Letters, March 6, 2014

Keep standards high

SIR – The recent concerns raised about the West Herts Hospitals Trust, the subject of a recent editorial, reminds us all to be vigilant over the future of our beloved National Health Service. This is more important than ever now with the government promising to spend a great deal helping those poor people gravely affected by the floods, and no doubt continuing to impose financial stringency on everyone save high earners. It cannot be safe, or right, for ambulance paramedics and some doctors to be working 12 hour shifts. I have grave doubts about plans to privatise some services. Centralising expert teams may make medical sense but can be extremely hard for visiting families. Nevertheless I rejoice in improvements I have seen to at least some hospitals in recent years. At the Luton and Dunstable hospital last month not only was the standard of medical care exemplary, but the skill and tenderness of the nursing staff, the diligence of the cleaners, and the quality of the food, were all most commendable. Let us all take every step we can to strive for such high standards to apply to all NHS hospitals.

GILLIAN MULLEY Claygate Avenue, Harpenden

Who has priority on the Alban Way?

SIR – I am astonished that Rona Wightman claims so much priority for cyclists on the Alban Way. Her suggestion of ringing a bell or shouting to pedestrians is all well and good, but this implies that the pedestrians should modify their movement rather than the cyclist doing so. It is the cyclist that is in charge of the potentially hazardous machine, which is what the Highway Code system the cyclists should be prepared to slow or even stop for pedestrians. It is, as was said, a shared path that is often narrow. Pedestrians are not there as lodgers in their dominion, so why should they climb up hedges to get out of the way of middle-aged men in Lycra? Many people take walks away from roads for peace and quiet, and they often want to be able to drop their guard. At this rate they will have everyone on alert in case his or her majesty the cyclist turns up! Incidentally while I am talking about the social ineptitude shown by large numbers of cyclists I will mention the 20 cyclists I saw in just 15 minutes last Sunday. They were all – every last one – cycling in areas that are not designated cycle paths. On the grass, by the lake, you name it. They were even cycling through the flooded areas, dinging pedestrians with their bells until the walkers gave in and walked deeper into the water. If cyclists insist that they need cycle paths to be safe from traffic, then the same logic leads to pedestrians needing areas where they are safe from cyclists. Rather than trying to train the general public to walk in primary school-style crocodile lines in deference to cycling royalty, perhaps Rona Wightman might like to tackle the inglorious lack of social awareness in so many cyclists first?

NICK HARNSHAW Kings Road, St Albans

SIR – In response to Ms Rona Wightman of STACC about mutual courtesy on the Alban Way – my husband is a keen cyclist and my daughter and I sometimes join him and are always aware of walkers on the way. I think especially near schools the cyclists need to be a bit more aware that at 8.45am and 3.15 pm the path is going to be busy with children and adults. Has Ms Wightman ever walked up there with eight children aged three to six trying to explain that they have to stay on the right hand side? It is not an easy task and we do our best but as she points out mutual courtesy works both ways and as cyclists seem to think they have right of way on the pavements as they do sometimes on the road they might just take a little more care. I wasn’t aware either that the STACC worked for the council regarding litter!

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JOANNA TATLOCK Harlesden Road, St Albans

Response to foie gras criticism

SIR – I am very pleased that my correspondence relating to foie gras has solicited such robust replies. Mr Jeremy Platt states that I am lacking in any sense of decency, compassion and conscience in this context, rather strong words, but as far as I am concerned meaningless and quite hysterical in response to what I see entirely as a matter of personal choice. I also like the comment of Simon Leadbeater of how a country should judge people like me when he quotes from Mahatma Gandhi relating to the moral progress of a nation by how it treats its animals. Perhaps he could also look at some of the quotes from Gandhi about Hitler, Mussolini, the potential invasion of this country by the Nazis and the Holocaust. I do not know Mr Leadbeater, but do not lecture me on morals. As far as I am concerned this debate is closed. We have all had our say and so be it. We are all entitled to our different viewpoints and personal preferences and judging by the replies I don’t suppose our respective views will change. However much as these correspondents may dislike my views I am sure they do not wish the same fate to befall me as that of Gandhi. Who knows? I really enjoy a lively debate, keep the letters coming as I will. I was born in St Albans and care about this city and no doubt there will be other things that will concern me as they will your good selves.

GERALD STONE New House Park, St Albans

Loss of Harpenden’s hotel landmarks

SIR – One would think from the gleeful smile under St Albans Mayor Annie Brewster’s hard-hat, during the photo opportunity at the site of the Glen Eagle demolition in Harpenden (Herts Advertiser, February 20), that the hotel’s ignominious demise was a cause for celebration. In public relations terms, for Jarvis the developers, whose logo was made clearly visible on Ms Brewster’s headgear, the occasion was no doubt celebratory. Many of your Harpenden readers would, I am confident, have a different take on the proceedings however. After the Glen Eagle’s many decades as a key – dare I say treasured – landmark of what we now have to call our “townscape”, we deeply regret its passing. The fact that it was St Albans’ mayor, rather than Harpenden’s town mayor, grabbing some publicity, might also be seen as symbolic – a reminder that, since 1974, planning decisions on key Harpenden redevelopments have been taken by councillors sitting five miles away from the town. By what many would see as a tragic coincidence, in your same February 20 issue, you report the imminent closure of the Harpenden House Hotel. Thank goodness the main part of that building is Grade II listed.

ALAN BUNTING Ridgewood Drive, Harpenden

SIR – Surely, Harpenden residents would be disappointed but not surprised by this closure, even though it is hot on the heels of the Glen Eagles demolition. Why does Harpenden need hotels? There are plenty of wedding and other function venues in nearby St Albans and close by. But what about people who want to visit and stay awhile in Harpenden? And who might they be I ask? Harpenden has little to offer. Granted there is a fair smattering of pubs, cafés and restaurants. Beyond that the shops are nothing special, there is no cinema and while the Eric Morecambe Halls do show occasional films and shows I feel they struggle for patronage from the well-off Harpendonians. These halls need a major update to attract more users. In my view, Harpenden is now relegated to simply become an outer London suburbia. We have lived in Harpenden for over 30 years and it was great for raising our children with excellent schooling, and for commuting to London. Now, it provides little – lacking mid-size town facilities yet, ironically, within one of the richest district councils in the land. Inflated house prices and seemingly uncontrolled house development add to the demise of the “community”. We remain because of family commitments. Were it not for that we would be off to find a place where the heart of England still beats strong. It certainly is not here!

MARTIN ATTRIDGE Meadway, Harpenden

Hello sailors!

SIR – We have launched a search for experienced sailors in the St Albans and Harpenden area who have hung up their sailing boots, or are newly retired. We would like to tempt them to try some dinghy racing on Saturday mornings at Stanborough Lake, Welwyn Garden City. The club has just returned to the water after an enforced break due to floods and high winds and it’s great to be out there again. Come and join us!

PETER THORNLEY Lea Road, Harpenden Commodore, WGC Sailing Club

Name and shame pothole perils

SIR – It may be an old nutmeg well worn in column inches over the years – but I believe that the vast majority of readers (council workers excluded) will support me when I say that the state of a great number of St Albans’ roads are now perilously poor. Potholes, chasms, divots, trenches, call the defects what you will, they are now starting to pose real and very dangerous potential injury sites for ambulance chasers and in the case of the poor, beleaguered motorist, untold costs as suspensions get weakened, tyres burst and tracking rods get shunted out of alignment even on a local journey to go and buy a paper! Well I say it is time to fight back and call upon the good and the great at Herts Ad Towers to help their readers. My plan: to help motorists and pedestrians stand a much better chance of pursuing reasonable and justified compensation claims in the small claims court in cases of genuine damage/injury, particularly when the council cites a Section 58 defence claiming that they reasonably inspect and repair after defects are reported by the public. I say this defence is often tosh. Just take a look at Britton Road which, despite myself and dozens of others reporting to HCC over the years, still remains in a state of deep disrepair and no better than a back road in rural Argostoli! My plea is that in addition to the weekly rogue’s gallery, the Herts Ad should also publish a weekly bulletin of potholes which have been reported by the public to the council. This should include the name of the road, the exact location, the council reported reference number and the date it was reported. This information could be simply supplied by email to the Herts Ad and easily updated weekly either published in the pages or kept online as a handy source of reference for readers who may suffer expensive car damage at the hands of a serious defect. With such publicly visible information, this will have two positive benefits. One, the council (whom I will ensure gets to know about such a list) will not be so easily able to hide behind a statutory defence if the list proves they have been negligent because the defect had been previously reported and two, it may well chivvy them into more speedier repairs. There is a website that provides a national reporting service of sorts, www.fillthathole.org.uk whose survey shows Hertfordshire at a lowly 141 in a league table of authorities and an even more pathetic 18 per cent repair to report ratio! We need something more dynamic and local. So, editor, will you provide this platform for your readers? I believe it will be an act of public service that you will be proud to have during your tenure as Herts Ad editor and could be the harbinger of change that has our roads, if not billiard table smooth again, less hazardous to motorists and pedestrians alike. I thank you!

BARRY CASHIN Green Lane, St Albans

Behind the bushes

SIR – What a view! In clearing the shrubbery in King Harry Lane, the council has opened up the magnificent view of the Abbey set against the panorama of the city. Congratulations district council!

MIKE PLANT Jerome Drive, St Albans

20mph limits are white elephant

SIR – The Green Party’s proposal for 20mph speed limits in all residential areas (Herts Advertiser, 20 Feb) is misguided, and misleading with respect to road safety. Claims of evidence that “20mph reduces traffic accidents” are unfounded as there is no evidence anywhere of reduced casualties attributable to 20mph. In fact, quite the opposite is true – serious injuries in the much lauded Portsmouth 20mph experiment increased by 57 per cent in 2011 compared to 2010 (from 89 to 143). Oxford also experienced increased serious injuries in each of the two years following 20mph implementation. Bristol has also failed to see road safety benefits. The reason is that pedestrians are lulled into feeling safer and are thus more likely to take less care (such as crossing the road without looking, often while using their phone), while vehicles are often travelling at much the same speeds as previously. In 2012, a woman in Bristol was killed in a 20mph area in just such circumstances, and you can see similar dangerous behaviour in our city centre any day, any time. In November, I took part in a debate with Rod King (leader of the national 20’s Plenty campaign) in front of an audience of 150 Road Safety Officers at the National Road Safety Conference in Harrogate. Before the debate started, the RSOs were asked to vote (secretly, using electronic buttons) if they thought 20mph made roads safer, and the result was evenly spread between yes, no and don’t know. At the end of the debate, my support was equal to the “yes” and “don’t know” votes added together. The University of the West of England supported Bristol City Council with “social marketing” to sell (yes, sell!) the 20mph message. Within the last month, UWE have reclassified (on their website) their involvement with the project as “Behaviour in Travel and Transport” from its previous “Improving Road Safety” billing, recognising that the 20mph campaign is about changing social behaviour while ignoring the negative effects on road safety. There is widespread disillusionment across the country, from councillors and residents seeing thousands of pounds spent on 20mph white elephants, where speeds barely change and road safety is itself a casualty.

ERIC BRIDGSTOCK Evans Grove, St Albans

Whatever happened to local liberation?

SIR – In 2011, Harpenden’s Town Clerk sent a memo to the Secretary of State in support of the introduction of “localism”. At the time the town council were having a little trouble with St Albans District Council who were refusing to transfer assets to them. Part of this memo reads: “Neighbourhood Development Plans, which set out the development and land use policies for a particular area, will help liberate local residents in designing the area in which they live. “Currently the town council are looking to provide much needed affordable homes on land released by the Secretary of State from allotment use.” Since this date, HTC have made several acquisitions, Batford Springs, Lydekker Park and the Westfield playing field. Have the local residents been liberated? Hardly. Yet, since this time, HTC have progressed their own initiatives (some apparently based on election manifestos from 2007, when they didn’t even own the land!). What has become of the NDP that the Clerk was so keen to promote? Put on a back burner until 2016/2017 it seems (although hard to know for sure as those ‘steering’ this appear to make their decisions behind closed doors). Instead, a “Vision Statement” was meant to be produced but, to date, has still not materialised. The town council’s Strategic Local Plan Working Party, established to produce it, were meant to reconvene in early January 2014 but are nowhere to be seen. HTC seem to be doing their utmost to avoid producing anything that will help residents have any say in developing their neighbourhood. With the current rate of development, as it is at present, there will be no land left for anyone to design let alone the supposed “liberated” residents. In May 2013, the very same Clerk stated that after the now successful transfer of assets their priorities would be: “Closer community engagement; understanding the needs of local residents and responding to their ambitions and desires.” Now, wouldn’t that make for a refreshing campaign manifesto?

PIP MARTYN Harpenden Independent

Partnership Marquis Lane, Harpenden