Letters, December 5, 2013, part one
Judging the risks of pavement cycling
SIR – Cycling on footpaths is a question of risk. The 2012 Department of Transport traffic accident statistics for Great Britain report the following fatalities and serious injuries: pedestrians in collision with cycles 84; pedestrians in collision with other vehicles 5,895, cyclists in collision with motor vehicles 3,069. It is not difficult to see why some cyclists choose to cycle on the footpath. Cycling on the footpath is illegal. So is exceeding the speed limit, driving through red traffic signals, failing to stop at zebra crossings and dangerous driving. Assuming that the primary purpose of traffic laws is safety, I conclude from the above statistics police time is better spent pursuing car and lorry drivers who are breaking the law rather than cyclists, and councils should give priority to providing safe space for cycles. The result would be a reduction in cycle casualties and fewer cyclists using footpaths leading to an improvement in pedestrian safety.
RANDAL FFRENCH Tavistock Avenue, St Albans
Batford school controversy
SIR – I write in response to Ben Bardsley’s recent letter on the proposed Batford school site. I am at a loss as to why having known about the various sites under discussion for many months prior to the council’s announcement in September that the Harpenden Parents Group did not feel the need to share this information more widely amongst the local residents. It may not have been “consulted” in the official sense of the word but the HPG group was very well aware of the sites involved and this information was kept within a limited circle of people rather than the community as a whole. It is also a shame to see “least worst site” mantra being repeated without evidence, when for a start the site data used for decisions was flawed. Educators and councillors believe that the best place for a new school is not to follow council practice of “plonking” it in a field on the edge of a settlement, but to place it closest to the communities in need. The county council might meet its statutory obligation for providing places by saying “pick a field, any field”, but that duty doesn’t extend to infrastructure. I also note with interest the comment that a new school would help “regenerate” Batford. To say this is a little patronising is an understatement. I don’t consider my community to be derelict or degenerate but on the contrary thriving and one which has a lot to offer. We have a great primary school, a lovely pub, award-winning nature reserve and most importantly a close community spirit (we even have running water and electricity these days). I also fail to appreciate how raising house prices is a benefit to the town, as it will lead to even more housing being priced out of the reach of most young families and is only relevant if you are seeking to move from the area in order to “cash in” which the majority of people living in Harpenden and Batford have no desire to do. Having said that a school close to the populations in greatest need (an entire secondary school of pupils between Wheathampstead and Southdown alone) may well increase prices in Southdown as it will no longer be out on a limb for secondary allocations. In tandem with this it is interesting to note that Southdown has the highest 0-5 age population/growth in the whole St Albans district. Children in Southdown and Wheathampstead will have significantly longer than necessary school journeys to a school in Batford than to a school in the heart of their community. Paradoxically, most potential pupils in Batford are still closer to Sir John Lawes school than they would be to a new school dropped onto the Lower Luton Road.
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ALEX COLLINS Salisbury Road, Batford
SIR – There is no doubt that the north St Albans area needs another secondary school and that of the suggested sites Batford is the least unsuitable. However, I feel two points have been missed from the discussion. Firstly, surely Wheathampstead is the most appropriate location for the new school. Harpenden already has three secondary schools and Wheathampstead is easily accessible from south Harpenden, Sandridge and Kimpton. I am surprised that Wheathampstead Parish Council has not put forward this option. Secondly, why does Herts County Council seem only to be considering building it in the Green Belt, when brownfield sites are likely to be closer to centres of population, have good travel links and infrastructure already in place. I suspect the answer is because they can! The more cynical among us might conclude that when they sold the site of the old Wheathampstead School site off to developers a few years back HCC did so in the knowledge that a new school could be built on the Green Belt in due course.
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Eastmoor Park, Harpenden
Last chance to see?
SIR – The current debate about the blighting of a new secondary school on fields on the outskirts of Harpenden is a timely reminder of how vulnerable the area is to a relentless tide of development. It is not just the high profile cases of fields, large gardens (for example several recent instances in Crabtree Lane!), allotments (e.g. Westfield), former builder’s merchants (Pinewoods) or industrial units (Willoughby Road and Coldharbour Lane). Predatory developers are forever prowling the streets of Harpenden looking for opportunities to add another little infill here, or fill a bit of space there or the opportunity to demolish one or more thoroughly good homes in order to replace with more executive homes (executive “barns”). So join me in playing the “Harpenden spotters guide to development opportunities” and be vigilant to one or more of the following in your neighborhood: Houses on the corner of two roads with a decent sized garden (an endangered species); houses with reasonable-sized gardens; houses with garages or land to the side of the property; bungalows (what a waste of sky space!); houses sited in the middle of a plot (inefficient use of space!); scraps of land used by children for play or by dog walkers; non-residential properties in residential areas; blocks of garages (good grief who parks in a garage these days!); plots with the potential to dig down deep and build a gym (for those New Year Resolutions) and a cinema under the executive barn; publicly owned property anywhere (public finances remain as tight as ever); pubs away from the High Street (especially if they have land!) Once the above have been exhausted in about a decade’s time, planning regulations will have been sufficiently relaxed for the developers to go back around the loop again and the spotters guide will need to be updated. We might find ourselves needing yet another senior school by then, but there is always Rothamsted Park. Enjoy the space while you can.
MARTIN BEVAN Overstone Road, Harpenden
School fields sale is vital to future
SIR – I am always thrilled to see the achievements of Beaumont School’s students celebrated in the pages of your newspaper. The report on page 25 of the November 7 edition was no exception to this. Our annual Rob’s Festival is masterminded by a sixth form committee and it is the dedication of these students that ensures that the event is so successful and raises considerable sums for good causes such as the Prince’s Trust. We are very proud of them. I was also pleased that the same edition drew attention to the expansion and refurbishment of our sixth form facilities at Beaumont School. We are dedicated to providing the best possible facilities for our students and this refurbishment will ensure that we can continue to house on-site our very successful and expanding sixth form in accommodation that is much better suited to their needs. It occurred to me that the headline of your front page story on November 7 may inadvertently have given the impression to readers that the school is doing away completely with its playing fields. Please be assured that this is certainly not the case! For many years, Beaumont’s students have coped with accommodation that, we believe, is far from ideal. In collaboration with the county council and over the course of a number of years, the school has developed and received consent for a scheme that will shortly provide huge benefits for both the school and the local area. The sale of part of our current small playing field site unlocks funding for new, improved and enlarged playing fields; a new sports hall; enhanced educational accommodation; and new community sports facilities. It will provide better access for the school and relieve the current congestion on Oakwood Drive via a new access road and dedicated pedestrian and cycle routes. Beaumont School is hugely successful, but highly oversubscribed. The students’ and the community’s use of its premises are constrained by the facilities currently available. Your newspaper has consistently celebrated the achievements of our outstanding students. We are delighted that they (and the local community) will soon be provided with facilities fit for the 21st Century and commensurate with the students’ needs and abilities.
ALEX HALL Chair of Governors, Beaumont School, Oakwood Drive, St Albans
No excuse for dog fouling blight
SIR – Dog fouling is an unavoidable by-product of owning a dog and, therefore, it’s every owner’s moral duty and legal responsibility to clean up after their dog. So why am I seeing more and more of it on the ground whilst on dog walks myself? As a responsible dog owner I’m disgusted at how much “fouls” the park, bridleways, footpaths, etc., around Wheathampstead. It’s an eyesore and also a health hazard. The rain does not wash the problem away (as many people think) so bag it and bin it. Your bags, whether plastic carrier bags or biodegradable options, should be as unforgettable as a lead when you take your dog out. There are no excuses, fouling is unacceptable!
T DOWNING Marford Road, Wheathampstead
SIR – You recently published my letter detailing three daft things that FCC had done recently. Seems they just can’t stop themselves. A family member passing through St Pancras last Saturday distinctly heard over the public address, “Theft of passenger property is a priority on First Capital Connect.” No wonder we can’t take them seriously any more.
STEVE GLEDHILL Cravells Road, Harpenden
In defence of Jamie’s Italian
SIR – Regular readers of Your Views must be aware that Barry Cashin is a master of (or more accurately a slave to) hyperbole but to draw parallels between World War II and Iraq and the proposed expansion of a restaurant is surely a bit excessive even for him. He uses his criticism of Jamie’s Italian as a pretext for a little ride on his other hobby horses of large chains of coffee shops, pound shops as well as restaurants and big business in general. In order to make his points he tends to be highly selective when presenting his facts. The full list of Trip Advisor review rankings for Jamie’s Italian is: Excellent – 69, Very Good – 87, Average – 91, Poor – 65, Terrible – 39. Therefore 247 out of 351 considered the restaurant average or better and 156 considered it Very Good or excellent. I agree these figures suggest there is plenty of room for improvement but the story does not end there. Mr Cashin writes that the reviewers on Trip Advisor had detailed their experiences “quite eloquently” (presumably the qualification “quite” is used to indicate that of course their eloquence does not equal that of Mr Cashin himself) but I wonder how many reviews he has actually taken the trouble to read. If he had read them he would have found that a number of people who posted negatively had previously visited the restaurant several times and had a good experience. However they had not posted reviews with positive rankings on those occasions. The negative reviews include comments about how the restaurant was very crowded, tables are too close together and poor or slow service. Some of the positive reviews also mentioned how crowded the restaurant was but that the meal and service was good in spite of this. A common thread seems to be that the restaurant is extremely popular and often completely full. Anyone who dines out regularly will know that one is less likely to have a good experience when a restaurant is very busy. One solution to the problems customers have had at Jamie’s Italian is surely to expand the restaurant so that it is not packed out so often. The proposal to expand the restaurant could therefore partly be a sign that Mr Oliver is heeding the negative reviews and taking steps to improve the situation rather than ignoring them as Mr Cashin implies.
MAXWELL A SMALLMAN Meautys, St Albans
SIR – While I would agree with the main theme of Barry Cashin’s correspondence re the proliferation of expansive chains like Mr Oliver’s I think there are some other points that should be taken into consideration. The site of the Old Bell in the town had been unused for quite a while and rightly or wrongly Mr Oliver developed it to its present state. I make no comment on the quality of this restaurant, never having used it. However I would strongly contest some of Trip Advisor’s assessments as they tend to vary widely in customer surveys and have seen disparaging reviews on hotels and restaurants that I have used and found entirely satisfactory. One point that Mr Cashin does highlight is the sad number of shops in the town that remain shuttered up and closed. At least Mr Oliver has provided some employment and is obviously contributing to the local economy. I am afraid this is a sad reminder for all of us with the demise of many small local businesses. Where is our local fishmonger, butcher and baker? We all are to blame and I would urge all your readers to support their local shops. If we don’t they will just go away and what will be left with?
GERALD STONE New House Park, St Albans
Few benefits for local residents
SIR – I see that the Harpenden town council have decided that the sale of former allotment land at Westfield is for the better of the Harpenden community. As a member of the community who is opposed and I’m by no means the only one it begs to be asked which Harpenden community will be better off for the sale of this land? I don’t think it will be to the benefit of those who live nearby, that’s for sure.
ELISSA BAIRD Willoughby Road, Harpenden
Bus service failings
SIR – In recent weeks there has been considerable comment about local bus services. May I add to this and the apparent indifference to complaints made to Unobus. I am a regular user of the 655 service which supposedly serves Borehamwood to Hatfield via Radlett and St Albans. At its best it is generally an hourly service but frequently buses fail to run or are very late which, if one is trying to commute to work or back to home is unacceptable. To wait for sometimes well over an hour, often in pouring rain or in winter on freezing mornings or nights shows a total disregard for the passengers trying to make use of these services. Again last night one bus was withdrawn and the next was over 20 minutes behind schedule. Over the past few months I have sent repeated emails to University Bus, whose automated email response advises that they will endeavour to deal with these within two working days and answer complaints within 14, yet I am yet to receive the courtesy of a reply. I believe that these services are subsidised by Herts County Council which in turn means the public as ratepayers yet Unobus seem to care nothing about their passengers’ needs.
Watling Street, Radlett
One rule for some
SIR – I should like to question the statement made by Ian Grant that “most cyclists are courteous and give way to pedestrians”. This is not my experience at all. I also feel that his letter demonstrates what seems to be the attitude of many cyclists, that the law does not apply to them when it is not convenient. We know that roads are sometimes difficult for cyclists, but they are not “obliged to break the law” or “obliged to use the pavement out of fear” as he says, if by that he means to use them as an extension of the road. If they have an obligation it is to use the pavement legally by dismounting.
Boundary Road, St Albans