Letters, October 17, 2013

Factions clash over Romeland row

SIR – I write in support of St Albans school following your recent article about the plight of the residents in Fishpool Street. I will confess to having an interest in that my daughter has just started school there and does go by coach. I find I have very little sympathy for residents of any street near a school as they know full well when they move in there will be congestion at the start and end of the day during term time. St Albans school is not a new school and was there before any of the residents moved to Fishpool Street. Far worse is those who live near a station and have cars parked outside their house all day every day. Fishpool Street is a very old and narrow street that was not designed for buses but so are many other streets that buses use.

CAROLINE LEITH Rowan Way, Harpenden

SIR – The arguments over traffic flow around Romeland underline the fact that it is entirely inappropriate for double-decker school buses to be negotiating medieval roads in the heart of the conservation area in the first place. An interesting proposal for St Albans School pupils to walk to school from drop-off points at Westminster Lodge or St Michaels has been dismissed on the grounds of it being “unsafe” or “too far” to walk. Most of the city’s state school pupils walk to school from their homes, so why can’t St Albans School pupils walk to school from a car park? On pleasant days they can walk through the park – possibly using a mooted new footbridge; in the winter, if unlit paths are a concern, they can walk up Holywell Hill or Fishpool Street. This would be no worse than the footfall outside other schools in the district. Or is it beneath the dignity of privately educated children to have to walk anywhere? The transformation of the historic Abbey Gate area into a gridlocked highway for school buses should be of concern to all citizens who value St Albans’ precious heritage. The ancient school is of course an integral part of that heritage, but monstrous school buses are not. I am surprised that either the district council or the school is prepared to let them ride roughshod through it. JOHN MORGAN Ramsbury Road, St Albans

SIR – As one of the Harpenden attendees of St Albans School in the 1950s when we, from 11 years old onwards, used to walk to the local station, catch the train to St Albans and walk nearly another mile across the city to the school, I was staggered to read in your recent issues that nowadays those bussed in apparently expect to be dropped off at the school gate. Even if, as is presumably the case, there is no viable public transport alternative, surely a drop-off at Westminster Lodge or similar, as some have suggested, should be acceptable.

JOHN DAVIS Fairmead Avenue, Harpenden

SIR – Andrew Grant appears to have done St Albans School and its students no favours with his quoted views on school buses and Romeland in the Herts Advertiser of September 26. As examples of good neighbourliness and corporate social responsibility they leave much to be desired. It would be useful to know the St Albans School governors’ view on these issues. Whether SADC proposed the Romeland traffic scheme is immaterial: it is impractical, costly and with such undesirable consequences that common-sense suggests it must be scrapped. Clarification and enforcement of existing parking signage would improve matters in the short-term, at negligible cost. George Street and Fishpool Street were indeed historical coaching roads, but Verulam Road was opened in 1826 precisely to avoid the dangerous congestion there. We are at the same intolerable position today, yet with vastly larger coaches. We need a long-term solution. The spectre was raised of “600 unsupervised students parading en masse” through our narrow streets to justify the rejection of Westminster Lodge and museum car parks as alternative drop-off points. The implied low expectation of students’ behaviour aside, we have a constructive suggestion to dispel this scare and solve the school bus problem: a new footbridge over the River Ver with a park entrance to the school. Its advantages are to relieve the Cathedral conservation area of 44 coach movements/day; meet the reasonable needs of the school; improve safety for everyone; allow easier access to the park for other cchool activities. Of course there will be issues to resolve but with determination and positive support of the council and school they can be overcome. The prize is considerable: harmonious relations between school and residents, and the safe, quiet enjoyment of the Cathedral quarter for all.

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School controversy continues

SIR – Who can we trust? From the information we have received regarding the proposal of the new school in Batford, certainly not the Tories or the county council. Why do they make these decisions without involving the public? After all it is us that put them there, and it is our money they are spending. It also looks as if they do not have any respect for our Green Belt. The questions that need to be answered apart from the one above is, how are the roads going to cope with this increase in traffic? Lower Luton Road at rush hour is currently unable to. What new roads are planned? Is this new school going to replace others, if so which ones? What is the catchment area? When is the new school planned to be built? Have any other sites been given consideration. We all know the St Albans council planning department’s record is not one of success, just look back to when they tried unsuccessfully to re-route the traffic through St Peter’s Street at considerable cost, and then had to reverse it at an additional cost. My family and I will be attending all the meetings regarding this proposal, and trying to overturn it.

THE WARDS Leasey Bridge, Harpenden

SIR – I have one very simple observation to make. Who does Harpenden Parents Group which was clearly aware of plans in view of the fact that they “urged the local council to consult with locals” and “sympathised with residents” represent? I would be very interested to know how many of its 400 members actually live in the immediate vicinity of the proposed site as it appears that they have been consulting and discussing plans about this site (and others) with the council for several months without once asking anyone outside of their membership. Surely this is not a balanced demographic on which plans of this magnitude in the local area are to be based on?

ALEX COLLINS Salisbury Road, Harpenden

Sustainability for allotments site?

SIR – At a recent Harpenden Town Council commons and open spaces meeting, I was told by Cllr Leadbeater that if I was “prepared” to be more “co-operative” in my “attitude”, he would ensure that the development on Westfield ex-allotment site would be “sustainable” and have wildlife at the forefront of the design. However, having been told earlier by Cllr Pawle, manning the Conservative Party stall on St Albans Market, that if there are any badgers on the land, he would personally go and put down cyanide, I have decided, on balance, to withhold my co-operation on the basis that the words “sustainable development” are as oxymoronic and unlikely as the words “integritous councillor”.

CAROL HEDGES Coldharbour Lane, Harpenden

Shameful story of care home closure

SIR – In August 2012 the Jane Campbell home was closed down, the residents were moved to other homes and the staff had to find other jobs. One year on, the Jane Campbell home still stands empty. Why? This building could have been used temporarily for people coming out of hospital, not well enough to go home but needing two or three weeks convalescing or it could have been used for the homeless as they are always looking for places but no, the home stands empty. Deteriorating, the grounds are overgrown and look disgraceful. What a sad end to what was once a happy home for elderly people not able to look after themselves.

V ELBOURN Carnegie Road, St Albans

Poor disability access at restaurant

SIR – After a recent refurbishment, the new Pizza Express on Verulam Road is open. The management and staff were overjoyed to welcome diners to their new look restaurant and one manager took great pleasure in drifting from each table canvassing feedback on the new look. Although I can compliment them on a tasteful refurbishment, there was one glaring irony that left me with a rather bad taste. Through the artwork on the walls, the restaurant proudly pays homage to Stephen Hawking who lived in the area as a child. I thought this was fantastic that such an inspirational man was given a tribute (although I think the man is deserving of much higher accolades than a few canvasses in a local pizzeria but that’s a conversation for another day!) However, it occurred to me that should Mr Hawking ever want to visit the restaurant that proudly adorn their walls with his image, he would not be able to enter as the restaurant is not wheelchair accessible. With steps at the entrance and a further step inside it is inaccessible. I called the restaurant the following day to check as I know some establishments have portable ramps or separate entrances for wheelchair users but the restaurant were very straight forward in confirming that they cannot cater for wheelchair users. I would consider this to be an embarrassment for Pizza Express and the management might wish to reduce the blowing of their own trumpet as I would suggest that not incorporating wheelchair access into a major refurbishment is an oversight.

ADAM SHOREY Corinium Gate, St Albans

Is town council out of focus?

SIR – At a meeting with former Harpenden Mayor Nicola Linacre and her Deputy Cllr Rosemary Farmer in May, I highlighted my dissatisfaction at what I considered to be possible malpractice within Harpenden Town Council. At the time, I was advised that the council would consider recording and allowing residents to film its meetings. I repeated my request, by way of a public question, at the council meeting of June 25 but to my surprise and disbelief I was met with a resounding “No!” from Mayor Farmer. After Peter Lilley MP offered to contact and enquire why HTC was so reluctant to allow meetings to be filmed, councillors considered a report from the Town Clerk at a recent policy and finance committee meeting. The report stressed a desire to protect the council from the embarrassment that a member of the public could inflict by the “misuse of the material collected”. HTC currently produces sparse and selective minutes, that portray “edited versions” of the contents of its meetings. They have also adopted a stance totally contrary to the instruction given to local authorities by Eric Pickles MP – not to be shy, but to embrace new technologies and permit residents, bloggers, etc., to openly film and record them without objection. I agree that “robust public scrutiny is essential for a healthy local democracy”. The minutes published by the Town Clerk reconfirms that the council cares not for openness, transparency or the inability of many sectors of the population to physically attend and witness for themselves what actually occurs at public meetings. Surely this means of engagement with the whole community is what the drive for localism is all about and should be embraced at any cost? According to HTC, in these “times of financial restraint”, the associated “investment” cannot be justified and therefore outweigh the recognised benefits that this could bring to the community. In fact, it appears, that they are now resolved to make it even more difficult for members of the public to record an HTC meeting with an amendment to their standing orders. My overriding concern is that at this base level of local government, other than at the ballot box, the public currently has no redress concerning town and parish council actions or decisions even if they may be unlawful, unethical or undemocratic. The recording of meetings (as happens in St Albans district council) provides a 100 per cent accurate means of scrutiny and ensures that the public has full access to the aspirations, debate and decisions of the elected representatives and council officers. The fact that the policy and finance committee, in the very same meeting, resolved to use over £30,000 from savings and reserves for just the legal costs associated with undisclosed council initiatives just beggars belief. Any further spending will not even require the approval of full council. Excuse me? According to HTC’s current standing orders a resident can request, via the chairman, permission to record at any meeting. The proposed change to standing orders will require a resident to make a request in advance of the meeting. Having made both a request in advance and to the chairman (Mayor Farmer), the Town Clerk insisted that my partner and I did not record the council meeting of September 30 because the Mayor deemed it “inappropriate”.

PAUL HOWE Marquis Lane, Harpenden

4x4 envy?

SIR – Re Barry Cashin’s letter on 4x4s, oh dear Barry, do I detect a little bit of jealousy on your behalf? With an ego like yours, I could imagine you in one of those 4x4s belting down Harpenden Road, as you have said in the past people drive too slowly along this road. What I find annoying is you assume everybody – in your words – is “Mr and Mrs Flash Harry” driving these bigger cars and you also assume they are in debt or can’t afford the petrol to put in them. How do you get this assumption? I’m sure a lot of people who own these cars are in IT or consultants or highly paid jobs who might travel up to London, work very long hours and come home very late at night and earn big salaries and if if it’s their choice to enjoy the fruits of their labour, I say good luck to them.

JOYCE McRAE Woodland Drive, St Albans

True cost of recycling scheme?

SIR – Under the headline Cardboard confusion (Herts Advertiser, September 19), Cllr Grover or his informant seems to have got his sums wrong in saying about £2,300 in funding from Herts County Council was spent on providing the caddies, information leaflets and paper liners for the containers. Designing and printing 50,000 copies of full colour, six page leaflets, the purchase of 50,000 caddies and goodness knows how many paper bags, not to mention the delivery to 50,000 addresses; Cllr Grover might like to think again. Surely each package delivered must cost more than 4.6 pence! Perhaps when he has redone his sums, he will let us know the true cost of this fiasco and who authorised it.

JACK TAYLOR Sandpit Lane, St Albans

Time to tax town’s poor motorists?

SIR – Harpenden driving is atrocious. Is there any way the local council can levy punitive taxation on blonde (not exclusively blonde) trophy wives driving black (not exclusively black) 4x4s (exclusively 4x4s) very badly and with no idea of how wide their vehicle is; people over 65 driving very slowly, failing to indicate and generally causing mayhem; people under 25 with nicer cars than mine? The money raised could be spent on community-based activities.

STEVE HOWE Springfield Crescent, Harpenden