Letters, May 8, 2014

Speaking sense over 20mph limits

SIR – Pursuing an argument where the two sides differ so unremittingly is like flogging a dead horse but, as your correspondents (Messrs Bolt and Bridgstock) attack me for relying on “imagination and emotion” and for peddling a “shocking view” in my comments about speed limits, I request a right of reply before making what I hope will be seen as a constructive suggestion. (An earlier correspondent referred to others as “20mph obsessed bullies”, which seems a rather strange reversal of logic.) I am happy to stand guilty of a degree of emotion having had a child hit by a vehicle in St Albans in the middle of the day in the main retail area some 25 years ago. Fortunately the vehicle was not being driven at the maximum speed allowed at that time in that area (i.e. 30mph, but now – hallelujah! – 20mph) and so he was released from hospital with no more than severe bruising and shock. Our roads and the standard 30mph limit were put in place long before we had today’s larger, heavier and more powerful vehicles. My belief is that 20mph in key retail and residential areas, including within the vicinity of every school, is a better limit for all because it does not significantly delay the driver, but does offer pedestrians more chance of survival and less reason to fear. Mr Bolt’s view that “the vast majority of vehicles are driven safely and considerately” is one I share. Admittedly there is a sting in the tail of his comments directed at cyclists and pedestrians. But here too I wonder if he has the balance right: of course, all parties need to act responsibly when out and about – the difference is that the vehicle driver is behind the wheel of a machine which can injure and kill whereas the others are not (except if cyclists behave badly). While not seeking to impugn the “vast majority” of good and courteous drivers, I offer the following examples from the past six months’ experience in Harpenden (though I suspect it might apply equally to St Albans, having lived there for a previous 25 years): as I was crossing Leyton Road (prior to the new – and much applauded – 20mph limit) with a grandchild in the buggy and another held by the hand, a driver roaring out of a side road, hooting his horn and winding down his window to shout abuse because we were in his way; a parent collecting a child from outside a school (on the yellow zigzagged ‘no parking’ section) then roaring away causing other parents crossing the road with their children to run for their lives; a car avoiding speed bumps by driving with one wheel on the pavement and the other in the gutter; vehicles driving at the ‘legal’ 30mph when both sides of the road were flooded (result: grandchild in buggy fully soaked by resulting wave of water); family car parked legally on road being clipped three times so far by cars that did not stop (wing mirror, rear and front bumper). It only takes a small minority of drivers to create such an aggressive scenario, which is why I hope that we can move beyond a ‘tit for tat’ series of increasingly aggressive letters. How can those of us (including your correspondents and many others who are concerned about speed and its impact on all pavement and road users) work together rather than shout at each other? Your newspaper picked up on the problem of road safety on the Redbourn Road – are you willing to promote a local forum that might lead to greater road and pavement safety for all? Or does such a forum already exist?

ROB PEARMAN Gustard Wood, Wheathampstead

Grateful thanks

SIR – Please pass on a big thanks to everyone who came and supported the Soroptimist charity Quiz Night in St Albans on Saturday, April 12. The final total came to £1,075.50 which was fantastic and everyone had a great time too. The money will help to keep four girls in Kenya in full-time education through the charity IPI – International Peace Initiatives.

JANE SLATTER Soroptimist International St Albans & District

BHS WCs row

Most Read

SIR – I endorse whole-heartedly Barry Cashin’s condemnation of BHS’ policy of withdrawing free access to their toilet provision. This decision is not only insulting in all the ways Barry Cashin described so vividly but mean-spirited and,they will find, short-sighted commercially. I, for one, will be boycotting BHS in future having been a good customer in the past. By the way, Waterstone’s bookshop has also adopted this offensive policy. What an uncivilised place St Albans is becoming.

MARGARET METCALF Cunningham Hill Road, St Albans

SIR – Re Buy Now, Pee Later (Herts Advertiser, letters, April 17). I have to admit to find this headline in your letters page quite amusing but I think that Barry Cashin needs to ascertain his facts before he so quickly puts pen to paper deriding BHS because there is usually very good reasons for shops and stores having to bring in certain procedures. Could I just mention through your columns why I think this is so. Some years back, I was browsing through the market when an item of clothing on one of the stalls caught my eye. I was uncertain whether to buy this article without trying it on. “Go in the store there and use their fitting rooms to try it on; go on, all my customers do” the stall-holder urged me but I declined and now I know why, that for some time, the stores have checked their customers in and out of their changing rooms. Who can blame them? Last autumn, I went with a friend to one of our lovely garden centres for the purpose of buying some plants for the garden. As we went through the entrance to the nursery, we almost collided with a young couple who had their trolley loaded with a lovely young tree and various expensive plants. They seemed in a bit of a hurry to get out and it wasn’t until we reached the tills by the exit to pay for our own purchases, we realised the reason for this couple’s hurrying. It was to go back out of the entrance doors without paying for their trolley-load of goods. When I got home and thought about this incident, I decided to go back the next day and speak to the manager, especially as, only a few weeks earlier, I had observed a man who had parked his car irrationally at the centre while blocking my way as he loaded his boot with several bags of compost and then he quickly dashed to the plants and whipped a few boxes of those before, to my utter amazement, he sped away without paying for anything. All this, I told to the manager, and on my next visit to the garden centre, I knew the reason why the escape route had been blocked to only allow people to enter the nursery, necessitating them to exist by the tills after they had paid for their goods. The bags of compost and plants outside, I noticed, had been moved together in a safer place, under the watchful eye of a camera. Of course I knew the reason for these procedures. It is good that Barry Cashin is championing the cause of the needy and those who need to pee urgently but why would they choose to go up and down an escalator in the store when ground-floor toilets are available in a coffee shop just a few steps away? What I am trying to convey is…before putting pen to paper and wholeheartedly disparaging BHS, would it not be a good idea to question the store regarding their actions and perhaps he might even consider doing his bit for all these needy people with their urgency, by volunteering to help the store maintain its toilets from time to time, as provision and the upkeep of them is probably quite expensive. I personally have always loved shopping in BHS over the years and would hate to see it go, like so many other stores, to the wall and this is what could happen if we don’t help to sustain them.

ELIZABETH DUMPLETON Wilstone Drive, St Albans

Society fantasy

SIR – Two things: it is a funny old world when praise for past success and criticism of sadly misguided current thinking is a “diatribe” (Tim Boatswain, April 24). Hey ho. It would be funny, if it were not so sad, that the secretary of the Civic Society so contemptuously dismissed the mums, the workers and the students of St Albans as insufficiently motivated. Sorry if they are too busy raising families, earning a living or writing essays and don’t meet your exacting standards of engagement. The clue is in the word “busy”. Secondly, it is 32 years since, in my undergraduate dissertation, I modelled the then under construction Maltings and predicted that it would never find a taker for the proposed department store. Hardly surprising since we had lost three in the previous 15 years, I suppose, but the competition was just too intense even in prosperous Hertfordshire. And that was before Sainsbury’s on Griffiths Way, Savacentre (as was) at London Colney, and before the Ballito site became Prestos (now Morrisons), before stonking great Tesco stores in Hatfield and Watford, and when Waitrose on King Harry Lane was a fresh-faced harbinger of things to come. Getting snotty about cafés that – manifestly – a lot of people actually use and for which there is – equally manifestly – a viable market, and arguing against one that not a single person has proposed, is to fight the wrong battle, at the wrong end of the city centre and well over 25 years too late. Even the burger bars have left town. Clinging by bloodied fingernails to a fantasy town centre that died years ago and is never coming back helps nobody. Given the choice between café culture and the unholy trinity of pound stores, betting shops and travel agents, I know where I stand. And that is the real choice, as anyone who has studied the small towns around the M25 can tell you. Oh, and just to show there are no hard feelings, I actually have some sympathy with the Society’s views of office-to-residential. Once employment land is lost, it never comes back. It is a genuine and difficult challenge. Snobbery over coffee shops is not.

IAN CUNDELL Partridge Road, St Albans

Time to clean up after your horses

SIR – We have become accustomed to the idea of dog walkers being required by law to retrieve their companion’s dump and place it in a collection bin, but unfortunately the ideal is abused by many dogwalkers who either ignore the problem or gather it up and then throw it into the bushes. Even so no-one seems to have the same wish to see the product of horses being treated in the approved manner. Why is this is? Could it be that horse manure being mainly composed of organic fibres is regarded as less repulsive than the squidgy stuff deposited by dogs. Even so the considerable sized mounds are allowed to remain on bridle ways and the open roads until they get reduced to dust. Should this situation be allowed to continue? Saddle bags, after all, are large enough to contain one deposit plus the shovel.

JACK HILL Riverside Close, St Albans

Green Belt fight

SIR – In your April 17 edition, Kevin Gardam wrote to warn that St Albans people are sleepwalking into plans to degrade Green Belt land around the city and make it available for development. The fact that no one has followed up his letter rather makes his point. The huge scale of the increased housing demanded by central government surely requires more new Garden City developments where the proper infrastructure can be built in from the start rather than cobbling sizeable developments on to existing centres such as St Albans. Our Green Belt land is very valuable to us and once it is lost, it is lost for ever. The large area designated ‘East of St Albans’, stretching down Sandpit Lane from the Verulam playing fields to the House Lane roundabout all the way back across to Hatfield Road was another site found by SKM to be ‘least valuable’ in terms of its Green Belt status. It includes, but far exceeds, the area that is currently the subject of a planning application by Taylor Wimpey on Oaklands College land. SKM suggest that a further 1,650 houses could be built in this area to help meet the targets imposed on the council. Arguably, that could mean a further 3,000 cars travelling through Sandpit Lane and/or possibly Hatfield Road towards, and out of, the centre of town. There would be knock-on effects for car users at all the intersections such as Beechwood Avenue and the further development of ‘rat run’ areas all along this route. I am not sure that residents affected have realised the implications of this in terms of congestion, pollution, safety and lifestyle changes. As I understand it, the council is currently considering the sites highlighted in the SKM report and ranking them against other ‘sustainability’ factors. It does not appear to have given the local parish councils (in this instance, Sandridge) a formal role in its deliberations. Whilst it is possible to build in new schools and surgeries to housing developments, it is not possible to cut new wider roads through existing neighbourhoods. Improvements in public transport may have a marginal effect but are very unlikely to stop local people being wedded to using their cars, often two per household. Shouldn’t the traffic implications therefore be given greater weighting? Wake up, everyone. Inform yourselves and, if you have a view, let the councillors on the Planning Policy Committee know (www.stalbans.gov.uk/council-and-http://www.stalbans.gov.uk/council-anddemocracy).

MARY TERNOUTH Buxton Close, Marshalswick

SIR – I wholeheartedly endorse the comments made in Kevin Gardam’s letter. There seems to be little opposition to the SKM report that St Albans District Council planning department commissioned regarding the building of up to 460 houses on Green Belt land in Chiswell Green with access from Miriam Lane. The small field in Cherry Hill is under threat, repeated applications to build houses on it. The building of a new hotel and complex has already got planning permission to go ahead on one of the busiest roundabouts in the area where there is congestion most mornings when motorists are trying to reach the M25/M1. New housing is proposed for Old Orchard in Park Street as well as having the rail freight interchange still in the balance until a final decision is made. It seems that Chiswell Green will soon be concreted over and will eventually merge with Leverstock Green. Let’s wake up before it is too late and stop this building on every green field and use available brownfield sites and empty properties but of course there wouldn’t be the huge profits to be gained by the developers/owners. Do we really want to live in an area that has no green fields left?

JOY STEPHENS Park Street, St Albans

Doggy danger

SIR – How wonderful that the story about the Chihuahua was described by the editor as a minor incident. Having been bitten whilst I had a job as a postman by several dogs both big and small including so called nice tame breeds, I can assure you it’s not very pleasant. For a five-year-old I should think it would have been terrifying. Would the editor had been so flippant if it had been a baby in a pram? All dogs should be under control because of the risks how ever small. On the other hand I have also been licked to death by so-called dangerous breeds. All breeds are capable of attacking and although as you say in your report it could have been provoked does not make it any less trivial.

DAVID HARPIN Gorham Drive, St Albans

SIR – I was disappointed by the recent editor’s comment about the ‘Chihuahua attack’. Firstly, and the most obvious point, relative to a five-year-old a Chihuahua is a lot larger dog than it is to an adult. When I was around 16 I had a Yorkshire terrier take a dislike to me and decide to try and take chunks out of my legs. It was a little dog, but vicious (probably used by the owner to go down badger/fox holes) and the episode was scary and disturbing. It truly is a case of, ‘not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog’. If the editor doesn’t believe this then maybe he should try going toe-to-toe with a Jack Russell. Only a small dog certainly, but I know where I would put my money. The editor’s observation that small children do sometimes lunge at dogs in an effort to stroke them is undoubtedly true. My conclusion about how to respond to this though is entirely different. If you are going to walk your dog in the park, a place where you are almost guaranteed to find small children playing, and if that dog isn’t 100 per cent safe then simply keep it on the lead. Excuses like, “Fido’s a good dog he just get’s nervous round children” aren’t good enough – dog owners should expect that a child will do something unexpected, as is the nature of children. I think most people would agree that children have primacy over dogs, especially when it comes to using a park therefore I am very pleased that the police are taking this attack seriously. It would have been very easy, given the nature of the dog, to treat this as some kind of comedic episode; would that the editor of the Herts Advertiser had the same sense.

NICK CHIVERS Jerome Drive, St Albans