Letters, July 17, 2014

No budget to tackle overgrown grass?

SIR – I write to you as I feel our overgrown verges and roundabouts on the A405 Chiswell Green and A414 Park Street are causing a high risk danger to the public and motorists. I have emailed the council who told me they have had budget cuts only allowing them to cut the grass six times a year. These roads are classed as high speed roads, so the importance should be obvious, only recently was there a three car accident which could have been caused by the obscure view to oncoming traffic.

CATHY PAYNE Mayflower Road, Park Street

Remembering true gentleman David

SIR – I have recently learned of the passing of David Rogers of Hillside Road, Harpenden, and would like to pay tribute to a real gentleman, in the true sense of the word, for I never heard a cross or naughty word from him despite having known him from 1957. Dave worked on the railways, for the electrification design of the Euston line, and I first met him in Carlton Road. A whole “gang” of rail enthusiasts would meet daily at teatime, trains were somewhat more interesting back then with steam and 80 year old engines still in use. He was noted for meticulous recording of traffics and unusual train workings in the “Midland Diary”, which was passed between members of the gang so they could add information. Members of this included John and Paddy Wood, Mike and Colin Beck, Robert Jackson and Arthur Turner to name but a few. Dave’s handwriting was also meticulous, “virtually copperplate”, and I remember my father telling me he had never seen such neatness anywhere. We would have meetings at Hillside Road on Friday evenings to swap reports and photos. We also delivered magazines in panelled envelopes with engine numbers, as well as panels for addressee/date some were from the 1930s/40s. There would be cycle and motorbike rides to Hemel Hempstead and Browne End regularly, where several from Harpenden would gather especially on Cup Finals when extra trains were laid on. In 1960 Dave took me to the Somerset and Dorset line to explore what by then had become a railway legend for vintage engines and archaic practise. In the same year he, brother Andrew and me, hived a British Waterways ‘Water Baby’ from Uxbridge, and took it up to Cheddington and back so his love for canals may have stemmed from that trip. His first love however was I believe the Nicky Line, living nearby in Park Hill, where I recall he used to tell us how often the morning coal train stalled on the 1 in 37 Roundwood Incline! Often No 43245 of St Albans shed, which in 1958 he nicknamed “Old Faithful”, in view of three to four decades it worked the Hemel Hempstead daily trips, alongside the other 3Fs and later 4Fs. If ever there was a true gentleman who deserved a commemorative OBE for hard work and kindness, which is unlikely amidst the unreal life we have made through material worship, it would have been him. But I think he’d have preferred a replica model of No. 43245! For far longer, he lived with family at Hillside Road, never far from the Nicky Line; in later years walking its footpath and going on bus or train trips to sister Mary at Broxbourne and further afield. Such a man deserved many at his recent memorial service, yet only five paid tribute; reflecting on how awful and indifferent this country has become. RIP Dave: some will never forget you!

TIMOTHY COLLIER Union Street, Kettering

Move on from the mistakes of the past

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SIR – On Sunday, July 6, there was a public meeting at All Saints Church, Harpenden where an update was given about the plans to build a new school to meet a shortfall in school places in the Harpenden School Planning Area that will peak in 2019-2020. The Harpenden School Planning Area Stretches from Hemel Rural North (Markyate), through Redbourn, Harpenden, Wheathampstead and the Waldens (in all it’s 10 miles east to west and 10 miles north to south. At the meeting I put forward some thoughts on the process which has come about because of my sense of unease with the headlong unthinking rush to build a school on Green Belt. To build on Green Belt requires exceptional circumstances to be proven. It seems to me the present and continuing problem with school places is manufactured, entirely predictable and not at all exceptional. That is because we as a community (through our politicians and public servants) have: a) allowed more houses to be built; b) closed two perfectly good secondary schools in the area; c) let the remaining secondary schools become academies which are now outside Hertfordshire County Council’s (HCC) control where the responsibility lies for providing school places. The schools are refusing to expand. The three Harpenden secondary schools have joined together to form the only organisation bidding to build a new school planned within 0.5 miles of an existing school. This is against the background when we as a country are in a financial mess and time is running out for providing more school places. Traditionally a deficit of school places has been solved by building another school (estimate of the school building cost is £25-30 million), however in these times of cutbacks then perhaps we should look at using what we already have and not contemplating a new build. My thoughts are that we could: a) ensure that sufficient Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) money (effectively a tax on development by the district) is associated with all new dwelling construction/conversion to allow for new infrastructure to be fully funded and that this money is always used. I know that needs the local plan to be completed, but it will be and that is not in doubt; b) use existing property under HCC control, e.g. the two former secondary school sites of St Luke’s, Redbourn and the ex-school site at Wheathampstead, in addition use the the Park Farm Site behind Roundwood School to build expand the school. Look at establishing a sixth form college say in the Harpenden House site and investigate the use of under utilised buildings at Rothamsted; c) HCC also have the powers to ask the Department of Education to force the Academies to accept more pupils. This will delay the need and thus ensure there is time to use the money from a to implement b. If all these approaches were adopted I feel confident that the school issue can be solved without recourse to using any Green Belt and have the additional benefit of restoring schools to being spread more evenly through what is a very large area rather than as now all three being clustered together in North Harpenden within a one mile corridor. So let’s be open minded about a solution and move on from the mistakes of the past and give our children an education they deserve and at the same time act in a more responsible, sustainable and economic manner.

JOHN HANSEN Common Lane, Harpenden

Hotel units must be used for shops

SIR – The northern section of St Peter’s Street has undergone a complete change of use over the past few years and is now characterised by eateries of various sorts. Therefore, it is imperative that if the proposed use of the shops below the new Premier Inn is to be a further café or restaurant then there must be a full appraisal by the Retail Forum within the district council of their effect on the independents throughout St Albans. The demise of Café Nes at the Alban Arena and the Blue Anchor and Black Lion pubs/restaurants in St Michael’s is only the start of what will happen during the years ahead. There are only so many residents and visitors to support the vast number of outlets in which to eat and drink. The city needs a variety of shops to make it attractive; therefore could the space below our new hotel not be a toy shop, arts supplier or book shop? All are needed. Instead, be afraid of the inevitable; another chain coffee shop and another restaurant!

TOBIAS FOSTER Kings Road, St Albans

Support for Gaza

SIR – On June 28, supporters of Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) collected £347.71 for vital health needs for Palestinians resulting from the blockade of Gaza and Israel’s inadequate provision of health care for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank. The generosity of Harpenden citizens came not a moment too soon because, on the following day, the Israeli airforce again attacked Gaza. Further attacks are likely. Gaza has been blockaded by the Israelis since operation ‘Cast Lead’ in 2009, limiting supplies of drugs, medical equipment and spares. MAP was one of only two international agencies that was able to deliver urgent medical supplies throughout the attacks on hospitals. MAP’s emergency care and serious burns training for doctors in Gaza have significantly increased the life chances of the injured. This support by MAP for the innocent victims of these attacks continues to this day. Those who were unable to donate on June 28 can do so by visiting www.map.org.uk. or by contacting me at dave6637@aol.com or on 01727 861247.

DR DAVID LEIGH Gibbons Close, Sandridge

Danger drivers must change attitudes

SIR – This morning (July 7) our beloved cat, Gomez, was hit and killed by a car on Sandridge Road in St Albans. The motorist did not even stop. Whilst we appreciate that it is a sad fact of life that cars pose the biggest danger to cats, some of the driving we witness on a daily basis in St Albans beggars belief. Sandridge Road is just one road where people wantonly ignore speed limits and drive extremely aggressively. There is a busy school on this road and although the council has recently upgraded a “refuge” style crossing, more action is needed to slow the traffic and to make motorists think about the dangers that they pose to pets and pedestrians alike. To give further examples, when walking our young son to nursery, we have to cross Sandpit Lane and Avenue Road. The first of these has an island in the middle but often the queueing drivers will deliberately close up gaps to the car in front so pedestrians cannot complete their crossing, or they will accelerate towards them when they are halfway across. The top of Avenue Road at the junction with Stonecross is shaped like a trumpet and when crossing it is necessary to literally take a leap of faith as it is possible for cars that you couldn’t even see from the kerb to soon be bearing down on you. I appreciate that these are just a couple of examples of many dangerous roads and junctions. With reference to our cat, it is entirely likely that he simply ran directly in front of the car. However, this has served to demonstrate to us that although St Albans is a charming and delightful place to live, its roads are dangerous and the attitudes of many drivers leave a lot to be desired. I have read with interest previous letters concerning the proposed 20mph zones. It is sad to see so many people pushing back against these common sense initiatives.

ROBERT KIRKPATRICK Upper Culver Road, St Albans

Harpenden WOEs

SIR – Three WTFs or WOEs (what on earth’s) this week: WOE do the highways experts and councillors who sign off these jobs think they are doing planting a mini-forest on the Redbourn Lane/Walkers Road roundabout at the south end of Harpenden? A roundabout is meant to make junctions safer, not more hazardous. Drivers approaching from all four sides have no view at all of traffic in the opposite direction and it’s considerably more dangerous for pedestrians where there’s no safe crossing area and far too little time to react if a vehicle suddenly appears from the other side of the overgrown hedge and tall trees. More than 20 years ago I led the campaign to secure central and local government funding to replace the death-trap staggered crossroads with a safe roundabout. I never imagined anyone would be so stupid and reckless to allow the sightlines to be so obscured that one accident waiting to happen – and two fatalities which did happen – would be replaced by a new one. WOE does Harpenden Town Council think it’s doing sanctioning spectator parking for the Classics car event on July 30 all over the very well maintained and much used Harpenden Rovers football pitches up here in the middle of the Common? It’s an ill-considered knee-jerk reaction to other parts of the Common being vetoed for use as car parks by the Natural England grants regime. Did the council bother to properly inform itself or consult the football club to whom it leases the land? The licence states that it’s exclusively for the purposes of playing football or other sports, not for use as a car park. On what grounds would it be acceptable for the landlord to breach the terms and conditions of a licence? WOE does your correspondent Alan Bunting do in his spare time apart from inventing crackpot ideas to solve the housing crisis? Others will also have noted that not only does he live on the other side of town to the two allotment grounds identified for new housing estates; he is also less than half-a-mile from and probably overlooks the farmland between Bloomfield Road and Cooters End Lane which has been shortlisted as one of the preferred major housing development sites in the District. Not a NIMBY then? Actually, I think he could have been much more radical. If land is a scarce and therefore incredibly expensive commodity then the only solution is to build very high, which would be unsightly and too urban, or even better dig underground. Harpenden Town Council clearly only values the Common as a commercial cashcow for car parking, funfairs, circi, etc., so would almost certainly join in a thinktank to explore the possibility of building a thousand or so houses and a new school below the surface (or ‘radar’ as they could be persuaded to describe it). Advances in technology would be able to ensure everyone has virtual light and bacteria-free climate control, with sports and leisure facilities included, electric driverless shuttles taking everyone where they need to be without disturbing the overcrowded road network. This would be a wonderful opportunity for Harpenden to be at the cutting edge of New Age Living in the 22nd century.

ROBERT HILL East Common, Harpenden