Letters, January 3, 2013

Coherency in housing policy

Sir – Yes, David Rankin is right to state in your letters column on December 20 that I’d like to see six or seven hundred houses a year built in the district, rather than the two hundred proposed by the Tory administration.

Boris Johnson, amusingly described by some as a ‘paleotory’ and George Osborne, whose politics defy description, almost certainly agree with me and not him.

They both want more houses built in the London Green Belt. But I’d like to see most of these houses built at affordable prices. That’s what differentiates me from Boris and George, who seem to be more concerned with bankers and business.

However I’m a realist and do agree that infrastructure is being stretched to breaking point, not so much schools because the pressure there is coming from the town centre, but rather transport and specifically public transport. The abandoned SLP says little about this, and what it does say I would classify as mere platitudes and tokenism.


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I would say that the existing public transport network cannot sustain the existing demand much longer, probably would have collapsed instantly had Cllr Daly got his way with 250 houses a year, and needs the radical overhaul and investment that only the development gain levy from five hundred or a thousand houses a year could bring.

Paradoxically real public transport, and I’m talking about stuff like what happens in Germany or France with high capacity tramlines and subsidised fares, could take cars off the roads and improve the remaining Green Belt out of all recognition, whilst providing the access to it that is so lacking even sometimes with a motor car because of unsatisfactory car parks.

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To achieve this, or even the objectives of SAGBA or the Civic Society, you need a proper, legal and coherent planning process, and the SLP failed to make the grade on all three counts. The process needn’t be “tortuous”.

First you calculate the housing need. Then you analyse the constraints rightly identified by your correspondent as infrastructure and green belt, both of which need reviewing and not just the Green Belt, I’d say.

Finally you come up with a plan that is the best or least worst option, and hopefully take advantage of any synergies such as the one I’ve suggested between public transport and housing. You don’t do it back to front like the council tried to get away with.

Tony Waite

Holywell Hill, St Albans

Facing up to the weight of freight

SIR – Freight Terminal Decision – Sadness, Anger... And hope?

The cynical timing and disastrous decision to grant Outline permission for the destruction of a massive swathe of St Albans’ precious Green Belt fills me with sadness and anger.

The sadness is that all of the efforts of everybody who fought so hard against this proposal were just brushed aside by Eric Pickles. Even the impassioned and well argued case put by our Conservative MP apparently counted for nothing compared to what looks suspiciously like a stitch up by Simon Hoare, the senior Conservative Councillor from David Cameron’s Oxfordshire constituency and agent for Helioslough. Such decisions may well keep Private Eye in good copy, but in the end fundamentally undermine our trust in the democratic process.

The anger – The anger is that this was a decision that will blight the area for ever. The decision letter itself says “...the Secretary of State concludes that the appeal proposal would be inappropriate development in the Green Belt and that it is harmful as such... that it would result in significant encroachment into the countryside, that it would contribute to urban sprawl, and it would cause some harm to the setting of St Albans.”

Yet despite all this, he effectively argues that ‘there is no alternative’, when only a few months ago, he felt that Colnebrook was such an alternative and a joint inquiry would be a good idea.

And the hope? There may be precious little of this, but having initially tied the site so closely with Colnebrook, there must now be a strong argument that for him to decide this inquiry without waiting for the Inspector’s recommendations on Colnebrook is premature and is effectively pre-judging the evidence being put before that inquiry. Surely it is now the turn of St Albans District Council to take the initiative and mount a High Court challenge to the decision on this basis. Let’s hope they agree.

DAVID PARRY

Chair, St Stephens Lib Dems

Park Street Lane, Park Street

Sir – So Eric Pickles is minded to allow the huge Radlett rail freight depot within the Green Belt.

Let us not forget that developers’ main drive is huge financial profits with an acre of farmland possibly going from �10,000 value to �500,000 (or �1m for housing) when it obtains planning permission. Last seen this development had little rail-lines. Perhaps a condition on rail freight should be that if at any five year review the development does not use at least 50 per cent rail transport for its goods movements then the freehold is given to the district council plus equivalent of 50 per cent rent of all occupiers.

Stage approval of St Albans’ Strategic Local Plan controlling local planning development appears even more essential without further delay else we risk uncontrolled development on the surrounding areas to our city, towns and villages. We also need the SLP passed as it includes the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) replacing Section 106 payments. These are both monies to fund local infrastructure improvements.

The new system is much more based on localism and I am assured that within reason the district council can set the rate. Perhaps 50 per cent of the possible �490,000 per acre profit could come back to local residents as local improvements wanted by them. It appears also to be a game-changer controlling development on the three main SLP development areas and all others. Eric Pickles’ officials only offer some Section 106 monies.

The SLP is not perfect but with full council support it could greatly improve the present system. It has been delayed by Lib-Lab arguments wanting a total Green Belt review but weirdly excepting one area plus even stranger arguments by Labour in full council that we can delay as “the sun will rise tomorrow”.

Mike Wakely

Oakfield Road, Harpenden

SIR – So Eric Pickles has decided St Albans is a great place and Helioslough can go ahead with putting the enormous Strategic Rail Freight Interchange at Park Street even though it will destroy a huge area of Green Belt, cause unbelievable traffic problems (any accident on the M1, M25 or A1 immediately gridlocks St Albans and surrounding areas) with the extra transport vehicles and the effect on our already inadequate rail service.

Can Mr Pickles explain to the residents of St Albans, Park Street, Radlett and Frogmore why he reversed his earlier decision, was then going to look at two proposals together then, like Scrooge, ruined everyone’s Xmas by allowing the go-ahead for this totally unacceptable plan?

He maintains there are “special circumstances” and lack of more appropriate alternative sites so did he even consider Luton council’s willingness to provide a site together with the fact staff would be available in their area?

Can he also explain why Justine Greening, the previous Transport Secretary, had discussions with Helioslough?

Mr Pickles has admitted the proposal is inappropriate and will cause urban sprawl and then has the nerve to suggest that activity on the site at night would not be unacceptable – would he like to move to the area?!

A lot of people fought long and hard opposing this ludicrous proposal and I feel sorry for Anne Main our MP who did all she could but will probably pay the price for her party’s decision when it comes to the next general election.

People still remember the virtual closure of St Albans City Hospital when Tory Peter Lilley represented the city and his desertion to stand for Harpenden and Hitchin before he could be voted out!

There seems to have been some questionable meetings behind closed doors, complete U-turns. I think the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government owes an explanation to the people and should make a clear statement on the procedures involved in deciding this life changing proposal. This is so reminiscent of the decision making on Virgin and the West Coast Rail Line.

I believe a petition should be launched in the towns involved to show the 100 per cent opposition to this plan that could then be presented to Downing Street – it is not inconceivable that over 100,000 signatures could be obtained! We do not want it in our backyard!

PATRICIA MAITLAND

Ashley Road, St Albans

SIR – I refer to the incredibly deluded statements by Sandy Walkington/Robert Donald which conveniently overlooks the fact that their party is jointly responsible for decisions made by Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, under the authority of the coalition government of which their party are partners.

It is the Lib Dems’ decision to put the Conservatives in power with themselves at the last General Election which is the real disgrace and which condemns local residents to a terrible Christmas, whilst their prospective candidate for St Albans relaxes comfortably from the safe distance of his home in the picturesque village of Welwyn.

During the years in which the Lib Dems, led by district councillor Robert Donald, held control of St Albans District Council they wasted hundreds of thousand pounds of local council taxpayers’ money on poorly prepared legal attempts which effectively failed to overcome the Park Street rail freight depot proposals of developers Helioslough.

Yet instead of attempting to apologise to the campaigners and residents that they have let down they instead try to gain political capital from this mess .

TONY LEACH

Langley Crescent, St Albans

SIR – I am absolutely horrified to hear that the Conservative secretary of state Eric Pickles has given the go ahead for the rail freight depot in the south of St Albans. This is despite the fact that this depot has previously been turned down twice already!

As far as I am aware, this scheme has just been submitted again by the developers without any amendment whatsoever. It seems that Mr Pickles is not even going to consider the alternative site at Colnbrook, further around the M25.

Originally I think that Mr Pickles was going to report back next June comparing the merits of the two sites so that a proper assessment could be made. So, to sneak this decision out just directly before Christmas, hoping to bury the impact of it during the festivities is just appalling.

If this depot goes ahead we can look forward to an additional 5,000 lorries a day around the city, all night noise and disruption to rail services.

Surely there must be a legal challenge that we can mount against this decision (I think that that is what the developers did when they couldn’t get the answer that they wanted).

This is going to make an enormous difference to St Albans and we must do something about it.

ERNEST BARNES

St Vincent Drive, St Albans

SIR – We were debating David Cameron’s lack of Conservative achievements and ideas and would they win at the next election.

For St Albans voters, Eric Pickles just answered the question.

Ray Fairbairn

Warren Road, St Albans

Slippery problems at the new pool

Sir – Today (December 24), myself and my daughter visited Westminster Lodge pool for a bit of a swim with my grandson.

Walking into the changing village, my grandson at six years old, fell over on his bottom with a bump and will undoubtedly have bruises to show for it.

He was walking quite slowly as he had been warned that the floor was slippery, however, over he went and had to be comforted for some time before getting into the pool.

When we came out of the pool to get showered and changed ready to go home, he was walking carefully on the changing room floor and once again went down with a bump, this time doing the splits.

This slippery floor is too dangerous and the pool should be closed until such time as the surface is safe to walk on. My grandson is sensible and we were walking beside him when he fell. The changing village floor in the old Westminster Lodge never gave any problems so why is this floor so dangerous?

Has Everyone Active become so infatuated with “design and appearance” that they have forgotten that first and foremost should be safety for all users. Their customers are their ‘life blood’ and as such should be the most important thing in their minds – not some fancy looking pool and changing room that could be lethal to users.

Complaints are put to staff but I will not hold my breath that anything will be done.

Susie Bee

Bedmond Lane, St Albans

Thanks from the Samaritans

Sir – On behalf of Luton, South Beds and Harpenden Samaritans, I would like to offer my sincere gratitude to all those who gave so generously to our collection on Harpenden Station on the evenings of December 19-21.

We raised �828 over those three evenings. The weather throughout that period was truly atrocious and it was heart warming that so many commuters, laden with multiple packages, coats and handbags, were prepared to stand in the rain and rummage around until they found their wallets, purses and pockets to put donations into our tins.

Collecting money from the public is not the most popular occupation for Samaritans volunteers at the best of times but it needs to be done. However, the kindness shown to us by so many weary travelers made it a worthwhile experience. From all the collectors, a huge Thank You.

Vicki Rodger

Luton, South Beds and Harpenden Samaritans, Cardiff Road, Luton

Hidden agenda of club’s plans?

Sir – It is becoming ever more apparent that there is a hidden agenda behind the proposal by Harpenden Colts FC, with the backing of Hertfordshire County Council, to establish eleven football pitches, as well as a pavilion and a 100-vehicle car park, on what is currently 32 acres of beautiful Green Belt countryside to the north-west of the town.

Why else would Colts chairman Bob Trevor be refusing to discuss with club members the financial implications of the New Farm scheme, as they will affect members’ subscriptions, especially the ongoing costs of maintaining eleven pitches? One club member, Elaine Norwood, a parent of two young Colts footballers, has said she can foresee subscriptions having to rise to a level where only Harpenden’s wealthiest parents could afford them. When challenged with that assertion, Mr Trevor has now conceded publicly that member subscriptions would probably have to increase, though he would not be drawn on the likely extent of those increases.

His reticence is perhaps understandable given that, as he has admitted, the plans have been put forward for public consultation before Colts’ business plan for New Farm has been finalised. To club members, as well as to the growing number of local residents objecting to the scheme, that is astonishing.

The enormous difference in estimated initial cost, of �1.5 million at the lower end and �2 million maximum, indicates that only the roughest ‘back of an envelope’ costings have been undertaken. One must presume that somewhere between the two there is a figure at which the scheme would be considered viable.

So many aspects of Colts’ insanely-ambitious plans fail to add up: the huge initial investment; the ongoing ground maintenance costs; and not least the extravagant need for eleven pitches (more than at Arsenal’s training ground at London Colney). John Davey, a former Colts football coach manager, has pointed out that the waiting list of youngsters eager to join the football club, but having to be turned away, is due to a shortage of coaches, not of available pitches.

No less astonishing in the New Farm controversy is the recent public admission by Bernard Lloyd, the county councillor supporting the plans most vociferously, that if he lived in the Roundwood area close to the site, he too would be joining the protesters, whose concerns extend beyond the despoilation of the countryside, to the inevitable weekend traffic chaos in the surrounding roads if the scheme went ahead.

It is time that Mr Lloyd, who by definition must be privy to Herts CC’s deliberations, came clean on the hidden agenda for the New Farm site.

In an earlier letter to the Herts Advertiser, he dismissed speculation that football ground development could be a stepping stone towards eventual house building. However, in the published outline proposals there is an oblique reference to a possible future need for part of the area to be used for ‘educational purposes’, which can only mean for building a new school. That would of course mean a reduction in available football pitches, as well as contravention of Green Belt policy.

The question then arises: if Colts could manage with such a reduced facility some time in the future, why can’t they do so from the outset?

The whole New Farm football ground scheme lacks transparency, as well as being hugely controversial. Accordingly, the planning application due to be submitted shortly to St Albans District Council by Colts FC deserves to be summarily refused.

ALAN BUNTING

Ridgewood Drive, Harpenden

Scraps at the sales

SIR – There was something about this Christmas just ever so slightly different from previous festive seasons.

The 7am queues at supermarkets were still there. So too was the manic high street, pavement-bulging grab for last minute gifts and the Twickenham-style rugby scrummage to get an underwhelming five per cent discount off that must-have iPad for little Johnny in the sales, or the cheap bin end clothing made in the far east and sold in designer shops for a fortune.

This year, however, the difference was an aggression observed in some people that I found most disconcerting.

For example, I was queuing with about 50 others outside one particular supermarket at 6.45am when I noticed noise and commotion breaking the still of a dark Christmas Eve morning behind me.

Lo and behold, I turned around to witness two late 70-year-old men squaring up to each other because of a dispute about who was first in the queue!

Doors open and it was no different on the inside where people obviously thought the Mayan prophecy had come a week late and were panic buying food like there was going to be no tomorrow.

Needless to say, I grabbed my turkey, raced around the fighting pensioners and nutcase middle-agers engaged in trolley warfare and belted it back home before I came a cropper!

I am sure this pattern of commercial exploitation, greed, the famine-like rush for food and the “it’s-mine-I-saw-it-first” mentality of the sales hungry consumers is not a localised issue even though many Herts Ad readers will no doubt agree, having probably been party to similar battles during their own shopping escapades.

Indeed, I dare say this kind of aggressive behaviour may even happen in prospective new home locations like, for example, Aberystwyth – and although the temptation to move to this fine Welsh town (as some would love me to) may, at times, be overwhelming, the good people of St Albans should note that I intend to be around here for as long as I can making my observations on life, local issues and the multifarious people who domicile St Albans until I eventually move of my own volition or pass on to that great soapbox in the sky – so one final message to you all, whether you believe my words to be brilliant or bilious, agree or disagree – a very happy and most importantly healthy New Year to you all!

BARRY CASHIN

Green Lane, St Albans

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