was something that needed doing.

Since then Cllr Wakely, who is also a civil engineer, has offered to help them produce a technical access statement and drawing avoiding the mature oak tree and give safe visibility lines onto Shenley Lane.

He has also given Mr Housden links for possible funding using the access details and awaits Mr Housden’s response.

As usual it comes down to finance. Myself and Cllr Wakely are desperate to get this done and will explore every avenue possible.


London Colney ward

Norris Close, London Colney

Businesses taking over our streets

SIR – You were good enough to publish a letter of mine two weeks ago which contained some comments on the encroachmnent into public space by the developers of the McDonald’s site in St Peter’s Street and how they appeared to be getting away with encroachment to the detriment of public users.

I had hoped that the council might have replied to tell us if any rental was being paid for this inconvenient trespass but so far they have remained mute. I now notice that there has been further encroachment by the johnny-come-latelys of Costa Coffee and Pret a Manger who appear to have sequestered quite large chunks of the paved areas in front of their shops by placing tables and chairs where they dispense their wares. Are they paying any rent for these facilities which bring profits to them but obstruct public usage of these spaces?

More importantly has planning permission been given and has it is also been given for the increasing number of “A” boards which now proliferate St Albans?

At a time when there are more and more vacant shops and a need to attract more trade I suggest that a better use of the pedestrianised old service road migh be to turn it over to short-term car parking and liven the place up a bit. The Quadrant is an excellent example of a busy shopping area because of the ease and convenience of cheap (free) parking.


Townsend Drive, St Albans