Letters, November 8, 2012, Part Two

Is Cllr Grover missing the point over plan?

SIR – Cllr Simon Grover’s rambling letter (October 13) blaming the government for housing targets and our council officers for trying to come up with a workable Local Development Policy which will go some of the way to meet the districts housing and infrastructure needs.

Many councils have found this difficult, particularly affluent towns in the south east like St Albans who may say there needs to be more housing, but not in their town.

Simon may be aware that of the 201 district councils in the country, St Albans appears to be the only one which has not lodged our policy with the government.

If you feel the need to blame anybody, it is the councillors of all parties, who have not been able to give a clear steer to the senior planning officers tasked with the job of taking the policy through it’s different complicated stages.

The existing policy of 1994 is way out of date and should have been renewed at least 10 years ago.

Simon, as a councillor, how many dwellings do you think should be planned for?

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What number of new social housing units should we aim for?

With a housing waiting list of 2,961 and all those residents desperate to find affordable accommodation, who can’t even get on the waiting list.

Simon, your simplistic suggestion that our housing needs can be met by “bringing empty homes back in to use and redeveloping appropriate brownfield sites”.

Exactly where are all these empty houses and brown field sites?

I have lived in St Albans a very long time and know the area well. Of course there are some empty houses, but practically no brown field sites big enough for a worthwhile development of social and affordable housing. Please also let us know how all this would all be funded.


Spencer Street, St Albans

SIR – I refer to the letter by Cllr Grover in the Herts Advertiser on October 25 about the Green Belt and SADC’s latest plan.

I’d rather he’d concentrated on the real failings in the proposed LDF, and that’s its total lack of sustainability.

That, to my mind, and that of the Planning Inspector who’ll have to assess the plan, assuming he/she takes official policy seriously, is the most likely reason that the plan will be rejected and developers given free reign to rape as much of the Green Belt as takes their fancy.

St Albans is the Los Angeles of Herts. It calls itself a premier community; when it comes to transport it’s the undisputed champion in terms of car ownership and car use.

Other commuter towns in Herts provide surface car parks by their stations; in St Albans we don’t have them, instead we have multi-storey commuter parks, and not just one, but two of them.

We even have a Green councillor who protests if Tesco doesn’t provide 110 per cent car parking spaces in their city centre housing development.

However, even if the councillors and the planning department are “asleep at the wheel” when it comes to long-term planning policy, those of us who use public transport will have noticed an approximate trebling in the number of passengers at peak times.

The main current problem is that the buses take half an hour on occasion to cross the city centre, and the medium/long term problem is the CCOS plan recently published, which ensures that all the land currently available for bus lanes through the centre will be blocked by council backed and enforced comprehensive redevelopment.

More directly relevant to the impending failure of the proposed development plan is the total failure of the council to attempt to relate future housing to major bus routes. St Albans has two “sustainable” transport corridors, one along the Hatfield Road and the other down the Watford Road and there is no mention of either in any of the vast multitude of documents that emanates from the planning department.

Many experts, including several Saudi official sources, have stated that “peak oil” occurred in 2005-2006. Cllr Grover will know that the plan will have a life of at least 30 years, and, in St Albans probably somewhat longer, given the inability of his colleagues to formulate plans in any reasonable or legal span of time.

He will also know that central government, both red and blue, has consistently been operating a fuel price escalator in response to peak oil and our EU climate change commitments. Sometimes they are seen to waver in the face of protest, but, so far, all the protesters have achieved is a slight reduction in speed of change. Already we are in a situation where duty increases have a reducing yield, because the policy has succeeded to the point where consumers are moderating their consumption.

Today we need to plan for a future where fuel will be too expensive for any except the very rich to make every journey by car, and where certain neighbourhoods which are not easily accessible by public transport will undergo a rapid deterioration in land value, a reverse to the process of the last century when such suburbs appreciated in value.

Paragraph 15 of the NPPF states that Local Plans should be based upon and reflect the presumption in favour of sustainable development, with clear policies that will guide how the presumption should be applied locally. The plan currently under preparation does the exact reverse, as its primary concern is the Green Belt. It doesn’t deserve to be approved, and the likelihood is that it won’t.


Holywell Hill, St Albans

Not too late to save the Green Belt

SIR – In recent weeks you have reported on the Hilton Hotel application in the Green Belt at Copsewood and the decision by the Planning Referrals Committee on October 17 to approve the scheme.

Previously, on September 6, you published a letter from the leader of the council, Cllr Julian Daly, in which he writes: “The council’s position is very clear that it does not support inappropriate building in the Green Belt, whether it is for hotel or housing.”

The draft Strategic Local Plan is at last making progress. However, the Copsewood site is not allocated for any development, hotel or otherwise. Despite this, you report (October 18) Cllr Weaver speaking up on behalf of the scheme, maintaining that any approval “would not set a precedent”. He appears to have based this on the fact that the site is “unused and derelict”.

This is an invitation to all other would-be developers simply to neglect their land and then seek permission, and ignores the fundamental principle of preventing urban sprawl that lies behind Green Belt designation.

Worryingly, colleagues of Cllr Weaver on the Planning Referrals Committee appear to have taken the same view.

They have disregarded not only the statement by the leader of the council but also their draft plan.

Whatever its merits, the hotel decision is premature as it prejudges the SLP. It exposes the district even more to those other speculative applications for Green Belt development that you regularly feature.

The cavalier disregard of Green Belt policy by the committee may even influence the thinking of the Secretary of State with respect to the rail freight decision.

These councillors may, in approving the hotel, think they have scored for St Albans. Unfortunately, it may turn out to be an own goal!


For St Albans Civic Society

Abbey Mill End, St Albans

SIR – CPRE Hertfordshire is right (“Campaigners urge Pickles to call in Hilton Hotel plan”, November 1) – the loss of Green Belt in the south of the district is a disaster for the legacy we leave our children and it is also right that we should seriously consider the impact before letting any of it go.

I am deeply disappointed that the Planning Referrals Committee decided that the Hilton Hotel warranted “very special circumstances” that they should approve the development in Chiswell Green.

I admit I am hardly unbiased given that I live, and am a ward councillor, in Park Street, but this decision may be the opening of the stable door that allows all the horses to bolt through. The same “very special circumstances” will now be argued by every commercial development on St Albans’ Green Belt land and already we are starting to see this. We have only a slim chance now of stopping the stampede and this involves everyone who cares about the distinct and special nature of St Albans and its villages to get involved.

Donate to STRiFE to help us fight the rail freight depot. Write to your MP to put pressure on the Secretary of State to either refuse, or hold a public inquiry into the Hilton Development and let your district councillors know that you care about the Green Belt and they will be punished in the polls if they don’t share your concerns.


Park Street Ward

Dangers of trick or treating in the dark

SIR – I hope that “trick or treat” night passed off without any serious injuries.

I do not refer to unpleasant “tricks” – I refer to the number of young children who were out on the streets on what was a dark and gloomy night without barely a reflective button, let alone any decent reflective clothing.

Driving in Harpenden, three times I had young children stepping into the road when converging groups overfilled the pavements.

In an affluent area like Harpenden one would assume that parents would have some modicum of common sense – not so. I find it difficult to understand the irresponsibility and basic stupidity of parents who would take their children out wearing dark clothing on any night, let alone the conditions that prevailed on October 31.

For those parents who say ‘But I was with my children’, I’d say that the three youngsters who stepped into the road in front of me all had their parents with them – probably too busy nattering to notice.

I should like to suggest that next year perhaps the neighbourhood police could issue some advice to parents about making their offspring visible.

Tragedies are avoidable.


Magna Close, Harpenden