Letters, May 29, 2014

Change is inevitable on the high street

SIR – “Oh no! Not another coffee shop!”, a comment so often heard, but is it well wide of the mark? Our high streets are indeed changing fast and many say are in serious decline. Traditional independent stores (so often described as “normal” shops) have for years suffered from the competition of out of town superstores, where there are no parking charges. Then there is the burden of ever increasing high rates imposed by central government, as well as escalating rent bills. However a greater challenge that many smaller retailers will increasingly face is the rapid growth of online trading. Ken Pawley (Herts Advertiser, April 17) described this as a momentum that can only realistically be resisted by those providing “direct services” such as hairdressers, opticians and the like, and dare I say it, coffee shops. Has this got to be the end of the story? Surely not so! Change or rather evolvement is inevitable. We need to adapt rather than resist an ever in-coming tide. It is futile simply to moan about the loss of “normal” shops, although their demise is sad. We have to think positively about how we can make our city and town centres more attractive and places to spend time in, but all the time recognising that without a vibrant city or town centre the hub of our whole community is lost. If anyone cares to plough through Mary Portas’s report one of the messages she was endeavouring to get across was that visitors, residents and shoppers should feel relaxed and comfortable in any shopping environment. This means much more than mingling in a range of struggling “normal” shops, but an emphasis on the wider issues that can involve or interest our whole community, our history, heritage, food markets, libraries, festivals, school bands playing and dare I say again, coffee shops. Then how about what so many feel is the biggest bugbear to “happy” shopping in our centres. It is the difficulty and perceived cost of parking. I constantly hear fellow local people saying they would rather drive to Welwyn, Watford or Milton Keynes not just because what is on offer but simply because it is easier to park. Many might argue that we should not spend so much time pandering to the needs of the motorists, but the car is a way of life for nearly all of us. Can you honestly expect the average person, indeed anyone, cycling up Holywell Hill with their shopping from Sainsbury’s? I share the views of many who feel coffee shops are an essential key in making the whole shopping experience in our centres more enjoyable. We live in a free economy and if the demand is there the supply will follow. Have we reached a saturation point? Consumers will decide. However my own research might be revealing. On one typical weekday morning between 10am and 12noon all bar one were over 75 per cent full. Do these coffee shops serve a good purpose for the well being of our centres? By encouraging more visitors to stay longer in our centres the answer has to be “yes”. The longer they stay the more they are likely to shop and spend. If only they were not then deterred from making a hasty exit to prevent a parking fine. A good example of where it is pleasant to shop is Marshalswick, with its parking facilities, a good range of shops, all backed up with places to have a coffee. An abundance of Costas, Starbucks and Neros does indeed tend to give a clone like impression, but good specialist independent coffee shops can survive in the mix. In sum we should not keep harking back on the past, recognise change, move with the times, plan ahead imaginatively and make it easier and less costly to get to our shopping centres. If having rather a lot of coffee shops in our midst helps to keep potential customers in our city and towns that surely is good for us all.

MICHAEL WEAVER Clarence Road, Harpenden

Lack of vision?

SIR – Was I the only one to be dispirited to note the comments of Cllr Daly – Portfolio Holder for Planning and Development – concerning his hopes for the CCOS site: “Retail on the ground floor... then the residential bit on the higher floors...” Isn’t that exactly the sort of development that happened across the UK in the ’60s and ’70s – and is now being demolished? I have taken the liberty of copying my fellow councillor into the Lib Dems’ submission made in response to the Public Consultation in 2011 on this important site and hopefully something much more enlightened – and sustainable – might eventually emerge as a result? There are currently plenty of issues with which SACDC must concern itself – but if we should get the CCOS site wrong then our city centre will indeed be doomed.

CLLR ROD PERKS Jennings Road, St Albans

Hip operation is finally scheduled

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SIR – In reply to the article by Madeleine Burton about the long delay for my double hip replacement, I have finally been given a date in June. At no time has anybody from St Albans City Hospital explained the reason for the delay or apologised despite what they told Madeleine. In fact it was only with your involvement, local councillor Sandy Walkington and GP Dr Anne Allistone I think I finally got a date. I have now started an official complaint process. By the time the operation happens it will be eight months from seeing the consultant in October, as stated I am now very incapacitated, even having to take taxis from work which should be a 10 minute walk. I hate being like this and find it highly degrading and embarrassing. The whole saga is a mess.

TRICIA GRIMWARD Spencer Gate, St Albans

Businesses being forced out of city?

SIR – Eric Roberts raises an important issue about the new planning rules on converting office space into flats. It is not only our offices but also our pubs, our police station and no doubt soon to be our shops as well. But this won’t change as local politicians realise that local business owners do not have a local vote as many of us cannot afford to live in the city. Hence council tax has been frozen for six years and yet business rates have gone up for the past 22 years in a row. Add to this parking increases of 300 per cent in Keyfield Terrace and we can see how the council are hoping to increase the amount of local voters and council taxpayers by getting rid of local business. Local shop owners are now paying the highest property taxes in the Western world and yet we have no local vote. It is great that a local three-bed property is valued at £750,000. But how will these properties be paid for if we have no local jobs?

PAUL HARGREAVES Holywell Hill, St Albans

Time to tackle dangerous parking

SIR – Isn’t it about time somebody, indeed some body – the police for instance – took action against the idiots that daily park illegally on the Sandridge Road at and opposite its junction with Boundary Road? White van man is the leader of the villains – his van is there every weekday, often accompanied by a small green car. There are no yellow lines there but the Highway Code requires them to not park within 10 metres of, or opposite, a junction. Today another small car behind them almost blocked the passage of a bus between these three vehicles and the keep-left bollards there; add obstruction to their list of offences. I have on a previous occasion seen a timber lorry have to go round the wrong side of the bollard to clear this lunacy. The more such unthinking and uncaring idiots get away with such offences, the more other people are encouraged to think they can too, as evidenced by the increasingly chaotic parking in this area. Action please, Herts Police perhaps, and ASAP!

WYN SAILOR Wheathampstead

Discover origins of St Leonard parish

SIR – Not so easy for visitors to find, but most St Albans residents are aware that the Museum of St Albans stands opposite the Marlborough Almshouses in Hatfield Road. Although the current exhibition has not received widespread publicity, it certainly deserves to have done. A delightful and engaging story is being told there until June 1. It is called Discover Sandridge, but as we all discover when we enter, this is an account of the parish of St Leonard, which is not only centred on the village, but until recent times, also included Marshalswick, Jersey Farm and Newgates, so, those districts feature prominently, as well as Bernards Heath, formerly known as Sandridge New Town (we find out why in the exhibition). There are over 30 info-panels, sprinkled with wonderful pictures among the accounts and stories. Also included are cabinets of artefacts and two continuously-running slideshows. A peep at the visitors’ book reveals how positively many others who joined the experience responded. They may have intended to pop-in, but found themselves incredibly involved. And what a wonderful welcome you receive at the font desk. I urge everyone to take this wonderful opportunity to to spend an hour at the Museum of St Albans. June 1 is definitely the final day, although some of you may have seen a poster or two with closure on May 29.

MIKE NEIGHBOUR Stanstead Road, Hoddesdon

Thanks for Easter egg raffle support

SIR – May I take the opportunity, on behalf of St Albans Lions Club, to thank the following local organisations and pubs for taking part in the annual Easter Egg Raffle which raised £1,765 on behalf of Ups and Downs – the Hertfordshire Down’s Syndrome Support Group: Farmers Boy, Royston pub, New Greens pub, BBA, The Red Lion pub, The Farriers pub, The Falcon Inn, Mid Herts Golf Club, The Plough (Tyttenhanger), Ashwell House, Citigroup – Canary Wharf, The Bright Star pub, Peters Green. Thanks to all and we look forward to your participation in 2015!


Festival was a farce

SIR – I write as a stall holder to correct the misleading impression of the arts and crafts day given in your report of the Chiswell Green Festival. Far from being a “phenomenal success” Saturday was a dismal waste of our time, effort and money, and we were embarrassed to have been involved. It seems to have been an ill-considered concept and a badly organised event. Was there any prior research by the organisers into the viability of such a day? Was any interest shown in a solely arts and crafts event by the public in our area or by those wishing to display and sell the results of their crafting? I suppose it may have seemed like a good idea at the planning stage. However, judging from the risible number of stall holders and visitors on the day it was not. Of the fourteen stalls outside on the field, only four were remotely craft-related. The indoor demonstrations of craft activities were limited principally to lace making; there was no sign of the blacksmithing, wood-turning and ceramics or the many other events and attractions that had previously been advertised for this day. All the stall holders who spoke to us were appalled by the poor attendance and the lack of organisation, information and publicity prior to the event. Even the start time (10.45am or 12noon) changed, depending on the source of information. On Saturday, there was no food at all on sale, a particular problem for stall holders who had not brought their own and were expected to remain on site until 5 o’clock. There was no signage to the ‘medical services tent’, the toilets, the indoor craft demonstrations or even to the exit. It soon became clear to those of us with stalls that this was a non-event. There was nothing to attract the public, and the few who were present comprised largely parents who had come to watch their children perform. When only a dozen people had passed by our stall by 2pm we decided to dismantle it and leave. In my view the organisers, well knowing in advance that there was so little interest, should not have let Saturday’s event go ahead. I have been to and exhibited at many such events in the past – including the exceptionally well-organised and stewarded Harpenden Carnival and Wheathampstead Village Days – and have had stalls at the previous ‘Park Street Fetes’ with huge success. In comparison, Saturday’s event at Greenwood Park was an ill-conceived and badly organised farce, attempting to make what used to be a wonderful village fete into a two day “festival” that could not be sustained.

BRENDA THOMAS Pilgrim Close, Park Street

Why no police action before now?

SIR – I was most surprised to have a leaflet hand-delivered through the letter box today from Herts Constabulary alerting us residents to their rigorous enquiries concerning a number of stolen political signs (of UKIP variety it would appear) from residents’ front gardens. In 17 years of living on the estate this is the first occasion I recall when the authorities conducted such a thorough campaign against the criminal classes. All those petty burglaries, speeding vehicles, noisy neighbours and stolen cats never generated such a rather extreme response. I wonder if the sympathies of the “victims” is in any way related. Either way, the sooner the estate can be rid of this kind of heinous crime the better and then the over-stretched police resources can be diverted to more pressing matters

TIMOTHY SMITH Westfields, St Albans

Clarification over new school site

SIR – In the May 15 edition of paper you carried a piece about developments for a fourth secondary school in the Harpenden area. It is good to see progress with this matter, however for all the good efforts of the Trust formed by the current Harpenden secondary schools and its partners towards the development of educational plans for the new school, the same cannot be said for the finding of a suitable location for the school. This aspect has been the responsibility of Herts County Council and, since the short series of exhibitions last year, there has been no visible sign of progress with this aspect. In itself this is surprising when the main reason given for not consulting with local residents before moving to acquire land was the urgency of the need. In your article you suggested our organisation (Right School Right Place) was lobbying for a school in Wheathampstead – it would be more correct to say we would like to see a school where it best meets demand in the area. This is an aspect which we would have expected Herts County Council to have fully considered when forming a brief to look for potential sites. In practice RSRP has learnt that Herts CC specifically excluded both Wheathampstead and Redbourn from their searches. Using data that HCC publish, analysis suggests that there are substantial concentrations of pupils outside the town boundary of Harpenden, and that these areas will be increasingly vulnerable in the allocation process. Since highlighting this to Herts CC in January we have seen the 2014 secondary allocations in which Wheathampstead and the Waldens saw the highest rates of failing to secure a ranked allocation. RSRP has continuously called on Herts County Council not only to properly evaluate where the demand for school places is, but also to fully evaluate all potential solutions to develop the best proposal for all. We are disappointed that Herts CC are apparently continuing with their stance to exclude both Wheathampstead and Redbourn where viable solutions to timescale and demographic demands may exist, meanwhile the time to deliver a school for the demand peak is slipping by.

DAVID CAIRNS Chair – Right School Right Place