Letters, January 31, 2013, part one

Still campaigning for Colts scheme

SIR – I do not wish to prolong the correspondence on this subject but I must correct the inaccuracies in the letters from Ken Holmes and Nick Mourant (Herts Advertiser January 17).

The main reason why the county education department withdrew the application for the pitch at Roundwood Park School was because the proposal to floodlight the all-weather facility contravened St Albans City and District Planning Policy 80 (ii).

The school now has a new sports hall and they have improved parking capacity but there is no reason why a comparison should be made with the more than adequate parking being proposed for the site of the football pitches off Roundwood Lane. Both Mr Holmes and Mr Mourant assume that all the pitches will be used at the same time which is just not true.

There is also in the number of pitches they quote several mini pitches which can and will be used for training and practice and bearing in mind we are talking about a facility for young people from the age of six this is an important element of the work of the Harpenden Colts Football Club. I therefore believe that the proposed number of parking spaces will be more than adequate and that for several reasons the statistics quoted in Mr Mourant’s letter are flawed.


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Mr Mourant misquotes me when he states that I am under the mistaken impression that the only reason local residents are objecting is that it would mean a change in the view.

I was taken to task for stating on Three Counties Radio that I would not accuse anyone of NIMBYism and if I happened to be a local resident I would probably also object. In my letter I was stating why I would object and while I know and understand that local residents are also objecting to the size of the facility and additional traffic in Roundwood Lane at weekends I do not believe those objections are justified or sustainable.

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Mr Holmes is also incorrect in stating that Roundwood Lane is “little more than a narrow and winding country lane” and Mr Mourant’s statement that Roundwood Lane is “designated a rural lane for its entire length”.

From the junction with the A1081(Luton Road) to a point outside Mr Mourant’s house the road is similar to any other urban road in Harpenden, is recognised as such and during the week copes with a level of traffic that is no less than that anticipated at week-ends when the new facility will be up and running.

The Colts intend to continue using the site at Redbourn and there is no evidence to suggest that any more vehicles will use the back road from Redbourn to reach the site than currently use it during the week. Neither is there any evidence to suggest that the proposed entrance will be dangerous.

I do not know from where Mr Mourant, who signs himself Chairman of Harpenden NFPG, gets his information. When we were approached by The Harpenden Society to join a meeting to discuss the proposals with representatives of the protesters, the consultants, county council officers and the Colts all agreed but the protesters refused tp take up the offer.

We were then told that they wanted us to present them with a “draft planning application” and this we would not do because at that stage the submission of the plans should not be further delayed as all concerned will have an opportunity to comment at town and district level through the normal and formal planning process.

I understand that NFPG stands for New Farm Protection Group and I do counsel all concerned to seriously consider whether their objections to the proposed home for Harpenden Colts Football Club will in the long term provide protection for this piece of land which is no longer needed for its original purpose. It is my view that a long lease to the Colts will provide far better protection for this Green Belt site than any action taken now or in the future by the NFPG.

BERNARD LLOYD

County Councillor

Harpenden North East

Hartwell Gardens, Harpenden

How to fight Luton expansion bid

SIR – Luton Airport’s planning application to increase its passenger numbers by 60 per cent to 18 million per year, can be found at www.eplan.luton.gov.uk application reference: 12/01400/FU.

Don’t expect to be able to find it by looking at the weekly planning list for the week beginning January 7 because it isn’t there. Neither is in on the ‘Special Interest’ pages of the site, although you would think that a plan that will put thousands of extra cars on our already overfull roads would warrant the title ‘Special Interest’.

You might think that Luton Borough Council are trying to put people off reading and responding to the application, which consists of 250 separate and un-indexed pages with apparently just six weeks for the public to grasp and respond to the document. There is no summary or overview of the application document other than the Luton Airport Master Plan which is not a robust planning document, more a heady combination of superficial spin and misinformation.

This application must be reviewed by the Planning Inspectorate as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project on the basis that the 1997 application to expand the passenger capacity sought changes that would allow the airport to operate at up to five million passengers per year and this current application seeks to increase passenger levels to 18 million. In addition it should not be determined by a Luton Borough Council (the sole shareholder of Luton Airport) since the council has such a complete financial interest in the success of the application.

The Planning Inspectorate are, in my experience, reputable, thorough and independent, something that surely cannot be said for a planning authority who have allowed the stealth growth of the airport through permitted development for years resulting in what was accurately described by the think tank Policy Exchange as “an operational mess” (“Bigger Quieter”, Tim Leunig, 2012).

Please write and ask for this infrastructure project to be called in by: Rt Hon Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Dept for Communities and Local Government, Eland House, Bressenden Place, London SW1E 5DU.

JUDY SHARDLOW

Wheathampstead Parish Councillor

Dale Avenue, Wheathampstead

No publicity for am-dram production

SIR – At the start of this month I had the pleasure of experiencing a beautifully simple children’s production at the Maltings Arts Theatre by Foot in the Door Theatre.

They enchanted audiences with their fringe-style take on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen. I first heard of the company when I saw their open air production of The Importance of Being Earnest last summer, as part of St Albans Festival, and looked forward to seeing more from the company. I was not disappointed.

I have been waiting for any sort of mention in your paper for the last two weeks, and have decided that it must have passed you by completely.

I myself saw a poster in town, and picked up a leaflet from the library, but I saw barely any publicity. I don’t know where the fault lies, but your paper, which is always so quick to advertise and sing the praises of local groups such as The Company of Ten and OVO, gave no encouragement to Foot in the Door for this production (which showcased a local writer and director) nor have I ever seen mention of the company’s previous productions. I decided that somebody should sing their praises.

I am an avid theatre attendee, and was delighted by a company that, despite being made entirely of non-professionals, staged a show that was truly magical, far exceeding any expectations of “amateur dramatics”.

I talked with the director (and writer, and costume designer – what a talented young lady!) Kathryn Raw after the show, and she assures me that the company will be returning to St Albans either later this year or next year. I have written to her separately to congratulate her and the company on their success. I just hope they have not been put off by the lack of encouragement by the local arts community, and that whatever their next production, you will sit up and take notice of this talented group of young people.

ROSE CONNELLY

Seymour Road, St Albans

(Editor’s note: The Snow Queen was performed in early January when our deadlines were upside down because of the Christmas and New Year holiday. The Maltings Arts Theatre had a problem emailing a preview piece to the Venue pages and the invitation to review it came too late for it to be done. We provide the most comprehensive arts listing section in this area but we are reliant on information being provided to us in good time because there are so many music and theatre events in the district.)

Fight against freight continues

SIR – The full title of the scheme recently approved by Eric Pickles is a Strategic Rail Freight Interchange. The policy of the Government is to bring imports by rail to a number of strategic locations around London and the south east. The key words are “strategic” and “rail”.

Will these aspirations be delivered? There are several factors to be overcome if this is to happen.

First, if freightliner trains are to reach the site there have to be major and costly alterations to infrastructure: to tunnels, bridges, signalling and the loading gauge with new or modified wagons to shift the containers. Will all these happen? Worryingly, the present planning condition allows development of at least half the scheme before the start of any works to the rail infrastructure. This is totally inadequate and could either fail to materialise or even be renegotiated.

Second, it is not clear that there are robust timetable pathways along the Midland Main Line through the St Albans/Radlett section that will enable the projected up to 12 loaded and 12 empty daily freightliner trains to operate into and out of the depot. This will involve slow speed cross-over movements scheduled into an already busy timetable which will soon become more intense with the completion of another Government scheme, namely the Thameslink Improvement Programme. This envisages an enhanced Thameslink/commuter service as well as possibly more InterCity services currently operated by East Midlands Trains.

Network Rail is the custodian of the operations on the route. Whilst it has indicated the possibility of some pathways for the proposed Helioslough freightliners, it has been vague on details. It did not attend the appeal hearings despite being asked to do so, nor, it is understood, has it produced a draft timetable showing how and when ALL the services, both passenger and freight, could be incorporated efficiently and without delay into the daily working timetable for the lines. It should be compelled to do so now before any work takes place on the site.

Indeed, last year, it is believed that Network Rail finally confessed that finding sufficient pathways into and out of the depot by day would be difficult and very limited.

If the freightliners cannot come by day then the operation to and from the terminal becomes a night-time one.

Essential track maintenance will therefore be compromised, impacting on the daytime passenger service. Environmental concerns, particularly for local residents, will become even greater. This is surely unacceptable. Were these issues given proper consideration in the decision making process?

In fact we can say, the entire concept of the terminal as a rail-served one is in doubt. It follows, therefore, that its strategic status is compromised. It could, in fact, simply end up being served by road with juggernaut lorries. Has the Minister unwittingly been minded to approve something that is rail freight in name only?

If this is so, the Minister’s approval and the planning process/decision are flawed and should be legally challenged.

Finally, a major concern is that even if the rail works are carried out according to the planning condition, this is no guarantee that the level of rail use will be achieved or maintained. There should be financial or other penalties for every juggernaut movement that occurs as a consequence of failure to meet the agreed rail quota. This is not ideal, but could provide some compensation to the neighbourhood and the district and thus be used on local amenity and environmental protection projects. This needs to be established as legally binding.

JOHN THOMSON

St Albans Civic Society

Booking fees at the Alban Arena

SIR – With reference to the letter from David Langley of Hamilton Road, St Albans, we would like to clarify that we do not charge a booking fee online for any of our films. On checking the booking process on our website we have located a sentence on the screen that may cause some confusion on this matter and we’re in the process of changing this.

It is certainly possible for customers to choose to collect the tickets from the box office negating the postage charge but this option would be further in the transaction procedure than it appears Mr Langley completed.

As a regular receiving house it is difficult to program films to appeal to everyone’s particular tastes. With the introduction of our new digital cinema system we have attempted to broaden the types of films shown with varying levels of success.

Our current season has seen some fantastic audience numbers with Skyfall showing to over a thousand people and excellent advance booking across all the films.

With our 850-1,200 capacity we are a venue of preference for some of the best touring shows in the country and with only the main hall we are unfortunately unable to have as many film showings as other local centres.

We always appreciate feedback from our customers and apologise if there was any confusion caused.

CHRIS BAKER

Marketing Manager

Alban Arena

Pedestrianisation row latest

SIR – I noted three letters (Herts Advertiser January 17) expressing great concern, even to the extent of ridicule, over what local traders and so many residents see as a very ill thought out proposal by the county council to close part of Harpenden’s Lower High Street to vehicles, in effect pedestrianising the area.

Past experience of similar such experiments indicates what a very damaging effect this would have on local trade. To be fair to county, a consultation process is supposedly going to take place, but local traders fear that county is already determined to implement its proposal as part of their Transport Plan whatever the outcome and whatever local opinion.

County state they are doing this for “safety” reasons to stop cars coming down Station Road turning right in to the Lower High Street. I sincerely hope this is not a “done deal”.

As I am both a local town and district councillor and this is in my ward I have a responsibility to do my best for the well being of all in that area, shopkeepers, shoppers and pedestrians alike. So I am duty bound to take up their cause.

Shoppers will be inconvenienced by the loss of several car parking places that it would be impossible to relocate elsewhere. As for the shopkeepers, whose very livelihoods could well be at stake, these are very challenging times without officialdom as one shopkeeper said “trying to kill us off with a crackpot scheme!” that hardly anyone wants..

The St Albans Chamber of Commerce (in conjunction with Harpenden’s Retail Partnership) carried out a survey last summer when they first heard of this proposal.

Every single shop in the area stated they were adamantly opposed to it as they felt it would have a devastating effect on their level of business. There are several very nice shops in that stretch of road, Threads being one of the best gift shops in the whole district. What on earth are we doing kicking them all in the teeth at this time? That survey was sent in to county, but totally ignored – binned because they did not like the look of it?

There are now petition forms in several of these local shops, like Threads, Perrys, Reads, Thorns, Springfield and Next 4 You. If indeed any residents also cannot see the purpose of this closure they are most welcome to sign this petition.

Let me be quite clear I for one am not per se opposed to pedestrianisation, but our town was never built for it, with for example no rear access for deliveries to the shops. Now guess what! County say delivery vehicles can reverse into the pedestrianised road – a very real accident waiting to happen.

As someone who traded in the High Street for 40 odd years (C&A) and has deeply studied trading patterns in the whole district I have seen so many well meaning experiments at pedestrianisation ending in disaster. In St Peter’s Street for example, shop turnover fell by as much as one third. Over the years I have been entirely consistent in my opposition. I see no reason why I should change that opinion now and even more so as I fear that there will be a very negative “spin-off “ effect on the whole of the southern end of Harpenden`s town centre. It’s not just The Lower High Street that will be affected.

Finally, picking up on another point raised in other letters and one that is a very current complaint – potholes! Would not county be a lot more popular if they stated loud and clear that not one single pound will be spent on any further desk drawn project, however worthy until every single po hole in the whole district has been properly filled in. Now that would be money well spent.

MICHAEL WEAVER

Harpenden Town Councillor, Clarence Road, Harpenden

SIR – I am writing in response to your article and the flurry of letters to your paper rejecting the possibility of a trial pedestrianisation scheme for a portion of the Lower High Street in Harpenden.

Whilst I appreciate that local people are concerned about the proposed trial, comments made so far by retailers, the public and the town council have been based on information and gossip spread by those who are averse to change and who crucially lack essential details of the proposed scheme.

There is also, it seems, a view that the county council will just do things without proper consultation, which is totally incorrect.

As local county member for South West Harpenden, which includes the town centre, it is incumbent on me to ensure that proper, fair and appropriate consultation takes place with all parties before a scheme is considered for introduction and I fully intend to ensure this is the case.

I would like to take this opportunity to explain the scheme – here are some salient details:

What is the proposed scheme and its objectives?

The removal of all vehicles including bicycles, but not mobility scooters, from the High Street service road from Station Road to Vaughan Road to remove pedestrian and vehicular conflicts; the reconfiguration of parking, including disabled, and loading bays in Vaughan Road and the imposition of parking restrictions in Vaughan Road to prevent dangerous and obstructive parking.

The scheme was identified in the Harpenden Urban Transport Plan 2011, which was a document approved by the community and local members, including the town council at that time, after a lengthy public consultation process. It is the basis for all highway schemes in Harpenden. The parking restrictions included in this scheme are also supported by the police.

The main objective is to remove the confusion of the no right-turn from Station Road, a major safety concern in this area, thus reducing traffic conflicts at the Station Road/High Street junction and also to provide pedestrians with a safe, car free environment.

A major additional advantage could be that businesses located within this section of the High Street will be able (subject to following safety and licensing guidelines) to trade onto the current road which, in my view, will dramatically improve the vibrancy of this part of the town.

This could also be a precursor to removing vehicles from other parts of town, such as Thompson’s Close, with a view to encouraging increased pedestrian footfall and trading.

Suggested disadvantages and my response to these at this time.

A loss of trade and delivery problems – some retailers are suggesting they will lose trade as customers will not be able to park outside their shops and deliveries will not be able to take place.

We hope this will not be the case, however nobody can predict the effect of any scheme on an area, which is why a trial has been recommended (sometime in the late spring/early summer) to see what the effect is.

Naturally, if it is found not to be appropriate we will of course re-examine and revert back to things as they stand, however I do believe it is important to try, rather than dismiss what could be an extremely beneficial scheme out of hand. To assist our deliberations CCTV recordings of the trading patterns in the area have already been collected to act as an unbiased basis for future decision making

Furthermore, we will be creating, as part of the scheme, a loading bay at the junction with Vaughan Road which will ensure that deliverymen have only a short distance to walk.

Also as I mentioned previously, I hope that trade access to the road will increase, rather than damage, customer numbers. Disabled parking will be moved to Vaughan Road with the potential for it to be increased.

The scheme will cost too much money and this money should be spent on repairing the roads and pavements – it is considered that the total cost of a scheme will be a maximum sum of £35,000. This includes £5,000 to £10,000 for the trial period and consultation.

This money will come from the Local Transport Plan fund provided by the Department of Transport, which is a ring fenced fund specifically allocated for the delivery of local transport schemes and therefore cannot be used for highway maintenance.

If this money is not used for this scheme in Harpenden it will be used somewhere else in Hertfordshire and the town’s people will simply miss out on a sizeable pot of money.

What next? In February a meeting and survey with retailers will take place (all retailers in the town will be included to ensure transparency and inclusion), where the whole scheme will be explained, plans considered and substantive evidence of trading and delivery patterns will be collected.

In late spring a public exhibition and survey to gain the views of local residents will be held and in early summer, if the level of support is appropriate, the trial scheme will be implemented.

I hope this letter demonstrates that despite the fears printed in your paper, we will be bringing forward a full consultation process, backed up by empirical evidence, with a focus on affordability, to ensure that the scheme provides the best for traders, customers and those with special needs in Harpenden.

TERESA HERITAGE

County Councillor

Harpenden South West

Sibley Avenue, Harpenden

Taxpayers’ guide to the travesty

SIR – Let’s do some maths:

£46,600 = the money disbursed by Harpenden Town Council since their first attempt to develop the allotment site at Westfield in 2004 (figures obtained via FOI – probably much higher).

£20,000 = the money allocated by Harpenden Town Council to hire a specialist barrister to fight their own residents at the Westfield Town Green public inquiry.

£????? = the money Harpenden Town Council will spend destroying an ancient bank, felling mature trees and killing protected Roman snails in an effort to force a “road” up and across the Westfield playing fields.

All in all, I estimate we taxpayers will see very little change out of £90,000 by the end of this miserably mis-thought endeavour. Pause a minute and reflect what all this money could have been spent on. The projects that might have benefited the whole town and its residents.

Instead it is being flung at an unviable and universally condemned development purely because of the refusal of this arrogant town council and their cabinet colleagues to consider that they might just have made a mistake, and walk away.

Since moving to the Westfield area 24 years ago, I have seen most of the green spaces around here developed into unsightly blocks of flats and so-called “luxury” housing.

Infilling has blighted many roads. Westfield allotments and the adjoining playing field are the last bastion of urban green space left. The last untouched area. The last backyard to yours.

MARTYN HEDGES

Coldharbour Lane, Harpenden

Dawdling drivers debate

SIR – Perhaps Messrs Cashin and Ball might like to permanently relocate to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, USA. This would have a number of benefits – firstly they would not be harassing other Highway Code-abiding UK motorists, and secondly they might realise that they were the ‘slow and incompetent’ drivers compared to other users of the Salt Flats? Otherwise they might prefer to stay in the UK and attend some sort of “impatience management therapy” course ?

COLIN WEAVER

Tuffnells Way, Harpenden

SIR – As expected, the subject of dawdling drivers on the road to Harpenden created a lot of letters, not least due to the well-known originator, Mr Cashin.

However reading through all points of view, there is an enigma, created by Mr Barlow’s letter concerning advanced motoring.

He advocated getting more experienced and learning to drive safely and confidently at speeds approaching the maximum speed limits.

There is nothing in the letters to suggest Mr Cashin is anything other than a confident, experienced driver. In fact, for him, the advanced driving test would be a waste of time.

It does appear, that to save frustration all round, it would benefit the Agneses and Alberts far more to take such a test.

In that way, they would gain more confidence and feel secure driving slightly faster; and be taught to be aware of drivers behind, if the road is such that it is difficult to overtake.

Elderly or nervous drivers, such as them, might soon be taking the bus, the punctuality of which might depend on making up time on the open stretches of road. A delayed bus can be a nuisance to countless passengers on the route.

We are all human and can get frustrated by ultra slow drivers. Because of that, they create a hazard; that of unnecessary and risky overtaking. That point should dominate all others.

P H FIELD

St Stephens Avenue, St Albans

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