Letters, October 11, 2012, part one

Reactions to the Strategic Local Plan

SIR – Having read the proposals for the draft Strategic Local Plan it is disappointing and depressing to read that the majority of the proposed major housing development is earmarked for the south of St Albans with the majority being situated in the Parish of St Stephen’s.

The site at Building Research Establishment has reared its ugly head again, for the fourth time in the last fifteen or so years.This site has been repeatedly suggested for houses and a public enquiry resulted in the inspector declining the application on the grounds of insufficient public amenities.

Incidentally, the cost of the appeal involved St Albans District Council spending vast sums of council taxpayers’ money.

The population of Bricket Wood have only recently petitioned St Albans District Council objecting to a proposal by BRE to build 150 houses on this site. BRE subsequently withdrew their application. The application now appears, yet again, in the proposed District Plan; “methinks there is something wrong in the state of Denmark”.

Not only have the Harperbury, and BRE sites been included in the Local Plan; over and above this, a new site is being put forward on the former Sports and Leisure site in Smug Oak Lane for over 200 houses on 14 acres – this is also a green belt site.

To quote the wording of the draft Strategic Local Plan, the Green Belt “is of critical importance in preventing urban sprawl and the coalescence of settlements” – if building 150 or houses on the BRE is not coalescence with Garston, Watford, I am at a loss to understand what is!!

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Apart from anything else we do not have the number of school places required to support our children at the moment let alone cope with the increased school population which would ensure.

Most of the sites suggested have very poor road access, i.e. narrow country lanes or residential roads.

Transport links to the proposed areas are poor or non-existant and even existing links to Bricket Wood have recently been cut back.

The medical services in the district are also overstretched to cope with the existing population – regularly the A&E Department at Watford is unacceptably overburdened (four or five hours waiting time).

I do urge the local population to rise up and object in no uncertain terms against the proposed plan – we have in the past, we can in the future have our voices heard to prevent these developments in the Parish of St Stephens from blighting our lives.

Incidentally, we have also endured more than our fair share of infilling in Bricket Wood, Park Street and Chiswell Green.


Resident of Bricket Wood

SIR – Tucked away on page seven of the September 27 issue of the Herts Advertiser is a brief paragraph about the “hopes” of building 350 homes on Green Belt land alongside Sandpit Lane. Who is hoping? A great many people will be hoping otherwise. Why have we not been told of this before now when decisions are about to be taken.

Your newspaper has had very close relations with Oaklands College over time and no doubt their advertising has provided considerable financial benefits to the Herts Ad.

Were you not aware until now that Oaklands management had aspirations to change the whole scene in Sandpit Lane or were you asked to keep their plans under wraps for as long as possible?

You certainly gave generous coverage to the issue of house building near the Girls School which helped bring success to the objections on that occasion.

Some years ago Oaklands College management sought to include their fields in the Regional Area of search for gravel reserves but public pressure was brought to bear and the county council and St Albans District Council ruled against such a move and declared that the fields should be left as they are in the Green Belt.

Surely this decision cannot be overturned at the drop of a planner’s hat, certainly not without a full public consultation.

Would the editor please comment?


Sandpit Lane, St Albans

(Editor’s comment: The scheme to sell off land at Oaklands for housing has been on the table since the LSC withdrew funding for the hub-and-spoke scheme planned for Oaklands College, leaving it to look for alternative ways of raising the cash for improvements. The Herts Advertiser has certainly written previous stories about it but it is only now that the draft Strategic Local Plan has been unveiled that it has come to the foreground because the council has earmarked it as a potential housing site. We certainly weren’t bribed to keep it under wraps, as seen in our last issue’s front page story!)

SIR – I spent Sunday afternoon reading through the Local Plan trying to reconcile why our local representatives would support the development of 350 homes on land between Sandpit Lane and Hatfield Road.

Obviously the real reason is conected to the pulling of the original funding for Oaklands redevelopment, and not a measured response to the needs of the local community which the Local Plan should represent. The Plan says sensible things about the Green Belt: “...the district is economically thriving precisely because of the retention of the Green Belt”; “...the Green Belt is an asset that should be protected and proactively managed... to create a sustainable district for existing and future generations”.

Pro-actively managed is deemed landscape management, farming, forestry, and recreation, not housing development.

For reasons which have not been tested with the local electorate, the plan concludes that there should be exceptions to these principles including at Oaklands, where, let’s face it, solely because Government funding cut off the college plans at the knees, it is now felt that a commercial solution – building 350 houses, which I’m guessing will not be “affordable” – another mantra in the plan, will unlock the scheme.

Gone too are the principles of avoiding a creeping coalescence of development across shrinking green belt – much more valueable in the south of SACDC’s domain, where development is squeezed in already. There has already been development around the fringes of the old Hatfield airfield at Smallford and this masive extension of that creeping sprawl is a threat not just to those like myself living on the door step.

Anyone looking to find a good school for their children, or just a seat on Thameslink will be affected, as will anyone who treasures a view of fields, the sights and sounds of something that isn’t urban sprawl, in the rat run that St Albans has become, sandwiched between the A1, M25 and M1. Watch carefully over the patch of green you treasure close to your home, and don’t for one moment think it will not be built on, or that a Green Belt designation is worth the fine words the Local Plan starts with. And think carefully too about whether Oaklands College realy are good neighbours and an asset to our community.


Barnfield Road, St Albans

SIR – I write to thank you for your publication of the date for submitting comments on the draft Strategic Local Plan: I sent mine by First Class Recorded Delivery to reach St Albans District Council hopefully in time. I also read the calls for greater transparency in regard to these proposals and your invitation to “Have Your Say”.

I am extremely concerned about the policy for the Green Belt agricultural field along Public Footpath No. 8 (linking Rothamsted Research site with Hatching Green) to become an industrial commerce park for outside companies with concomitant pollution due to commercial traffic of air, noise, road congestion and artificial lighting.

To describe this proposal as “redevelopment and extension of Rothamsted” is incorrect as St Albans District council has said it involves building premises for outside companies and to say, “the Green Belt boundary may possibility have to be adjusted” is a euphemism in the light of St Albans District Council’s previous statements.

If there are any other residents of West Common and Hatching Green, Green Belt and Residents’ Associations, finding opacity and this radical change of use unacceptable, I look forward to reading their letters in your newspaper.


West Common, Harpenden

In defence of Alban City School

SIR – I found Helen Bishop’s letter of September 27 very offensive. She has not, to my knowledge, ever visited Alban City School and yet she sees fit to make sweeping judgements about the children’s safety and the competence of Herts County Council.

Had she bothered to contact the school with her concerns, she would have learned that the safety of every child and adult is of paramount importance to all those who have been involved with the school since its inception. She would have been able to see the huge number of risk assessments carried out by the headteacher and governors of the school. She would have discovered that Ofsted had conducted a rigorous inspection of safeguarding aspects of the school before agreeing to its opening and had found no areas of concern as phase two of the building works continued.

Finally, she would have been able to see the high standard of the refurbishment of the building, overseen by Herts County Council, proving that this is not a school that was “a cheap way out of the shortage of primary school places in St Albans”.

Her comments were ill-considered and cast aspersions on staff, governors and members of the local community who have given a considerable amount of their time, voluntarily and with passion, over the last 18 months, to deliver a school of the highest standards that can hold its place with all the other excellent schools in St Albans. I only wish that my daughter lived in St Albans because I would be absolutely delighted if my grandsons could attend Alban City School!


Chair of Governors, Alban City School

The importance of air ambulance

SIR – In reply to the letter from T Moran of Bricket Wood published on September 20.

The Herts Air Ambulance is a vital life-saving Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) for your county. With a HEMS Doctor and HEMS Paramedic on board vital pre-hospital care can be brought to a patient at the scene enabling life-saving procedures to start at the earliest opportunity.

Essex & Herts Air Ambulance Trust have canvassers going door-to-door on behalf of the charity to promote the Flight for Life Lottery and gain new members. Each week our canvassers visit different areas in both Essex and Hertfordshire. All canvassers wear Air Ambulance branded clothing and carry ID badges. I would like to emphasise that the canvassers only ask people if they would like to sign up by direct debit and do not take cash at the door.

Hertfordshire was one of the few counties left in the UK without its own Air Ambulance and so in April 2007 the Essex Air Ambulance Charity became Essex & Herts Air Ambulance Trust and launched an appeal to enable the people of Hertfordshire to raise funds for their own life-saving Air Ambulance service. After smashing the �250,000 target, the Herts Air Ambulance was unveiled on November 5, 2008, at Fairlands Valley Park, Stevenage.

The people of Herts and Essex benefit from two helicopters as the Essex aircraft will fly into Herts and the Herts aircraft would, of course, respond to those in need of advanced pre-hospital care in Essex.

It costs in the region of �130,000 per month to cover all the charitable costs and aircraft operations for Herts Air Ambulance. With no direct funding from the Government we rely on the generosity and support of the people of Hertfordshire. Playing the Flight for Life Lottery is one of the best ways to support the Charity and keeping the Air Ambulance flying. It is really easy to join and by helping save somebody’s life, you could change your own.

To find out more about how you can support Herts Air Ambulance by playing the Flight for Life Lottery or if you have had a visit from a canvasser and need clarification please call the Lottery Team on 0845 2417 688.


Lottery Manager

Essex & Herts Air Ambulance Trust

Unsung heroes

SIR – At the risk of offending that tiny minority of readers out there who may get agitated seeing my name in print, may I offer a contribution which I hope all will agree, persecutors and all, is one which commands universal approval.

I speak of course about the excellent piece on page four of last week’s edition concerning the work of Paul Parrish recently of the Ian Rennie Grove House Hospice Care.

Firstly, I do not know nor have I ever met Mr Parrish before. However, in the past two years, I have come across many like him; tireless, selfless individuals who only give and never take in the name of helping a good cause. I read that Mr Parrish in his time with IRGHH raised a not inconsiderable �28,000 – money badly needed for the lifeline organisations that places like Grove House provide people who unfortunately have life-limiting illnesses like cancer.

To learn that his post had been made redundant must have been, to all who know him and of the hard and selfless work he has put in, heavy of heart.

You see, it takes many types of people to make up a society and often it is difficult to know who might be living with the devastation that cancer brings. Sometimes, it is not always obvious from one’s exterior appearance to know that anything is wrong. They may appear well, still have their moods and indeed their personal peccadilloes. They may even occasionally, inadvertently offend people.

Despite this though, places like Grove House and the deeply caring individuals who work within it do not judge. They are just there providing much needed support, kindness and yes, even human love to those in need. They are the true unsung heroes of a local community.

For people like Paul Parrish and to quote his own words, it is much more than a job, it is a passion. He is right and the IRGHH will be all the poorer for losing someone with his passion and dedication. But one thing is for sure, the wonderful people who work at Grove House and who do so much good will continue to be there for those who need them and both I and I am sure any Herts Ad readers who should ever fall victim to the destructive force that a cancer diagnosis means, will be grateful for these unsung heroes. Thank you Mr Parrish. God bless you and all who follow in the footsteps of your excellent work.


Green Lane, St Albans

Back to nature

SIR – Well done, Cllr Chichester-Miles, you are so eco-savvy and prepared to stick with your beliefs regardless of the uninformed sceptics. I was very disappointed when the Nomansland Common project to introduce grazing cattle fell foul of general ignorance.

Grazing is a tried and tested way to reintroduce the biodiversity of habitat that increases many species of fauna and flora, some now almost lost forever on commons and meadows.

Paxton Pits have been grazing their meadowland similarly and have a glorious mixed meadow area, home to many flowers, grasses, butterflies, bees and consequently birds of all sorts.

Go up the A1 and listen to their nightingales in the spring and be transported away to a better world! If only the “park syndrome” of machinely-manicured grass and cleared undergrowth was killed off instead of the natural habitat, the more money there would be in the council purse and the happier we and the environment would be.


Cosne Mews, Harpenden

Free schools under further scrutiny

SIR – Like many blokes, I read the paper from the back. In last week’s edition, the coverage of the free schools issue made this practice very illuminating.

On page 11, irritated parents stoutly defended their children’s school against the suggestion from some grumpy naysayer who thought that asking kids to duck under scaffolding on the way in to class might not be the best start to the school day.

What mollycoddling, we are told, the Department for Education (take notes, this organisation appears later) was funding a new roof and soon all would be well. The teachers were great, the school welcoming and, we are reminded, everything is out of the control of those feckless, tea-swilling bureaucrats at the local authority.

On page five more of those articulate but angry parents stood up for the enterprise, again reminding us that all of this was being delivered on time and on budget. More, we were archly reminded, than could be said of those flyblown local authority schools.

And on page two we are told that one of the principal movers and shakers behind local free schools is off to a new consultancy but will stay on to spread his advice and expertise into the free school movement.

Not for money, you understand. None of this is about money. This is about plugging the gaps that those hopeless local planners have allowed to appear and, of course, for freedom from centralised control. Hurrah.

But wait. Who does actually fund these schools? And to whom are the proprietors answerable? Now, you may be forgiven for thinking that a democratically elected public body must control these schools.

Nope. It’s the owners – who are answerable... the Department for Education.

Not for these people a contretemps with your local councillor who you can berate in the market on a Saturday if you feel like it. They want a faceless bureaucrat in Whitehall – a much better class of faceless bureaucrat. Oh, and in case you were wondering, it’s your taxpayers’ money that’s been taken from overall school budgets to fund all of this.

But at least it’s not for profit, eh? Afraid not. Michael Gove is on record, when asked at the Leveson enquiry about profit making in free schools, as saying that “it’s my belief we could move to that situation”. Just like in Sweden – where the advent of profit-making free schools has seen a plummeting of standards.

And the effect on other schools in our own local areas of these vanity projects? Well, the fact that Gove refused to divulge information about this citing exemptions under Section 36 of the Freedom of Information Act may help us to reach our own conclusions.

Of course I applaud parents who want the best for their children. But the use of taxpayers’ money, to establish undemocratic, profiteering enterprises, answerable only to the Department of Education is not the way to secure good education for the many as opposed to a privileged few.


Senior Lecturer in Education

Cambridge Road, St Albans

Affordable homes question

SIR – I note that whilst the local Conservatives want to cut the district’s target for affordable housing (by 50 per cent), their Coalition “partners” stated, at their recent Lib Dem conference, that MORE affordable homes are needed to avoid “a social crisis”.

 As it was the local Lib Dems who came up with the idea of cutting the local affordable housing target by 50 per cent in 2010, can we believe that this sudden commitment to more affordable homes is genuine?

And should someone – not necessarily Nick Clegg – not say a very public “sorry”?


Alexandra Road, St Albans

Can you help at Centre 33?

SIR – Centre 33 supports homeless and vulnerable people in St Albans. We open daily to provide hot meals, showers and second-hand clothes. We have been doing this for 35 years and this year we are one of the Mayor’s charities. In 2011, we served around 7,500 meals to our visitors.

We currently need more people to join our team of volunteers at the Centre especially to help with our weekday morning (10am-12noon) and Saturday lunchtime (12noon-2pm) sessions. A number of volunteers have moved on this year and, as a result of having fewer volunteers, we have found ourselves unable to open on some occasions recently.

Volunteers don’t need any special skills – just a friendly manner and a willingness to help with cooking and serving food. Some volunteers might come in once a week for a two-hour session, working with two other people; others come in once a fortnight or less regularly. We are happy to work with people’s availability.

So if you would be interested in helping in the Centre, are happy working in a small team and are over 18, we would love to hear from you. More information about volunteering at Centre 33 is available on our website www.centre33.org or you can contact us at information@centre33.org.


Chairman, Centre 33