Letters, March 28, 2013

Oaklands campaign response

SIR – I am writing to object to both the tone and the content of parish councillor Lyn Bolton’s letter to the Herts Advertiser (March 21).

Cllr Bolton has every right to express an opinion in the local press. However, as she has used her parish council status in her letter then she should also declare that she is a Conservative councillor. She accuses other councillors of playing party politics whilst being entirely ambiguous about her own political stance. Moreover, Cllr Bolton is managing the May local election campaign of Cllr Beric Read, and in my opinion this letter is hypocritical, politically motivated and insulting.

For clarity, residents objecting to the proposed development of housing on the Oaklands site were not responsible for the failure of the Local Strategic Plan. We petitioned for a debate on the inclusion of the Oaklands site and the plan, as Cllr Bolton is aware, was voted down by other groups within the council.

NOHAG has not changed its stance on building on the Oaklands site. However, the National Planning Policy Framework does allow for development of Green Belt sites where “special circumstances” apply. The inclusion of Oaklands in the overturned SLP had been on the grounds of those “special circumstances”, which could be applied as “a benefit to the wider community for educational purposes”.

The plan also included a specific policy which would allow Oaklands to fund its educational needs through land sale and housing development. Local residents had never been informed of, or consulted about, these proposals. We supported improvements to Oaklands’ educational facilities but not the indiscriminate selling of land parcels to achieve this.

Though the plan was rejected, Taylor Wimpey and Oaklands College put forward proposals for consultation which showed that three sites including Sandpit Lane had been considered. We compared the three sites and challenged the planning reasons behind the choice of the Sandpit Lane site. The Sandpit Lane site appeared to be the least logical in planning terms.

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Furthermore, my comments, which were sent both to Oaklands and SADC planning department, stated that as a Green Belt site land should not be released at all. The response was to the specific proposal not about a change of principle. Perhaps Cllr Bolton and her colleagues would like to explain to local residents why it is appropriate and desirable to build 350 houses on Sandpit Lane but not appropriate to consider alternative sites.

From a planning perspective there are no residential properties for some considerable distance, either adjacent to, or opposite the alternative sites. The sites are opposite a retail and light industrial complex. Traffic issues would be similar but these sites border a much wider A-road with potential for infrastructure improvements as opposed to a busy secondary road which already has existing housing and cannot be altered.

According to planning policy there is no change to the status of SADC 1994 Plan from March 28 2013. The plan policies have been interpreted in the light of paragraph 215 of the NPPF since its publication on March 27 2012.

Dacorum Borough Council’s plan was overturned by the planning inspector because it had not undertaken a Green Belt review. SADC have been discussing a joint review with Welwyn Hatfield and Dacorum Council with shared costs.

Instead of jumping on a political bandwagon perhaps Cllr Bolton should have been more concerned that local residents were given an opportunity to comment on any proposals to develop Oaklands before they were presented with a fait accomplit during the preparation of the Strategic Local Plan.


NOHAG (No Oaklands Housing Action Group)

SIR – If your bold NIMBY headline on page five of the March 14 issue was meant to insult a group of people who want the best for all residents in the city of St Albans then you have succeeded.

Your biased headline does you no credit.

The case against housing development on Sandpit Lane has been made on the basis of traffic congestion and lack of access to schools and other resources.

The council has already voted in favour of keeping Oaklands in the Green Belt.

If, and only if, £50 million is really justified expenditure on Oaklands’ ambitious plans for the college, then a far more suitable site for development is on Hatfield Road opposite the industrial estate where there is easy access to a main road and buses.


Sandpit Lane, St Albans

SIR – I’m sorry, but NIMBYs? Could you please enlighten me as to when use of this term made it into the rule book of ‘fair and non-prejudicial’ reporting?

I expect my local paper to report objectively on issues. Keep your views to the Editor’s comments please instead of using them in your headlines .


Sandpit Lane, St Albans

SIR – How refreshing it was to hear from Cllr Bolton in your letters page last week (‘NIMBYs or not?’).

It’s about time a parish councillor stood up to those awful NIMBY district councillors wilfully representing the views of their pesky NIMBY residents.

No doubt Cllr Bolton will be keen to demonstrate that there is no NIMBYism in her back yard by welcoming the bulldozers to Sandridge with open arms.

How about 350 houses on Pound Farm to begin with? When pigs fly.


Labour Group Leader

St Albans District Council

SIR – I’m a passionate resident of the Sandpit Lane area and supporter of the No Oaklands Housing Action Group.

The message is simple; I want an open consultation period for all stakeholders in the community, to explore all options to find the right solution for the right strategy.

I’m pleased Oaklands have started an open and structured consultation period and I look forward with my fellow residents to being involved in the outcomes.

I’m sure I speak for others as well, that we are a collaborative bunch who want to ensure sufficient affordable housing is located in the right place with a decent amount of public consultation.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure if I trust the motives of politicians in this current climate and feel that residents and stakeholders in the local community should be heavily involved in decision making ensuring the right outcome for the local residents and wider community.

I don’t understand yet why the Hatfield Road development (the Green Belt areas owned by Oaklands, shown on the plans at the Oaklands consultation day) is not considered an option.

I dread to think what the impact is on Sandpit Lane/Beechwood Avenue/Marshalls Drive junction for both existing and potential residents, for the Sandpit Lane option. I look forward to being involved in the consultation on this and other issues.


Broomleys, St Albans

Learning lessons from our history

SIR – Are we happy with history, whatever that is? Are past events of any real interest today when so much is changing so fast all around us?

Even to suggest that all such progress is welcome is to invite metropolitan fury at any resistance to the latest projects, whether to make money or economise on costs. Yet that was always the dilemma of every era.

How we resolve problems and manage changes will become ever more important at a local level as well as for our national benefit – and sometimes there is a clash of interests we cannot sensibly ignore. We are creatures of habit whatever they say: we have our own traditions and mores and memories of a vanishing way of life and regard some new with suspicion.

But what should we do about certain schemes which are currently causing us concern?

Perhaps we could show belated enthusiasm for our village as there is much to applaud here – and much to lose if we are not aware of these challenges. Do newcomers realise how this community grew up over many years, from just a hamlet a century or more ago before photography was invented to tell a visual story of everyday life then?

We can see many improvements to roads, housing, dress and transport in old sepia images (kept in our archives and in private collections) so the Local History society illustrates its themes at the annual exhibition with quaint pictures of scenes now hard to imagine. Our task is to record the relevant past: not to keep it alive or to prevent changes. But recent plans will have a major impact on village viability!

We shun the environmental evidence at our peril, even if what’s done is done. Look around and see what is happening here: listen to the mechanical din we have to endure now; note the discarded litter down every country lane or on busy roads where traffic dominates and mass parking ruins footways and grass verges.

Where is our pride in the River Colne which characterises this valley but is under stress from massive demand for its water and hardly a trickle most of the time? We must respect our heritage and learn the significance of change (with the inevitable consequences) if we do not show that we care about the future as well as our curious past.

Why tolerate this situation any more? Let’s get involved and challenge apathy!


On behalf of London Colney Local History Society,

Richardson Close, London Colney

Nowhere to turn?

SIR – During the last week of February, I began to feel my depression getting out of control and attempted to seek help. It was 11am and I had gone to my local mental health facility, Albany Lodge, to seek advice about contacting a member of my local CATT team for additional support.

I was abruptly told by the receptionist that I had to call a mental health crisis line as I was unable to self-refer. She refused to help me any more and continued to urge me to contact the crisis team.

After leaving Albany Lodge, I promptly called the mental health helpline and couldn’t get through. I tried several time and eventually someone answered.

I explained that I needed a referral for further help as I was in a major crisis but she was unwilling to help. I was told comments such as, “you know it’s a weekend right? You’re not going to get help on a weekend” and, “you should have contacted your GP sooner, there’s nothing we can do for you now”.

She gave me a phone number for another helpline, the single point of access, however she went on to comment about how it refers back to her at the weekend so there was no point in calling it. She told me to wait until Monday and try again.

Appropriate? I don’t think so. This is what I endured for 10 minutes before giving up and forcing myself down to my local A&E, seven miles from my home town. I told reception that I needed to see someone from the psychiatric profession and she remained professional and alert. She immediately got me to see a doctor who did an initial assessment. She then referred me immediately to another member of the CATT team. I was now feeling as though I was passed around and no-one was showing any real concern for my well-being.

The member of the CATT team was a person whom I had known outside of the professional spectrum and I feel that this clouded her judgement. Once she realised who I was, she should have disallowed herself to continue and asked someone else to step in.

I had once again explained my problems and feel I wasn’t taken seriously. I was allowed to leave the hospital despite admitting risks of self-harm and suicide.

I alerted the member of the CATT team that I had significant weight loss due to an eating disorder when she congratulated me and told me to keep it up! When I told her I had enough pills to kill myself, she simply told me to go home and throw them away. She dismissed any claims of self-harm and denied further treatment. She even encouraged me to download apps from my phone to encourage weight loss.

I am not associated with any community mental health team; therefore I have no support from anyone when I am in crisis. I have no follow-up care and when I ask for it, I am simply refused.

From my experience, it seems as though anyone with any mental health problems, are to turn their feelings off over the weekend. Like we can flick a switch and then turn them back on when Monday rolls around. This is not the case. Why can we not get help from professionals during the weekend? Why was I turned away by three organisations during a distressing, high-risk time and why was my risk of suicide not properly assessed?

The NHS is failing its patients and the need for mental health services is getting greater by the day. There are not enough helplines, resources and medical staff trained to be able to deal with the needs of those who are seeking help and this needs to change.


Drakes Drive, St Albans

Not all ambulances are delayed

SIR – I was very sorry to read the article on ambulance service delays on page three of your issue of March 21. Please allow me to put the other side of the story.

In January of last year, I was very short of breath following what proved to have been a serious heart attack and, at the suggestion of the pharmacist, my wife dialled 999. There was an immediate response by a paramedic who did some tests and called up an ambulance, and I spent the next four weeks in hospital.

The ambulance service were not the only people who contributed to a successful outcome, but their role was a crucial one, and had it not been for their promptness and competence I would probably not be here today.

I cannot comment on what happens when the flood of calls overwhelms the resources available, but their service to myself was an excellent one, and I hope the writing of this letter will do something to repay it.


St James Road, Harpenden

Paying tribute to Rumours group

SIR – Am I right in assuming there are hundreds of Fleetwood Mac fans out there who attended the Rumours of Fleetwood Mac gig on Thursday, March 7, at the Alban Arena? If not you missed a real treat.

I first heard about this on the radio about 10 days before the big night in question. However I expect many readers may regard me as totally ignorant but I was, in all honesty, expecting to see the original line-up and was wondering deep down, how on earth the Arena could possibly accommodate what would obviously be a bulging full house not to mention of course, the vast number of fans who would be turned away. However, it is in fact ‘rumoured’ that one or two members have since left the original renowned group.

On arrival at the Arena, like so many other spectators, I purchased a programme and on perusing it, was disappointed to find that the group was of a tribute type and instantly thought that my money would be wasted.

However, once the gig started up, I could neither believe my ears nor my eyes – the group were absolutely brilliant and played and sang just like the original line-up.

As was no doubt to be expected, they performed all the numbers from the renowned Rumours album including of course my favourite, I Don’t Want to Know. Needless to say they also gave a splendid performance of The Chain, the bass line of which I am sure many readers know, is still being played on British TV in the Formula One series to this day.

The group also played Green Manalishi and Oh Well, the latter of which was their best hit of 1969. The one-time popular Albatross was also performed as well as a few other very early instrumentals which unfortunately, I have to admit, are somewhat alien to me.

It goes without saying that when the last rendering was performed, the group were called back for more and as an encore, they played Tusk – everybody stood up and clapped their hands to it with the exception of a few who were unable to do so. Tusk is, of course, also the name of another popular album which I also possess.

Although I was somewhat disappointed not to have seen the original line-up, the group that performed were absolutely brilliant but perhaps of paramount importance is that the evening in question will always prove a very memorable occasion anyway as far as I personally am concerned. The reason? – I won a copy of the original Rumours album (vinyl of course) back in the mid 1970s thanks in the main to a phone-in show presented by Michael Aspel where listeners had to name the signature tune of a well-known radio programme and was in fact the first person to call in with the correct answer. At the same time, I had the privilege to speak to a well-known celebrity for the first time in my life!

Should Rumours of Fleetwood Mac perform again at the Alban Arena in future, I shall certainly do my very best to attend and sincerely hope that every other Fleetwood Mac fan will be able to do likewise. As it happened, on looking around the Arena whilst the gig was in progress, there were in fact only a couple of vacant seats. Furthermore, I was particularly impressed by the large numbers of very elderly people present.


Toddington Road,

Leagrave, Luton

No profits from food poverty

SIR – High food prices are a serious problem across the world. People on lower incomes in the UK are having to cut back their weekly grocery shopping, while in poorer countries high food prices can be a matter of life and death.

The changing climate and the increasing use of food crops for biofuels are part of the problem. But banks are also culpable. Financial speculation by banks and hedge funds is fuelling food price rises, often pushing them much higher than supply and demand can explain.

I’m taking part in a campaign by the World Development Movement calling for strict regulation to curb food speculation. We need to make sure that the finance sector stops making easy money at the expense of hungry people. Food is too important to be subject to reckless financial gambling.


Hopkins Crescent, Sandridge

Transparency is key to my decisions

SIR – I read with interest Ken Shuttleworth’s letter of March 21. His comments related to councillors elsewhere in the country being less than ethical when accepting fees to assist planning applications.

As a Conservative county candidate for Mr Shuttleworth’s division I am eager to put my case. I have sat on St Albans Plans South committee for almost three years. I always declare if I feel I have a personal or prejudicial interest. Any pecuniary interest declared at St Albans planning meetings will result in the councillor not taking part in the discussion or vote.

Some time ago, I advised an interest because my husband, John Featherstone, was mentioned three times in supporting notes. This involved advice he had given an applicant about a Right of Way, which would benefit the community if planning was granted. Although it was not a pecuniary interest, for the sake of transparancy, I did not take part in discussion or decision.

I hope this example will show residents that I want to act in a responsible manner and not use the system to acquire personal gain.


St Stephen Ward

Mount Pleasant Lane, Bricket Wood

High cost for new facilities

SIR – While I am sure that everybody would like to see improved facilities for St Albans Football Club (your editorial of March 14), just as they would for Oaklands College, these ambitious projects cannot go ahead at any cost to St Albans’ existing residents and its precious green space.

Your paper has repeatedly highlighted the opposition to Oaklands’ proposal to build 350 houses on a Green Belt field off Sandpit Lane. Yet it seems to rather gloss over SAFC’s proposal to build 150 houses on the Green Belt off Colney Heath Lane in order to finance a new stadium complex, itself a significant incursion into the Green Belt.

Your editorial is rather dismissive of the proposed site, calling it a wasteland. While this area is a former gravel working that has been land filled, it also represents most of the remaining green space separating the villages of Smallford and Sleapshyde from St Albans.

The Colney Heath Lane site is far from ideal for a development of such scale. This quiet residential neighbourhood would find it very difficult to absorb the extra traffic and parking needed. Nor is there the infrastructure – roads, schools, healthcare provision – to support the cumulative expansion envisaged by all the major project proposals in the local pipeline – Railfreight, Sewell Park, Oaklands and now SAFC – as well as many smaller ones.


District and Parish Councillor

Colney Heath Ward

Tyttenhanger Green, St Albans

Confusion over carer’s room

SIR – My daughter Alison has occupied a specially-adapted two-bedroom council flat since 2000. She has cerebral palsy and requires 24-hour care.

She first spoke to a housing officer on Thursday, December 27, 2012, when she pointed out to him that her “spare” bedroom was, in fact, used by her live-in carers.

On Wednesday, January 23, a housing officer visited Alison, saw her accommodation, and met her carer for that week. Later that afternoon this housing officer phoned to say Alison would almost certainly be exempt from paying rent for the carer’s bedroom.

Alison has now received a letter saying she must pay £13.52 a week rent for her “spare” room which is occupied by carers on whom her life depends. She already contributes £96 a week from her benefits towards the cost of her care, so she will be quite unable to afford this additional burden on her limited finances.

The council will now presumably provide and adapt two attached one-bedroom flats with access and intercom facilities between them.


Milton Road, Harpenden

Some advice as elections loom

SIR – As we are nearing to local council elections I would like to give some advice to the councillors and that is to listen to what the electorate want for St Albans.

We need the roads to be a priority, to be properly repaired. Yes, it is maybe the fault of the weather but what the county council should be aware of is the years of neglect. Even when they were allotted money from the Governments in the past, where did that money go? I actually witnessed one day a person in Bricket Road digging out a pothole with his boots then filling it with some tarmac and then stamping on it to flatten it. I stood there in utter shock to think that is what he called workmanship. Stuart Pile is not fit for purpose to be in charge of the highways department.

I have watched over the years in despair at how St Albans has become after living here all of my life and to know what St Albans was like, a city that you could be proud of. Unfortunately we took it all for granted. We had a High Street with every kind of individual shop that you could imagine. I am not saying that we can go back to those days but we could start by bringing down business rates plus rents for people that want to start up their own business. Give them some incentive, surely it must be good for our city.

We also have to get back to building more council houses. We have this mindset that everyone can afford to buy their own homes – well they can’t. Margaret Thatcher brought this idea of giving people the right to buy their own council houses and what happened to the money that the council received from the sales of these properties. It should have gone back into building more council housing not been squandered. To think you people are still at home at the age of 30 years old, this is utterly disgraceful. This council needs to wake up and do something for our young people who cannot get on the property ladder. Who would think we are in the 21st Century?

Yes we are in a recession, we all know that. But there must be a way for our councils to improve the terrible state of St Albans. If only all the parties would work together instead of scoring points off one another.


Liverpool Road, St Albans

Political wranglings over Eastleigh vote

SIR – It takes a lot to confuse a self-confessed perfect specimen with brilliant intellect such as myself but after reading Cllr Rowlands’ letter about the forthcoming elections and how he believes that St Albans will be going the way of Eastleigh come election day, I am somewhat perplexed!

Cllr Rowlands’ sarcasm is misplaced, if not his views are delusional and I believe only reflects his party’s jealously (and fear) at the rising upsurge in popularity of UKIP.

I do not profess for one moment to be allied to any political party, especially not one led by one who leans to the right more than a Morrisons’ shopping trolley.

In fact, I used to be a staunch Tory before falling for Tony Blair’s lies, reverting back to Conservative again when Brown’s destruction of our economy became too much to bear.

In council by-elections which, let’s face it are merely platforms for protesting, I’ve even been known to vote for some ridiculous minority party because it is my democratic right – but it reeks of complacency when a Liberal councillor representing a party that is, nationally, as popular as an estate agent turned banker to castigate an opposition party purely because their advertising is bright, refreshing, on message and, in a respected paper like the Herts Advertiser, prominent.

I get sick of Liberals in particular knocking on my door once a year come election time bragging about all they have done that is right in our area and all that the opposition have done wrong – when the real truth is that they mostly do sweet FA!

Can’t Cllr Rowlands see that the electorate are not imbecilic lemmings any more; those who will simply vote for who they’re told to vote for, do what they are told to and believe the diatribe they are fed. They are now clued up, savvy and, above all, sick of party politics and those who aspire to such lofty heights in ‘Ruling Towers’ should not forget this.

Cllr Rowlands, your party may well have won the by-election in Eastleigh but it was a close run thing with your vote down 14.4 per cent since 2010 and the margin of victory a mere (in electoral terms) 1,771.

In St Albans come election day, there may well be a glut of orange posters and a dearth of purple. That does not alter the fact that you and your party are, behind the scenes at least, seriously worried about the emergence of a real contender for Government both locally and nationally (albeit by coalition).

Before you knock them for their efforts to advertise their message in our local paper, you might be better placed speaking to your ground troops before they dirty the doorsteps of the people they ignore for 350 days of the year then only bother with during elections like lost puppy dogs seeking favour from a hacked off master; those who do Sweet Fanny Adam but expect the benefit of election by virtue of voter apathy.

Watch the results closely next time councillor, I believe that UKIP may well be the dog that has its day... at the Liberals’ and Tories’ expense!


Green Lane, St Albans

SIR – Regarding Cllr Rowlands’ letter and his assertion that “what happened in Eastleigh two weeks ago could happen in St Albans”. Yes , it could, that is why UKIP’s warning was so timely. I for one would not like to live in a town with all the seats being filled by just one political party. While you could argue that the people voted them in, it would certainly not feel like democracy to me.

We have in the past suffered the same situation on the local parish council. Too much of one thing is not necessarily a good thing! The Eastleigh electorate has obviously realised that there are other parties worth voting for and the strong UKIP support showed that. Cllr Rowlands’ party should take note!


Hopkins Crescent, St Albans

SIR – I find it incredible to read Cllr Rowlands crowing about his party’s record in Eastleigh in his letter published in the Herts Advertiser (March 21).

I for one have no wish to see the same thing happen in St Albans and until our local party shows the decency to come out of hiding and issue an apology to the public for the deceit which festered in Eastleigh under the banner of the Lib Dems I suspect that they will receive little support in the county council elections on May 2.

Regarding his stated wish for the voters of St Albans to listen to the words of UKIP, we will need to wait and see whether this is good advice, or he will have fallen down one of those potholes which he appears to be so obsessed about.


Langley Crescent, St Albans

SIR – Cllr Rowlands’ letter (March 21) fails to recognise the real message from the Eastleigh by-election and the effect this will have on the forthcoming county council elections on May 2.

The Liberal Democrats’ vote decreased by 16 per cent and UKIP’s vote increased by 24 per cent with corresponding negative swings for the Conservative and Labour parties. If this is repeated in the St Albans wards that UKIP are contesting they will win seats at the expense of the Liberal Democrats.


Nomansland, St Albans

Climate of confusion

SIR – Looking out of my window at the snow, I was reminded of the words of a character in one of the interminable Russian 19th Century novels: “The newspapers say that the world will soon freeze over completely.”

There was no reason to believe that the dire weather of the 19th Century represented a trend. There is also no reason to think that the recent slight climatic warming will continue.


Park Avenue, St Albans

Enough schools for more houses?

SIR – Ben Bardsley of Harpenden Parents Group is absolutely right to challenge the appalling situation of 15 Harpenden children being denied their basic right to a place at a local secondary school (March 21).

As someone who works in one of the three local schools, I have witnessed first hand the effect of overcrowding, especially at crucial exam times, when exam officers struggle to provide enough quiet space for pupils to sit their all important exams.

Our schools are bursting at the seams and this year’s fiasco is ample evidence that there is a problem, which can surely only get worse.

So Mr Bardsley might also like to question, therefore, the wisdom of Harpenden Town Council in pressing ahead with their flawed scheme to build 20-plus houses on the former Westfield allotment site. I’m sure he and the other members of his group can do the maths. Sadly, our town councillors appear to be unable, or unwilling to do so.


Coldharbour Lane, Harpenden

Not such a nightmare?

SIR – I read the article ‘A nightmare on Dalton Street’ where David Anderson said there was no warning or communication about Affinity Water repairing the water pipes.

Well, he is wrong – everybody had a letter put through their door at least two weeks before the repairs started.

The repairs needed doing very much because the pipes were eroding and kept leaking. The men were very good, very quick and very helpful and they finished within three weeks, so I give them credit where credit is due.

He is right about the parking and people do use this road as a shortcut. People also park on the path at the top of Dalton Street which leaves no room for anybody to get past with a wheelchair, mobility scooter or pushchairs, or even when you are just walking. They are also breaking the path up with their cars. I have lived up here all my life and I have never seen anybody driving on the path. Parking and cycling, yes. Driving, no.

We have carers come and they have a terrible job to park. We don’t have visitors because there is nowhere to park.


Dalton Street, St Albans

Why minimum fee for parking?

SIR – Much comment has been made recently regarding disabled and other parking charges at local hospitals. May I ask why it is obligatory to have a minimum parking fee of £4 which covers a three hour period?

Improvements in hospital appointment schedules often result in a far shorter parking period being required resulting in a much lesser period of time spent in the car park. Why cannot there be a one hour minimum charge with options of two or three hours?

Presently the company administering the various hospital car parks are making far more money because of the quick turnover of vehicles. I recently had appointments on successive days at St Albans and Watford, both of which were concluded in a little over 30 minutes but costing £4 each time to park. An expensive necessity in this economic climate.


Watling Street, Radlett