Letters October 23 2014

Managing traffic is answer to pollution

SIR - Your front page article of October 2 highlighted the problem of vehicle emissions in St Albans, placing the blame squarely at the door of the owners of gas-guzzlers. Whilst I have no desire to leap to their defence (I drive a 1.4 hatch), it seems the problem could be mitigated at least in part by streamlining traffic flow in St Peter’s Street and Chequer Street. The fact that the two pedestrian crossings in St Peter’s Street, the one in Chequer Street and the traffic lights at the Victoria Street and London Road junctions all operate completely independently means that the traffic is pretty much log-jammed for most of the time; as soon as one set of lights goes green, you’re stopped by another set going red! Of course we all want the city centre to be pedestrian-friendly, but the answer isn’t to make it totally motorist-hostile. Rather, we need to ensure that the motorists that have to come into the city centre can get to their destination or out again as quickly and as safely as possible. Switching off engines while motorists wait for lights to go green would only create a choking puff of extra fumes as they switch them on again. And I can’t see that further pedestrianisation could do anything but make things worse. Many of your readers will remember the disastrous one-way system that was tried some years ago which completely gridlocked the city centre, and my fear is that some equally hair-brained and money-wasting scheme will be tried again. What we need is an intelligent traffic management system, instead of one which fights against itself, choking traffic with brainless controls and pedestrians with traffic fumes.

PHILIP LE RICHE Alzey Gardens, Harpenden

SIR - The article on your front page of October 2 made for interesting reading. Just how many sports/4x4/MPVs were polled? It’s the usual let’s knock those who can afford one by those who probably cannot. In the photo there are eight vehicles: one lorry, one delivery van, one little sports car, two small MPVs, twi small cars and one medium estate. I cannot see a large gas guzzler 4x4 or big sports car. Stats will probably show that the traffic at The Peahen junction is through traffic so stopping traffic full or part-time in St Peter’s Street will only make it worse. Where do people think this traffic will go? Simon would be better off campaigning for a bypass joining the A6/A5 and the old M10 to stop this traffic before it enters our city boundry. Try and get that past the NIMBYs and the Gorhambury estate. As he points out people are concerned about the cost of eco-type cars. Most people could not afford a new car let alone the price of an eco-equiverlant. I certainly cannot. Public transport is a misnomer as it’s run for profit not as a service as it once was 30 years ago. It takes twice as long to get somewhere now as it did and more pricier. I now have to go around the houses and pay for the privilege. Also with late services being scrapped we will be confined to our house. Now that sound like a government conspiricy I myself start work at 6am. No bus or train service for me at that time. When bus serviced are better, cheaper, more convenient, run early and later people might use them. But in the end it will never replace the convenience of an on-demand car. As much I agree with Simon’s views I think we have been been raised on car use by successive governments. Shops/cinemas,entertainment complexes have all been built out of town. We have to go further for schools/work so a car be comes necessary.


In defence of cyclists

SIR - Barry Cashin seems to think that cyclists should be taxed for road use because we “drive with gay abandon,cutting up cars and generally slowing the flow of traffic without paying a penny in tax”. Yesterday I rode my bike through the city centre. On the ride into town I was overtaken by a car going above the speed limit, cut up by a car which had overtaken me 10 yards before a junction and then immediately turned left just in front, causing me to brake. When I got into the city centre I was held up by cars queing on St Peter’s Street. Although there are a few rogue cyclists, by far the majority ride carefully along our roads. It’s always simple to use the actions of a few to tar the many with their behaviour - just as Barry did in the first paragraphs of his letter - it makes easy copy to write and avoids confronting the real issues. Barry seems to think that only the tax paid by motorists is used to pay for the roads. This is not true - Vehicle Excise Duty, VAT and fuel duty is all put into the general tax pot from which some national road projects are paid and from which councils are given some (but by no means all) funding. In our case, Herts County Council pays for local roads. So, if you pay tax of any kind you’re funding roads, whether you’re bed-bound,wlk,cycle,use a bus, own a 4x4 or a “humble, lean, eco-friendly car” (even if your eco-friendly car attracts no Vehicle Excise Duty). I drive a car and cycle. I pay plenty of income tax,community charge, car taxes, VAT, etc - why should I pay extra to ride a bike when the bike’s impact on the roads is a tiny fraction of a car’s? Why should my 10 and 12 year old children be liable for a £50 annual tax on their bikes which they use instead of being ferried in a car? Most countries are building bike facilities and taking strategic moves to encourage cycling to reduce congestion, improve health and reduce emissions. No country taxes cycles or licenses their riders - the few which did have abandoned the schemes because they are too inefficient to run.

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MIKE HARTLEY Secretary, St Albans Cycling Campaign Pondfield Crescent, St Albans

Draw a line in the sand over housing

SIR - In an article in your edition of October 2, entitled ‘Warning to London Mayor: Hands off our land Boris’, Cllr Dreda Gordon, a St Albans district councillor, says that she has been advised by the district’s planners that our district’s housing “need” of 436 houses per year will not include London’s shortfall. While Boris Johnson himself may not be officially forwarding us his exiles, that does not mean they won’t come. Of the 8,452 housing units the district council is suggesting should be built between now and 2031, 2,840 would be “net inward migration”. That is what the district council’s own Housing Needs and Strategic Housing Market Assessment states. Put another way, 142 out of the annual build of 436 new homes would be bought by people who “wanted” but did not “need” to come to St Albans. The “436 houses” proposal is based on what happened previously. In the three years 2009/2011 the net migration from London, according to this assessment, was 3,590 people. Elsewhere, it is either very small or negative; for example, net migration with the Eastern Region was minus 760 people. Thus people pour in from London whether or not they are bidden by Boris Johnson. That is not going to stop. The Housing Needs and Strategic Housing Market Assessment report (cost £44,000) foolishly confuses cause and effect. If you build houses willy nilly, of course people, mostly from London, will “net inwardly migrate” and buy them. Supply takes the lead, not demand. Time for our planners to return to their drawing boards and calculate what is genuinely “needed”. An educated guess would be about 294 a year, not 436.

PROF ERIC MIDWINTER Bloomfield Road, Harpenden

SIR - Re: Keep St Albans out of London. This proposal by Mr Johnson and others for that mater is the most ridiculous idea I have ever seen to date. I wonder how he or any one else for that matter actually squares the topic of climate change aka global warming with the building of thousands perhaps millions of homes on our already crowded island. We, in the UK have already been advised by the powers that be, we have to reduce our carbon emissions by 8-10 per cent per year. How can this be met if we are building houses and associated addition infrastructure to accommodate new families? This wholly man made phenomena effects the whole of the UK and beyond. This aside from the transport links and the increase volume of traffic and congestion it will cause, and the continuing drain and strain on natural resources. Not just in this area but all over northern Europe. Construction alone is the very antithesis of climate change, as it consumes energy (and land) at an enormous rate. Also to be taken very seriously indeed is the fact that many of these newcomers not just to the UK but to the whole Europe have travelled from vast regions of hot and warm climates where previously their carbon foot prints have been virtually zero. And to encourage them to set up home in a zone with relatively low mean temperatures, already vastly over populated is adding to the existing problems of climate change and is quite clearly absolute madness. It’s probably far better to invest in building projects in the countries of origin than to further the problems we already have here. It appears we have a whole plethora of here today gone tomorrow politicos inflicting serious irreversible damage by seeking popularity with hand waving gestures of bravado on the rest of mankind. My suggestion to Mr Johnson is you are already in a hole, now is the time to stop digging. Like the words to Joni Mitchell’s song say: “You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.”

PAUL EDMOND Wheathampstead Well done to Lodge boss Lesley

SIR - I’d like to sing the praises of Lesley Garner, manager of Westminster Lodge leisure centre and her team. I got in touch just after the new centre first opened to suggest some improvements. Lesley invited me in to chat them through, eager to hear from what one of her most passionate users of the centre had to say. The chunky wooden benches outside the swimming pool changing rooms was one of my suggestions that she acted on (better than people wobbling all over the place trying to take their shoes off or put the blue plastic shoe covers on). More recently I’ve used Twitter to communicate with both the centre and the council about the state of the bark-filled beds between the carparks (full of huge weeds which my son and I spent an hour digging out one summer Saturday morning) and the amount of litter floating round (which I tackle in a small way every time I’m passing through). As I understand it, Everyone Active (the company that runs Westminster Lodge on behalf of St Albans council) is not responsible for keeping the grounds of the centre in good order. However, following chats I’ve had with a few centre staff (including Lesley) about what can be done, Lesley made a beeline for me this week to give me good news. She reported having met with contractors John O’Connor and Amey about litter, weeds and waste disposal and it seems they’re going to be a bit more “on the ball” (without additional cost to the council). Additionally, the centre has bought a “sucker/blower” gadget for doing some litter clearance of their own. Hoorah! Thank you. As an aside I’d like to pay tribute to John O’Connor for the fantastic and oxymoronic display of cultivated wild flowers, on the approach to the centre from Holywell Hill. A final word about Lesley. She’s hugely welcoming of feedback and has a poster displaying several times a week when the public can come and chat to her (and I dare say she’d make time outside these if a specific request was made). She’s come in for some stick in last few months via the St Albans Mums Facebook group (4,000+ members) where some people have aired their frustrations at having to wait up to two hours to use the confidence pool at the weekends (because of the volume of people who want to use it). I completely understand those people’s frustrations and know Lesley does too and is working to find some solutions. Looking at the situation positively, it’s terrific that so many people want to use the new Westminster Lodge. I’m really appreciative of what we’ve got here and would like to give particular praise to spinning teachers Sam Hart and Wendy and yoga teacher, Matt Gluck.

JESSICA CHIVERS Jerome Drive, St Albans

Thumbs up for street food festival

SIR - Can I just offer a huge vote of thanks to whoever made he wise decision to hold a street food festival in St Albans. Not least because of the great weather, the event was an unmitigated success: stalls with queues going back yards, delicious ethnic foods from around the globe and stacks of people enjoying the craze that street food markets have now become. I just hope that such a success means that the decision makes will use common sense to make such street food festivals in St Albans a regular, weekly or fortnightly event. I guarantee that each will be heavily attended by a willing and enthusiastic paying public and that the revenue the council makes in pitch fees alone will be worth the effort. If most boroughs in London can hold regular, successful street food markets, then why not St Albans? Our population is ethnically diverse and so much into all food cultures - and so I believe that the many food types on offer at such events will be a real money spinner. Come on SADC, let’s see some common sense for once. Let’s hold a street food market every fortnight in St Albans and let the people decide. I thank you!

BARRY CASHIN Green Lane, St Albans