Letters, September 6, 2012

Friend of the Green Belt developer?

SIR – I’ve had your recent articles about planning drawn to my attention. I must admit I’m surprised to find you positioning yourself as Matt Adams, friend of the Green Belt developer.

Residents are questioning who stands to gain from the timing of your campaign given that it coincides with a number of high profile planning applications. Councillors consider applications in a quasi-judicial role. So, it is reassuring to see that councillors are independently weighing up the applications and not being bullied by your developer-friendly campaign.

The council’s position is very clear that it does not support inappropriate building in the Green Belt, whether it’s for a hotel or housing. The council’s defence of the Green Belt has been supported in the recent cases where this has been challenged in front of the Planning Inspectors.

Contrary to your editor’s comment, there is no uncertainty for developers in this position. They just don’t like the answer.


Leader of St Albans and District Council

Most Read

Strategic plan debate

SIR – In your August 16, 23 and 30 editions you have highlighted the precarious position that St Albans is in regarding future planning applications in and around the city, including the Green Belt.

You are absolutely right to do so and St Albans Civic Society shares your concerns although not always agreeing with your solutions.

The Society has been highlighting the need to publish a new Local Plan for years, and even more urgently since the rules were changed earlier this year by the new National Planning Policy Framework. This means that unless St Albans City and District Council gets a move on, developers’ plans could be approved by default.

You are right to question the present hiatus whereby planning by appeal becomes an expensive and time-consuming way to progress local projects. Equally, the present lack of a new Plan should not mean that those who shout loudest to promote their schemes and are at the head of the planning appeal queue should get preferential treatment. This could set an unfortunate precedent and open the floodgates to a whole host of other applications and problems.

The current situation is affecting both brownfield sites in the city and the Green Belt. The latter’s status has served us well and should not be cherry-picked without very careful consideration. Once it’s built on it’s gone forever. Which is why our brownfield sites need to be a priority.

It may be that some parts of the Green Belt will have to be lost but this has to be a strategic decision so that people, both residents and planners, know where they stand. The benefit should be for the city and not just a particular developer.

Whatever its merits, 51 Pegasus’ proposal for a hotel in the Green Belt at Chiswell Green should be put on hold until that strategic decision is made – frustrating for them as this may be.

Meanwhile in respect of other important planning decisions, the Society hopes that Spenhill Developments’ London Road application can be resolved without recourse to appeal. And also that, for the overall benefit of the city centre, the revised plan for the much needed budget hotel in St Peter’s Street will soon get the go ahead.


St Albans Civic Society

Abbey Mill End, St Albans

SIR – The suggestion that the future growth of St Albans is being hampered by the lack of an up-to-date local strategic plan is nonsense.

Most of the policies in the District Local Plan for 1991-2001 are still extant, and have been supplemented by the December 2010 public consultation draft of the new Core Strategy, which carries some weight in making planning decisions.

Developers can judge the chances of their proposals being approved from those documents together with the Government’s new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

With regard to the Green Belt, national and local planning policy has been consistent for the last 25 years. Under this policy, “inappropriate” development in the Green Belt should not be permitted unless ‘very special circumstances’ for making an exception can be demonstrated.

Inappropriate development is defined as the construction of new buildings other than for agricultural or forestry use, small-scale facilities for sport and recreation, or other uses appropriate to a rural area.

In the case of the 51 Pegasus applications for a hotel complex near the Noke roundabout, the Council’s decision notice made it clear that the proposed development was inappropriate and there were insufficient very special circumstances to outweigh this. The additional landscaping and tree planting now proposed will not overcome this fundamental objection to the scheme.

The essential feature of the Green Belt is its openness, in order to (in the words of the NPPF) check the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas, prevent neighbouring towns from merging into one another, and safeguard the countryside from encroachment.

So the planning position relating to the site is perfectly clear, and any decision to pursue the application and a possible appeal to the Secretary of State is entirely down to 51 Pegasus.

Having said that, the council does need to progress its Core Strategy to at least the pre-submission stage before the deadline of March 2013 set by the Government. Otherwise, the NPPF’s presumption in favour of ‘sustainable’ development will come into play, although even that will not open the door to inappropriate development.

However, the delay is not all the fault of the council. The submitted Core Strategy is required to comply with whatever regional strategy is in place at the time, and as yet the Government has failed to abolish the East of England Plan because a more detailed strategic environmental assessment of the impact of doing so has been necessary. Until the regional plan is revoked, the council is at risk of having the Core Strategy rejected by the Secretary of State, so it makes sense to wait until we know that the previous government’s East of England Plan no longer applies.


Garden Court, Wheathampstead

Confusion over waste incinerator

SIR – Campaigners against the proposed waste incinerator at New Barnfield, South Hatfield, have heard some comments by the public that indicate that there may be some confusion about the various existing and proposed waste facilities in the local area, and we hope to clear up this confusion.

The incinerator proposed by Veolia Environmental Services at New Barnfield, if it is built, should not be burning organic waste that can be composted – that is, the garden and food waste that goes into the brown/green bins or organic waste from other sources. Therefore the existence or not of an incinerator at New Barnfield would not affect the need for composting and anaerobic digestion facilities elsewhere.

There is currently an in-vessel composting facility, run by Agrivert, at Redwell Wood Farm, near Ridge Hill. There is also a proposal by Agrivert to build an anaerobic digester at Coursers Farm, between London Colney and Colney Heath.

Both these facilities would be dealing with organic waste, and not with the separate stream of black bin and commercial waste that would go to an incinerator, if it were built.

Apparently there are smells from the Redwell Wood Farm site. These may be caused by the site not being managed properly, or by the wrong kind of waste, such as too much cardboard, being treated there.

An anaerobic digester, such as proposed at Coursers Farm, should not smell if it is managed properly, but there may well be other very valid reasons to object to locating one at Coursers Farm, such as traffic and proximity to residents.

The campaign against an incinerator at New Barnfield is against burning of mixed (untreated) waste in a hugely expensive incinerator that would be far too large for the needs of Hertfordshire now, let alone in the future.

Not only is the plant not needed, the proposed Green Belt site is totally unsuitable for many reasons, which include: heavy HGV traffic in a location next to a school for children with special needs and close to residents; visual impact on a wide area, including important heritage sites; and impact on wildlife including protected species. Incineration also produces more CO2 than alternatives, which contributes to global warming.

Residents can find out more about the campaign against an incinerator at a public meeting called by Hatfield Against Incineration on Wednesday, September 12, at 7.30pm at Jim McDonald Centre, McDonald Court, High View, South Hatfield. For residents unable to attend, more information can be found on our website at http://www.hatfield-anti-incineration.co.uk, just follow the links on the page. Veolia’s Planning Application is likely to be judged by Herts County Council in late October, and will also be looked at by the Department for Communities and Local Government, who may well reject it. HAI will continue to oppose this development and hope that ALL residents of Hertfordshire will agree we don’t need this white elephant of a plant.


Hatfield Against Incineration

Plea to Odyssey from youngsters

SIR – This is an open letter to the Odyssey Cinema entrepreneur James Hannaway.

Firstly, we would like to say how thrilled we are to be able to welcome the Odyssey to St Albans. We believe, like you, that it is vitally important to have a cinema in the city; it will bring about redevelopment to a previously neglected corner of St Albans and it is frankly ridiculous that a district that now contains a population of 140,000 has not had a cinema for 17 years. We also appreciate the personal sacrifice from you and your team that has, and will be continuing, to make the Odyssey’s such a success.

However, we do feel that it is important that the cinema is accessible to all age groups within the district. Young people, just like others in St Albans, do not want to have to travel out to Hemel Hempstead or Hatfield when there is a well-run cinema only a few minutes’ walk from their house, particularly for those under the age of 18 for whom there is a dearth of social activities available within the city as it is. We appreciate the efforts that have been made in Berkhampstead to try and address this issue, including the showing of films for all age groups. We wonder if even more could be done in St Albans, particularly the implementation of youth only film nights and affordable ticketing, to make the Odyssey welcoming to all age groups.

We aim to be constructive not difficult and want to see the very best scheme for the district as a whole including our young people.

This is why we invite you and your colleagues into a consultation with us and other local youth groups, including the local youth council, to contribute to plans to make the Odyssey as accessible to young people as it possibly can be. We look forward to hearing from you.


Chair, St Albans & District Liberal Youth

Questions over Verulamium Park

SIR – The series of articles on Verulamium Park have been most interesting and informative. Dr Wareing and his friends are to be warmly thanked for writing them and the Herts Advertiser for publishing them.

I am no expert, but for my part I feel the St Albans District Council should now concentrate on saving up for the the �200,000 needed to clean out and repair the lake. As it seems more very wet spring/summers like we have had this year can be expected in future, and one day the lake will overflow its silt and guano over the paths and surrounding ground. Meanwhile, if it has not already been done, English Heritage should do a complete geo-phys survey of the park, to discover where exactly Roman buildings lie underground. I imagine there were buildings outside the city itself, farms, brothels and smithies for example. Although it would not be the same as planting oaks, the council and the Environment Agency could think about planting some groves of silver birch trees, which do not have deep rooting systems. Long may our beautiful park flourish and be enjoyed!


Claygate Avenue, Harpenden

SIR – Alarm bells are ringing. What’s going on, or isn’t, in Verulamium Park?

We’re talking about those works involving the installation of two dedicated cycle paths across the park.

Now this isn’t a rant about the pros and cons of allowing cycling in the park – that’s decided. It’s going to happen. Time to move on,

First we’ve been told that the budget has been busted, so the quality of materials is being reduced. This is just not on. Verulamium Park is an important Heritage Site, supposedly the council’s jewel in the crown for St Albans’ attractions.

Look at it as the equivalent of a Grade I listed building. It should not be messed with. Materials should be of the best quality. How can the council give itself permission to reduce standards in such a cavalier way?

Second, when we last looked, on what was a working day, the amount of work actually taking place was lamentably lacking – leaving a right mess to behold for the recent Bank Holiday.

Third, it’s what’s been allowed to happen: the railings protecting the London Gate and Roman Walls are gone, leaving them open to being trampled over and pieces of Roman brick lying around for the taking. That’s criminal.

The signage is dreadful, both the neglected old and the new.

The council needs to get a grip, and fast. Is Cllr Chichester-Miles (portfolio holder) aware of all this?


St Albans Civic Society

Well done for Rose Gardens campaign

SIR – I am delighted to have the opportunity to add my voice to the campaign by the Herts Advertiser in support of the Royal National Rose Society’s need for a car park.

I have been a member of the Society since 1960, and have served on some of its Committees, and am only too well aware how the vexed issue of car parking has held the Society back. The Gardens of the Rose are one of the most spectacular visitor attractions in the area and a successful resolution of this longstanding issue would benefit not only the Society, but St Albans and Hertfordshire as a whole.

Thank you for running this campaign, with which all good wishes.


Downham Market, Norfolk

Thanks for finding camcorder

SIR – On Saturday, August 25, I attended the concert in Verulamium Park with my family.

As we left I rummaged in my bag to find something for my son and didn’t notice my small camcorder fall out. I noticed it was missing the following morning when packing to go to Leeds to see my new nephew.

I was really gutted as it had a lot of footage from our recent family holiday. I guessed instantly what had happened so got straight in the car with my son.

We went back to the spot not feeling very hopeful that it would be there or that if it was it may have been trodden on. There was no sign of it so we spent some time retracing our steps.

Having finally given up we walked past the spot where I thought I had lost it again and I noticed something hanging from a nearby tree. As we got closer I found my camcorder dangling in perfect working order.

We guessed that some kindly dog walker must have found it early on Sunday morning and hung it there. Sadly we don’t know who found it so can’t thank them in person but would be so grateful if we could thank them through your paper. Many thanks!


Hatfield Road, St Albans

No excuse for parking penalty

SIR – I read with disbelief the article “No mercy for disabled drivers from hardline traffic wardens” on August 30.

I fail to see why George Brown and his daughter expect allowances to be made simply on the grounds that Mr Brown did not feel sufficiently inclined to find out more about how to use his new blue disabled badge.

Surely that would be the most logical thing to do, but unfortunately too many people these days expect to be treated differently when it suits them the most. The paltry excuse that the sign was too far away to be read is laughable.

Mr Brown’s daughter, Ms Nash could have saved herself a lot of embarrassment by admitting that her father was in the wrong, but instead she insists on looking like a fool.

Her suggestion that it is the traffic wardens who should exercise more common sense is extremely assumptive; the traffic wardens have to do their job and as far as they are concerned, the car was parked illegally. They are not to know how long the person has had the permit, and to be honest, I don’t think they care.

A recent survey conducted nationally suggests that the reason why people become so annoyed when they receive a parking ticket is because they know they are in the wrong but prefer to pin the blame on someone else.

Maybe Ms Nash should exercise some common sense herself and realise that her father should have made enquiries into how to use his new blue badge, maybe referring to the leaflet Carlton Lomax says he should have received, or contacting the council personally if he did not receive it, and parking closer to the sign providing details on parking restrictions in that area, so he could read it.

I went to the sign in question and, despite being shortsighted, could read the sign with perfect ease.

The council is right; they must be consistent with every law breaker, they cannot afford to make exceptions. I am sure that Mr Brown would not like to be earmarked especially (because he is disabled) in normal circumstances, therefore I do not see the need for him to be singled out in this case.

Everybody receives parking tickets, not just Mr Brown; maybe he should just live with his mistake rather than blaming everybody else.


Cannon Street, St Albans