Letters, March 21, 2013

Bedroom tax hits low income earners

SIR - I was working full time with no benefits until I was made redundant at the end of 2012. I was lucky enough to get another job at aged 58 but the hours were less and, therefore, had to claim housing benefit and now get some help with my rent and council tax. This now means I will have to pay this “bedroom tax” or move.

I cannot see how I am going to afford to pay this as I am already living on a low income. I also don’t want to leave my home.

If I hadn’t been made redundant this would not have affected me. This is just another example of this government’s unfair treatment of people who are already struggling to make ends meet. At the same time they are giving the highest earners a reduction in income tax. They defend themselves by saying the people on a low income will also be better off as they won’t pay any tax if they earn under £10,000. As they don’t pay much tax on their low income I can’t see they will be much better off anyway.

This is going to be a nightmare for disabled people also. This tax must be stopped and replaced by something that is fair to everyone. Something that includes those in government doing their fair share to help the economy out of their own pockets. These are the people who can afford it!


Drakes Drive, St Albans

Most Read

NIMBYs or not?

SIR – The No Oaklands Housing Action Group (NOHAG) campaigners are now beginning to realise that they are likely to get more houses than they might have if the Strategic Local Plan (SLP) had been accepted; the SLP that they railroaded last November, encouraged initially by Geoff Churchard, who is up for re-election as county councillor in May!

At the very initial stages of NOHAG in October last year when residents “en masse” attended a Sandridge Parish Council meeting they expressed their views against the SLP. I replied that without the plan they were likely to get more than the planned 250 a year. It now seems likely that my prediction will happen but I take no delight in that; I was merely hoping that they would consider their intentions very carefully.

They disregarded the advice of district councillor, Beric Reed, at their public meeting, who amplified what I had said and explained the whole SLP.

We were telling the truth about the situation not playing politics!

What a pity that they ignored us and instead took advice from Geoff Churchard and others, whose activity was simply to garner votes.

NOHAG’s original objection was at least based upon a reasoned argument about Green Belt, infrastructure and sustainability, even if one disagreed with the premise.

However, now seeing a threat looming they have descended into NIMBYism and have revealed their true colours and for NOHAG more houses are OK so long as it’s not near them.

Suddenly they are not actually a No Oaklands Housing Action Group but a no housing on a “part of Oaklands near me” group

Why not move the building of houses to another bit of Oaklands land? Suddenly they are not against building on the Green Belt but not on Green Belt near me!

Suddenly the green corridor into the city can be compromised but not near me! Suddenly they are not worried about clogged up roads elsewhere but not roads near me! Suddenly building of houses will be sustainable if they are not near me!

The local residents close to their proposed site are not likely to put up any resistance NOT like us!

The children living in their proposed site could get to school in Colney Heath. So they could from the site now proposed.

It is suggested that the cost to taxpayers of the Green Belt review and the housing target reassessment will be at least half a million pounds!

Whilst this is being done, developers will crawl all over us with applications.

Even if they are all turned down by SADC they will go to appeal with all the attendant costs that will bring to us taxpayers.

I strongly support the development of Oaklands College which has added new facilities already, presumably with the money gained from the sale of land in the city. This college will give education and training to many more young people in this area to equip them for life.

I went to the exhibition mounted at the beginning of March by the college and Taylor Woodrow and have sent in a response form, which includes some critical comments, especially in the case of affordable housing, which I felt was too non specific.

Before NOHAG was set up a resident in Sandpit Lane asked me if I supported the SLP. To my yes answer he retorted that he wouldn’t vote for me again; He hadn’t bought a house in Sandpit Lane opposite a field to have it overlooked by other houses. I called that NIMBYism and he agreed !

Will Geoff Churchard now support the new proposal by NOHAG, in a political colleague’s patch? You bet not and if he does he will then be denying all the political reasons the Lib Dems voted in support of a motion which scuppered the SLP.


Sandridge Parish Councillor

SIR – I could not allow your headline of March 14 regarding the proposed housing scheme at Oaklands College to go unchallenged.

Why do you feel it is appropriate to refer to those who are objecting to this scheme as NIMBYs, when in the same edition you offer support to so many other campaign groups who are objecting to unreasonable developments across the county (Luton Airport expansion, the Hatfield incinerator and the rail freight terminal to name just some)? The term NIMBY is generally regarded as a derogatory one, applying to someone who is objecting on unreasonable or selfish grounds and I find it to be insensitive and patronising.


Chestnut Drive, St Albans

SIR – I read your newspaper every week, and am astounded at the amount of carping that goes on in your columns. I have never seen so much NIMBYism in one district – if it’s not Green Belt or airport expansion it’s building a rail exchange depot.

Don’t you people know jobs are of the essence? We need them to get out of the financial mess we are in. I lived in Elstree for over 30 years and I am aware of how much jobs are needed. Stop thinking of yourselves NIMBYs – think of the people who need jobs!


Elizabeth Gardens

Stanmore, Middlesex

Inaccuracy in Colts’ development bid

SIR – On your correspondence pages in recent weeks, the question of democracy in local council affairs has been was raised by several readers. Alan Bunting (March 7) referred to the Harpenden Town Council planning meeting where a three-person committee was deemed to have voted in favour of Colts FC’s proposal to develop a huge area of local farmland into an 11-pitch football ground.

I also attended the meeting and was shocked that the decision was effectively decided by the committee chairman, Cllr Michael Ellis. His vote favouring the proposal was supported only conditionally by the two other councillors entitled to vote at the meeting. A fourth councillor, John Chambers, who was not a voting member on the night, spoke strongly against the 32-acre New Farm development. All these objections and general uneasiness about the proposed planning application were swept aside by Cllr Michael Elis without due discussion. He appeared to be intent on recommending it to St Albans District Council regardless of clear breaches in local planning laws which had been brought to the committee’s attention in documents submitted before the meeting and by those who spoke in objection to the proposal at the meeting.

The committee made its decision after listening to presentations by interested parties on both sides of what has become a deeply contentious issue over the future of a large area of countryside. Mr John Davey, echoing the concerns of many of the 730 Harpenden residents who have signed a petition objecting to the New Farm proposals, questioned the “overriding need” for a change of use from agricultural land to playing fields, as required in planning legislation. He also highlighted the unavoidable traffic problems in accessing the site, especially by teams from the West Herts League via the two mile long single-track country lane.

In response, Bob Trevor, chairman of Colts FC, stated that Colts have, “only one or two teams playing in the West Herts League”. This statement was heard by the many residents who were present but who had no opportunity challenge it at the meeting.

In fact the real number of Colts teams that play in the West Herts League is nearer to TWENTY, significantly higher than the “one or two” that Mr Trevor claimed. The impact on the tight, country lanes to the west of the new farm site will be to see significantly increased traffic flows on match days leading to dangerous levels of traffic movements for cyclists, joggers, horse riders, walkers and other car users that already make use of the lanes.

This crucial inaccuracy in Mr Trevor’s presentation may well have influenced the HTC planning committee’s decision to support the Colts proposals, which throws the fairness, indeed the democracy, of the town council decision into even greater doubt.


Roundwood Lane, Harpenden

Planning plagued by party politics

SIR – Planning permission for new houses is a matter which arouses strong feelings in St Albans, as building new dwellings here is lucrative and common. But a few months ago the Lib/Lab/Green alliance prevented the district from creating a ‘Local Plan’, in which the district would have to nominate a small area where development could take place, and as a ‘trade off’, the rest of the district would be safe from development.

Seventy per cent of councils accross the country have created a local plan, to protect their patch from “free for all” development, but St Albans has not been able too.

The difficulty is, that whenever a designated development site is identified, the Liberal Democrat activists tip toe around houses nearby, express “outrage” at the plan, and promise to vote against the proposals in exchange for votes. So now we don’t have a ‘plan’ and developers can build practically anywhere they like in the district.

A useful financial sideline for councillors is that they can work as ‘consultants’ for building companies, helping them overcome the ‘hurdles’ in the way of getting planning permission, they can charge up to £20K per case!

So now councillors and builders from accross the country can work with building companies to target and build on any site in St Albans, because we are one of the few without a Local Plan.

It’s now open season on building in St Albans, thanks to the Lib/Lab/Green alliance.


Hadleigh Court, Harpenden

Pain of disabled parking fees

SIR – Hospital parking charges for disabled people are a tax on ill health.

Disabled people have to attend hospital on a much more regular basis, it also takes them longer to access services.

They are also at a disadvantage not being able to use public transport. I therefore fail to see how the hospital trust maintained this is fair and equality to everyone. It is more like discrimination and victimisation for being disabled.

It should also be noted when the Pathology department is moved from Hemel Hempstead Hospital as is in the process, those who have to attend for blood tests on a regular basis (as I do myself) will have a much longer waiting time to have blood taken, parking will become quiet costly for everyone, who has to attend this department.

With regard to free transport between the three hospitals this was a condition on centralising services.

It is interesting there is “no comment” from our MPs, either Anne Main or Peter Lilley, on this subject.


Stanton Close, St Albans

SIR – Before the hospital manager brings in charging for disabled parking I would like her to consider the folllowing scenario.

A 70-plus lady patient (still fortunate to able to drive) has driven herself to the hospital for an appointment with Maple Physio – located on the third floor of Runcie wing.

It is an inclement day, raining in buckets and our patient is unable to find a parking space in the first bay and has the same bad luck in the next bay but third time lucky she finds one vacant space at the far end of bay three.

Grasping her walking stick (or perhaps elbow crutches) she batttles some 80 yards or so against the elements and manages with her gnarled rheumaticy fingers to pay for a parking ticket which she then has to return the 80 yards to put on her car windscreen. It is now raining harder than ever and she can’t manage to put up her umbrella on her 100-plus yards trek to Outpatients. And once there she still has 200 yards or more to struggle to the lift up to Maple Physio.

I suggest that to inflict such needless and painful experiences on the unfortunate members of our society suffering from disabling illnesses is hardly the care and compassion they should receive from our health service providers.

But if, as appears, the manager is hellbent on exploiting these patients may I suggest that she finds some easier way for them to pay their fees – for example ticket machines which can be accessed from the driver’s seat or perhaps even books of pre-paid tickets .

I rest my case.


Townsend Drive

St Albans

Sainsbury’s in the spotlight

SIR – I was appalled to read your telling feature in this week’s Herts Advertiser concerning Mark Rolfe at the hands of his employer, Sainsbury’s.

Until recently, my family were regular shoppers in the Everard Close store but even if we had continued with our loyal custom, we would have taken it elsewhere purely by virtue of the circumstances as reported in the feature.

Neither my wife nor myself know Mark or his family but as frequent food shoppers over the years, have always found it a hard job to find any young person willing to stick around in any supermarket for a period of time able to give that good old-fashioned customer service that most people used to get routinely and which I used to pride myself on delivering when I worked many years ago under one of St Albans’ most successful retailers, Miss Marjory Boarer, former owner of the Milletts chain.

Sadly, Miss Boarer is no longer with us but if she were, and although not one shy of tearing a strip or two off of an errant employee, I am sure she would be appalled as a person known for giving people a chance; preferring to employ square pegs to fit round holes than the norm.

Disabled people or those with long-term health issues already face huge disadvantages in the workplace with the huge influx of eastern European and other migrant workers willing to work for less than the minimum or at the minimum wage as well as employers callously exploiting today’s terrible economic circumstances by wielding the threat of the axe over employees’ heads if they don’t work 10 hours unpaid overtime a week, commit to swap their soul for work or sacrifice family life in favour of the workplace. In short, treating them worse that something found of the bottom of one’s shoe.

Fortunately and although it doesn’t seem like it now, economic cycles happen to come in waves and when jobs start to peak again as they surely will (if the deluge of Bulgarians and Romanians set to invade our shores next January don’t nab them first!), people like Mark Rolfe and all the other genuinely hard working but disaffected employees who find themselves at the end of unfair treatment either by virtue of genuine health circumstances as reported, or because an employer feels they can simply just get away with it, will be able to rise up and swivel a middle finger to their recalcitrant bosses.

It might not cure workplace disaffection or bring a company to its knees but in a world where unions represent an extinct dinosaur of the past, it will sure be an act of catharsis that brings warmth to one’s soul. I thank you!


Green Lane, St Albans

SIR – We as St Albans residents should not be surprised by this branch’s attitude: they have a history of poor customer care and above all hubris, as you will be aware following your honest and fair articles over the past few years with regards to my unresolved case (Mr Izzard was handcuffed and falsely accused of shoplifting at this branch of Sainsbury’s).

I would advocate patronising somewhere else!


Holywell Hill, St Albans

SIR – I refer to your article in the Herts Advertiser of March 14, with regard to Sainsbury’s and their treatment of a store colleague’s levels of sickness absence.

I am myself a colleague at the St Albans store and write with empathy towards Mr Rolfe’s issues.

I have mental health issues which I have had since 1993 and still receive daily treatment under the supervision of my GP.

Firstly, I am not suggesting in any way that Sainsbury’s are a bad employer, quite the opposite.

However I do feel it necessary to give a view with regard to colleagues with disabilities and long-term health issues and the disciplinary procedures used in dealing with sickness absence which could quite rightly be regarded as Draconian.

Whilst it is reasonable to assume that several short periods of absence would give cause for concern in monitoring absence, I agree with Mr Rolfe in that people with disabilities don’t stand a chance in Sainsbury’s disciplinaries because if you have a disability you have to manage that, and you also have to manage intervening illness(es) such as hospital surgery, flu, etc.

This then increases your absence count much quicker than a non-disabled person and you are always going to be further along the disciplinary process. It would be far better to treat an absence due to a disability separately when determining action to be taken due to health related absence.

I do not believe that giving disciplinaries to colleagues who have a disability a supportive step in managing absence levels, especially after they have agreed a phased return to work, which I have done in the past and have cut my hours to enable me to manage my health issues more effectively.

I hasten to add that Sainsbury’s disciplinary procedures are not exclusive to the St Albans store as I would assume it is corporate policy.


Holyrood Crescent, St Albans

Why are we still kept in the dark?

SIR – Emerging from a long and dark winter I have to comment on the impact of street lighting restrictions after midnight.

I have been disconcerted at occasionally walking around streets in designated areas at 12-12.30am – a pretty normal time for getting back home – and indeed driving into darkened streets.

But comments from younger people ring true, that they really feel frightened – particularly girls – not only walking but even in taxis where they feel vulnerable being dropped off in darkness. Many youngsters of course end up returning from London after midnight.

And it is not just security issues – in the pitch black, pavements and potholes can be missed. On one occasion I was caught unawares by a cyclist who had no reflective protection.

I cannot understand why a simple pragmatic answer to this, given the continuing need for economies, is to simply shift the street lighting shutdown to 1am. It would help a lot of people. It would be interesting to know the authorities’ response to this compromise suggestion and also to learn of other people’s reflections (forgive the pun) on their experience of winter lighting timings.


Long Buftlers, Harpenden

A last word on pedestrianisation

SIR – I would like to make two comments on the matter of pedestrianisation of Lower High Street in Harpenden.

In your paper of Thursday last, Michael Weaver, district councillor, makes mention of a meeting with local shops and county officials. Michael states that “quite rightly those that had stated their opposition... had to provide genuine evidence of the effect pedestrianisation would have on their business”.

Can I ask why? Why did they have to do this? Why is it incumbent on those who live and/or work in the town to have to build a case to oppose a lunatic idea?

Surely it is for those who want to impose a scheme that alters the status quo to prove their case? This is/was a truly daft idea, with no foundation, which nobody wanted, to correct a problem that does not exist.

It is sad (and a little bit frightening) that some councillors are so far out of touch with the thoughts of the majority of local people.

Can I ask when the similar meeting took place with local residents and county officials? How were town residents advised of the date/time and location of this meeting? I assume that this meeting did take place as the views and opinions of the residents are surely worth, at least, as much as anyone else. In fact who else, other than those of us who live and/or work in Harpenden, had a right to a view and why?


Amenbury Lane, Harpenden

Health implications of loneliness

SIR – Did you know that loneliness is as bad for our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day? It is twice as harmful for us as obesity and is associated with increased rates of heart disease and dementia. It also has a destructive impact on our quality of life.

In Hertfordshire, around 18,000 older people will be lonely all or most of the time. Despite this, the public health implications of loneliness and isolation in older age are still to be fully recognised by those allocating resources in our health system in Hertfordshire.

I encourage everyone to learn more about this issue by visiting the website of the Campaign to End Loneliness (www.campaigntoendloneliness.org.uk) and get involved in the Hertfordshire Loneliness Harms Health campaign.


Gainsborough Avenue, St Albans

Collection was breaking the law

SIR – The First Lieutenant of the St Albans Sea Cadets has misinterpreted my letter in the Herts Advertiser.

I was not “offended” at all; the girls he used to obtain funds were offending – they were breaking the law.

St Albans district council issues licences for people to collect for various charities – they do not issue begging licences.

I recall it was a cold winter’s day but that seems to be based on whether one is wearing a winter’s coat or short-sleeved blouses.

I was concerned about the girls’ welfare.


Old Watling Street, Flamstead

Transparency in planning advice?

SIR – Recently investigative journalism by the national press has discovered that nationally councillors have been working on behalf of developers and other organisations by giving them advice on how best to get through planning procedures. This has been happening throughout the country and members of the three main political parties have been involved.

Apparently the councillors concerned have said that this is perfectly legal so long as they declare an “interest” at council/planning meetings. Some have been paid as much as £20,000 for the advice they have given!

It is surprising that this type of activity is considered to be legal, but it is certainly morally wrong as councillors are elected to look after the interests and wellbeing of their areas and constituents, not feather their own nests.

I do not know whether or not any Herts county or St Albans district councillors have been engaged in this activity but with the county council election due in a few weeks we need to have the situation clarified.

We need to know from every county and district councillor whether or not they have been involved in this activity or intend to be in the future. This information should also be available from candidates who are not sitting councillors.

Councillors are not known for their eagerness to give details of their own activities, so perhaps this newspaper could also investigate the situation.


Reynards Way, Bricket Wood

School places crisis must be tackled

SIR – I write following your article of March 14 which highlighted 15 Harpenden children who have not been able to obtain a place at any of the town’s secondary schools. This represents the beginning of a shortfall in secondary school places which is forecast to escalate significantly in the years to come and which requires immediate action by Herts County Council.

In the past five years, there has been a large increase in the number of primary school places required in the Harpenden area. The number has increased by well over 150 children, equivalent to an entire additional secondary school intake. This increase has yet to filter through to the secondary system.

Herts County Council and Harpenden residents need to come to terms with the fact that a new secondary school is urgently needed to support Harpenden, Wheathampstead, Redbourn and other surrounding villages.

Herts County Council has been aware of this shortfall for some years and they therefore need to bring forward their plans to the town for consultation so that a new school can be built to prevent many more children having to be bussed all over the region to distant schools.

The Harpenden Parents Group has campaigned to ensure the right primary schools in town are expanded to meet the growing demand for school places. We are extending our campaign to secondary schools and urge others, especially parents of primary school children, to join our group and to campaign for the council to address the secondary school place issue.

It must be acknowledged by all in Harpenden that this is no small undertaking. The recent intense debate over the Colts development exemplifies the difficulty in bringing forward new development, especially in Green Belt areas.

The current need is most acute in the south of Harpenden and this is where the focus should be.

The council must bring forward a number of options for dealing with the issue and a proper debate in the town must occur since a new school may well require a Green Belt location and this may not be an easy solution for many to accept. However, the children already live in the area and something needs to be done and done soon to address this significant issue.


Chairman, Harpenden Parents Group

Overstone Road, Harpenden

Complete confusion at the car park

SIR – Beware all motorists who use the main St Albans Station Way MS Car Park. Last March I paid First Capital Connect and NCP for an annual permit that is valid until March 30, 2013.

But recently I have had four parking contravention notices from the new contractor APCOA, despite having a copy of the valid NCP permit on display. So far APCOA have cancelled the first notice. I am waiting for confirmation they are cancelling the others. Hopefully they will stop issuing new ones.

There seems to be a ‘handover’ issue between FCC, NCP and APCOA about those motorists who hold a valid permit at the point of changeover of the contract.

The honest motorist who has a contract to park at the station is the one being put to the inconvenience of challenging each notice wrongly served on their vehicle. I wonder how many other residents are suffering a similar fate?


Flavian Close, St Albans

Fears for Clarence Park’s future

SIR – In his letter (Herts Advertiser, March 7) about the proposed changes to the trust deed for the Clarence Park recreation ground, Cllr Chichester-Miles says that he “simply wants to update the deed so that it is fit for purpose in 2013 and beyond.” If these changes were no more than a tidying-up, altering the archaic 1894 wording, it is unlikely anybody would mind. Unfortunately, the proposed legal changes are very much wider than that, and the committee of the Civic Society is very concerned about them.

The proposals include:

• “Commercial activities which are ancillary to or support the trust purposes”. This looks a very broad definition, which could include any commercial activities the trustees wanted, spreading across the Park.

• “Power to enter into management agreements, special purpose vehicles, joint ventures with third parties.” These are sweeping powers, and raise the question as to why they are needed for a public recreation ground. What “joint ventures with third parties” are in mind? Above all, why would one need “special purpose vehicles” (SPV)? You may wonder what an SPV is. It’s probably sufficient to say here that the banks thought SPVs were a very good idea (partly to avoid regulation and capital requirements) until it all went wrong, and they were at the heart of the disaster.

• “Power to permit clubs, societies and organisations... to erect buildings and provide equipment.” Again, this is very broad, with no restriction on building in the park if the trustees approve.

It is good to hear from Cllr Chichester-Miles that the trustees are “not planning major redevelopment ... or the introduction of new commercial activities”. However, this misses an important point. The proposals give sweeping powers to the trustees for the future. We do not know who the trustees will be in five or 10 years time, and we do not know if they will take the same line.

This raises another issue. It seems that the trustees are councillors from whichever political party runs St Albans council at the time.

However, there are many potential conflicts of interest between councillors and trustees, particularly over revenue and expenditure. The trustees have to act in the best interests of the beneficiaries (i.e. St Albans citizens), not the council or a political party.

The Civic Society would like to see the trustees include users of the park and other non-political bodies.


St Albans Civic Society

Another case of history repeating?

SIR – The main message of the UKIP front page advert about the forthcoming County Council elections (March 14) is spot on!

“What happened in Eastleigh two weeks ago could happen in St Albans.”

It’s great that UKIP recognises the merits of electing hard-working Liberal Democrats with a strong record of service to the community. That’s what happened in Eastleigh, and that’s what will happen in St Albans on May 2 if local residents take UKIP’s advice.


Liberal Democrat Councillor for Ashley Ward

St Albans City and District Council

A question of liability

SIR – If a cyclist injures a pedestrian on a “shared” pavement, is St Albans District Council liable?

Perhaps I shouldn’t ask.


Cunningham Avenue, St Albans

No tat this week thanks!

SIR – Thank you for publishing such an interesting and enjoyable mix of letters this week (Herts Advertiser, March 14). It was so refreshing to read through them and notice that each one did not feel the need to insert vulgar hasty comments about the people or the subject they were talking about.

These certainly weren’t ‘tat’ or uninteresting letters. Better than the re-hashed letters about empty shops, etc.


Woodland Drive, St Albans

Grateful thanks for community’s help

SIR – While risking sounding a little like an Oscar speech, can I just express my sincere thanks to The Co-op, Simmons Bakeries, Black Iris Flowers and Chestnut Hairdressers, plus kind neighbours and my family for their valued support when I was left without power in sub-zero temperatures for five days recently.


High Oaks, St Albans