Letters, March 3, 2011

Budget shops comeback

SIR – It seems that I touched a nerve with your readers last week following my letter about the appearance of pound shops in St Peter’s Street.

Whilst readers are entitled to voice their opinions, I do feel that I have the right of reply to the respondents as some of their comments are not only unfounded and inaccurate but personally attack me when all I was doing was merely voicing my own views on these shops, not the people who shop in them.

To correct these misconceptions and taking each respondent in turn, Mrs Doreen Court refers to the average salary I mentioned in my original letter of �35,000. Well I got it wrong – sorry.

St Albans population’s median salary in 2009 according to accountancy firm UHY Hacker Young was in fact �43,500! As far as passing an income test to qualify to shop in St Albans, perhaps this could work in George Street judging by the prices in the shops there, but the notion to have such a test in any retail environment is quite ridiculous.

To Richard Housden, no, I have never stood outside Harrods before but the inference in his letter is that he has and is more than familiar with that area. Could this be a double standard creeping in?

On his final point, it is SADC, Mr Housden, which grants permission for these derelict retail units to be let (because the owners pay rates to the council) but in the commercially exploitative world we live in, it is also the owners of these pound shops who latch onto the fashion during the right market conditions and open them up like a rash across the nation’s high streets.

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To Charlotte Heron, no I and the hundreds of people who share my views on pound shops are not snobs, but we do have standards – and to see the gradual dereliction of a once prestigious parade in one of the UK’s most attractive market cities clouded by names out of kilter with the majority of retailers is heartbreaking.

To have Pound World eight or so doors down from a flagship M&S store is really a retail juxtaposition that makes no sense.

It is quite wrong of Ms Heron to say that I feel ‘above’ any fellow citizen. I don’t. For your information, I do not come from St Albans. I actually originate from a very tough council estate in one of the poorest London conurbations there is, so I know, first-hand, what it is like to have nothing in one’s pocket. I have just been lucky enough through hard work and endeavour to be able to afford to live in a beautiful city like this for the past 35 years. Fortunately, the freedoms we enjoy as consumers means that we are completely free to choose the shops we do business in.

As for Ms Heron not wishing to share a lifeboat with people who do not like pound shops, myself included, we all remember the Titanic and the class of cabin the majority of the lieboat survivors came from! She also speaks in her letter as if pay freezes and cost of living rises do not affect those who choose not to shop in pound shops. Wrong again. They affect us all and that is exactly why I have spent the past 20 years giving something back, advising and helping people on lower incomes how to become shrewder consumers.

To Ms S Evans who believes that my views are typical of the people of St Albans, all I would simply say is watch this space should Pound World or the 99p store ever open up a branch in neighbouring Harpenden. Then you really would hear an outcry!

Ms Evans also presumes, correctly, that I would rather have a Waitrose in St Peter’s Street. She is right, I would. However, I do feel that it was inappropriate to quote my surname as a term of jocular reference in the context of her letter.

Ms Evans comments further, quite incorrectly, that I have never visited these stores before. Wrong again. I am not a fool and always buy branded toiletries wherever good savings can be made. If that means venturing into a pound shop, I will do it even if it is against my better shopping principles. Finally, my reference to goods that “last five minutes” was about the torch from Taiwan or the garden fork from China that bends on first use, cheap rubbish that really only does last five minutes.

In conclusion, all I would say is that there will be an equal number of people who agree with myself and others who share my views as those who don’t. The really wonderful thing is that we live in a democracy and are at liberty through the fine pages of our local newspapers, to speak them freely.

When we do write in however, we should research and then stick to the facts, remain respectful of others and not assume that we know them or their shopping habits, talk about the issue at hand and not personally attack those who might hold an opposite view, no matter what their socio-economic background, salary or job. It is the concept of cheap pound shops that I believe is commercially wrong for this town, not the wonderful, vibrant, free-choice consumer who shops within it!


Green Lane, St Albans

SIR – I have been reading the letters about the opening of a second budget store on St Peter’s Street with interest.

A few years ago I considered taking one of the retail units on St Peter’s Street and opening an individual, independent shop of the type that seems so coveted by many of the readership of this paper.

I was at a very early stage in my due diligence when I realised the whole project was flawed. The commonly held notion that St Albans is an affluent town is wrong – there may be many affluent people who live here, but they neither generate their wealth nor spend it in the town. Take a look one day, a large proportion of the shoppers you will see floating around St Peter’s Street are the perfect demographic for budget and pound shops.

However my main thought on the subject is that all those readers who wrote letters complaining about ‘another pound shop’ should be grateful that these units have been taken by companies who intend to use them all year round.

There is an increasing trend in the world of retail for stores that trade only in November and December then vacate their premises in the New Year. They haven’t gone bust, they just only open for the weeks running up to Christmas, it’s the centre piece of their business model and they don’t care a jot about a high street that is deserted for the other nine months of the year.


Dubrae Close, St Albans

When the lights go out...

SIR – I am most unimpressed by Hertfordshire County Council’s plans to change the borough’s street lights to part-night operation, for a number of different reasons.

Number one is the obvious risk of increased crime and anti-social behaviour, but there is also an increased risk of road accidents, especially vehicles hitting pedestrians.

This is also going to shift the cost burden from the council to residents, in a number of ways. Some examples are:

1) Like others, I often walk home from the station or town centre after midnight, but this will no longer be an option, partly because of the risk of being mugged, and partly because the roads and pavements are so badly maintained that they will represent a trip hazard if there is no ambient lighting.

Therefore, I will be faced with the cost of getting a taxi, typically �10 from the station to my house – more than the rail fare (at the weekend).

And what happens if there is a taxi strike, as has happened in the past – it could make it very dangerous to get home, unless you have had the forethought to carry a torch.

2) It will probably encourage residents to install more outdoor lighting on their houses – I already have dusk-to-dawn energy efficient lighting, but may have to increase it if the nearby streetlight is switched off.

Many people are not clued up on efficient lighting, so may well resort to energy hungry outside lighting (glaring halogen floods or tungsten bulbs), driving up their electricity bills and negating any energy savings made by the council – the existing street lighting is far more efficient than most residential outside lighting.

3) While cycling is still feasible with adequate lights, it will still be more dangerous on unlit roads, especially as it will be more difficult to spot potholes.

Another risk is pedestrians being mowed down by idiot cyclists riding on the pavement.

4) It may increase drink-driving incidents, as people will be tempted to drive home after a night out to avoid walking in the dark or high taxi fares.

5) It may even increase obesity, as people will avoid walking/cycling late at night and resort to getting taxis or driving.

Walking and cycling are free forms of exercise, so people may have to pay for more gym membership to replace this.

Finally, I have noticed some confusion relating to your description of the “specialist equipment” as photocells, as most streetlights are already fitted with these (the small cone shaped device on top).

The new specialised photocells are called “part night photocells” and basically contain a computer chip with works out the dusk-to-dawn patterns and calculates when to turn the lights on and off – don’t expect precise accuracy here; the switching times can vary by +/- 15 minutes, and after a power cut, they may run all night for a couple of days before they are recalibrated.

A typical example can be found here: http://www.zodionltd.eu.com/pdfs/Zodion_SS9_SS19.pdf


Beverley Gardens

Jersey Farm, St Albans