Letters, October 28, 2010, part one

Keep arts events

SIR – Readers who managed to get tickets for the sell-out gig put on by the local group fansofstan for Stan Tracey, St Albans resident and UK jazz god, at the Maltings Arts Theatre on Saturday, October 16, will know that this central, intimate venue is ideally suited to live events of this kind.

As well as all sorts of music, this includes, to name but a few, small-scale theatre, poetry readings and comedy, to say nothing of art and drama classes for children and teenagers. All these, marketed with skill and imagination, could pack the place just as effectively as Stan did.

This makes it all the more inexplicable that for the past year our council has been ruminating on the idea of spending over half a million pounds to turn the Maltings Arts Theatre into a mainly film venue with a few live performance opportunity slots dropped in.

The proposed reduction in seats would mean that an event like the other Saturday’s triumph would be financially unviable – even if a date could be squeezed out of the performance schedule.

Sadly, the online consultation exercise on the theatre’s future set up by the council will have had few takers – first because it was online, and secondly because logging in was hardly straightforward.

So will the council accept that the overwhelming number of people who actually managed to log in wanted the Maltings to remain as a live performance venue, with films getting a pretty determined thumbs down?

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We may find out on Tuesday, November 2, when the latest report on this topic comes before the council cabinet, and a decision may be made. Earlier reports may be found on the council website, and pretty dispiriting reading they make.

Meanwhile, it could be worth writing, giving your views, to Cllr Sheila Burton, Portfolio Holder for Culture and Heritage, St Albans City and District Council, Council Offices, St Peter’s Street, St Albans AL1 3JE, or email her at cllr.s.burton@stalbans.gov,uk

While you’re at it, if you’ve recently tried to buy tickets for events at the Maltings, you might like to comment on the council’s ticket-selling fiasco!


West View Road, St Albans

EU infection

SIR – With regard to the budget cuts being made in Britain and throughout Europe, it might be appropriate to note that the European Union budget has increased by six per cent this year.

The EU is growing like a cancer, corrupting and consuming the substance of the countries held in this prison of nations. Like a cancer, it must be cut out.

There are over 1,000 EU officials earning more than a UK Prime Minister. In the words of Gilbert and Sullivan: “They’d none of them be missed, they’d none of them be missed.”


Park Avenue, St Albans

Car park concerns

SIR – To say there is concern at the car park in Sandridge for Heartwood Forest is an understatement. I was at the meeting in the village and the anger towards the woodland trust and council was extreme.

This was not just because of the size and location of the car park but the fact we had been lied to in previous consultations by the Woodland Trust. We were categorically told there would be no building or car park on this site.

Sandridge Parish Council chose to discuss this issue in secret without putting it in their meeting’s agenda. Few knew it was being proposed until we read in the local press that planning permission had been granted. There were no obvious signs or leafleting in the village by the woodland trust about these plans – strange because they have always done this previously to get support. A deliberate omission?

Villagers are left with views of cars (155) instead of countryside, hedgerows being removed and widened roads. Not what we signed up for and we were all in full support of the WT until now.

The two councillors who dared turn up were left in no doubt what villagers thought of their betrayal. According to them, a lack of proper consultation is no grounds for setting aside a planning decision. Also, if we want a meeting with councillors they will see if they can arrange it but there’s no guarantee. And we thought they were our elected representatives. There will be a big change in council faces after the next local elections, that I can guarantee!

If all else fails, the WT and our councillors will have to explain to television news reporters why so many people in Sandridge are sitting in the road in front of bulldozers. Then again, we may put our councillors in front of them.


St Leonards Court, Sandridge

Character has gone

SIR – Residents and businesses in Radlett are being asked by Hertsmere Council to comment on a planning brief for the area. In a recent statement, Cllr Hannah David said: “Radlett has a unique character, and we as a council want to encourage any future planning and development which enhances the area’s appearance and function”.

Ms David has used the wrong tense in her statement. Radlett HAD a unique character. The recent policies of allowing over-sized developments that dwarf neighbouring properties, in-filling, the two-metre rule at first floor level that has led to many houses with stepped sides, and encouraging garden grabbing has changed Radlett for ever. The unique character has gone never to return. Aldenham Parish Council and the Radlett Green Belt Society have been telling them for years. We now have to pay for a “public consultation” which no-one knows about and any views will be completely ignored as usual.


Mornington Road, Radlett

Council under fire for homes plans

SIR – As a Harpenden local councillor I am dismayed at the very poor level of debate (or rather lack of it) on what is going to be done with the long derelict Westfield allotment site.

This has emotively been demonstrated in published letters recently. Should it be reinstated as an allotment site or should it be used to provide affordable homes for local key workers? This should be a very simple issue. Which use is better and in the real interests of the whole Harpenden community? Sadly some of the published letters rather than setting out the advantages or disadvantages of either use have sunk to a rather low level.

Town councillors were all elected on a mandate three years ago to go for affordable houses (shared ownership not social rent). I can assure everyone that those councillors will only act in what they consider will be the best interests of the town as a whole.

Latterly there has been a movement for growing food locally. No councillor will deride that argument. Yet councillors have been derided in turn themseves by implications that they are smeared with animal “excreta” for pursuing their mandated role and there is a foul stink in the Town Hall.

Again, but in a rather more literary and erudite fashion, Jane Austen’s classic, Pride and Prejudice, was used to hint that the town council were heading for a fall.

Even the rather maligned Mr Darcy in that classic in dialogue with the heroine Elizabeth “pride will always be under good regulation” turned out to be a real hero. Whilst prejudice could influence a poor decision, surely there is nothing wrong with pride – pride in trying to do something right for the community. Personally I feel a better analogy would have been to refer to Jane Austen’s first classic, Sense and Sensibility. Certainly common sense and a truly sensible approach to the whole issue would be a better way of arguing a case.

Hence my plea for a sensible debate, cutting out the nonsense and the derogatory remarks. Local councillors are after all just normal local residents like everyone else. They don’t “stink” as is hinted and hardly deserve the accolade of “excrement” being thrown at them for their hope that they can do something positively for young local key workers, so often working in our local schools, trying to get their foot on the Harpenden property ladder.


Clarence Road, Harpenden

Helicopter blight

SIR – Your front page footnote (Herts Advertiser, Harpenden edition, October 21) - St Albans residents can read this story online at www.hertsad24.co.uk), openly inviting readers’ opinions about low-flying aircraft over Harpenden, overcame my reluctance to keep banging the same old drum, in your correspondence columns, regarding the helicopter noise suffered by those of us living on the north-west side of the town.

But your headline report, quoting a Civil Aviation Authority spokesman, adds fuel to the helicopter noise and safety issue. I note that the CAA man dismisses as “impossible” Neil MacArthur’s claim that aircraft flying in and out of Luton Airport take “short cuts” over Harpenden.

He says: “We are talking about controlled airspace which has clearly defined routes”, adding that “there is no way they can deviate from” those routes.

It is quite apparent however, from correspondence I have received from the airport authorities over the last three or four years, and from my own painful observation, that such route-following discipline is not applied to helicopters flying through that supposedly controlled airspace.

Helicopter pilots are, we are told, asked to use so-called VRPs (visual reference points) to guide them into and out of the Luton area. The most significant VRP from a Harpenden perspective is the sewage works at East Hyde.

Helicopters heading from Luton southwards, towards London, are supposed to fly to the East Hyde VRP and then proceed either west to Friar’s Wash (junction 9 on the M1) or east towards the A1, theoretically avoiding the built-up areas of Harpenden.

But in practice many helicopters, typically large (and noisy) 10 or 12-seaters, fly directly over this part of the town, in obvious contravention of VRP requirements.

And therein lies the nub of the issue: the airport’s managing director Glyn Jones admitted, in a letter to Harpenden MP Peter Lilley in August, that pilots’ compliance with the VRP conditions are discretionary, with a let-out clause allowing for low cloud conditions.

However we often observe helicopters flying directly overhead when the weather is perfectly clear.

All of which makes it difficult to square the CAA’s assertion, that aircraft have to follow clearly defined routes, with real-life helicopter movements above Harpenden, which have obvious implications for safety as well as noise aggravation.


Ridgewood Drive, Harpenden