Letters, September 18, 2014

A simple guide to planning approval?

SIR – Having recently experienced the machinations of the planning application procedure via St Albans district council, I feel obliged to forward on to prospective property developers the best way to achieve application success and maximum profit (nothing wrong with that). Firstly – purchase the land, produce a design which seriously overdevelops the land and, here’s the trick, design in a ‘sacrificial element’. Appoint an agent who will submit the design and planning application to St Albans DC planning department. Expect it to be rejected on the grounds of overdevelopment, not in keeping with the area, etc. etc. Expect significant objects by the local residents. Secondly – having received the rejection report which will confirm the application as ‘overdevelopment, ‘obtrusive development’ etc. etc. Wait a couple of months, resubmit the application removing the sacrificial element, say reduce one four-bed dwelling to a three bed, which should be less than two per cent of the development cost. The resubmission should reference the report and recognition of specific criticisms and ‘thanking’ the planning department for bringing them to your attention, do not comment on the ‘overdevelopment’ element. Thirdly – for the subsequent planning committee meeting and just prior to the meeting date, file a ‘late submission’ presenting again all the details of how the new design takes account of previous criticisms, etc. A friendly ‘officer of the council’ will read the submission in full, including presenting your designs and site photographs, projected on a screen. In approximately 10 minutes he will present your application for you. No mention will be made of local resident objections. Lastly – at the meeting your agent will reiterate what the ‘officer of the council’ presented. If you are really lucky you might get an acquiescent local councillor who will present a ‘volte-face’ on previous criticisms. A local resident may appear and present rational and valid objections but do not worry, the three-minute presentation rule will ensure his argument is lost. Application granted – ‘simple’

ROY CRITTALL Stanley Avenue, Chiswell Green

NIMBYs good and bad?

SIR – I’ve read with a mixture of hilarity and astonishment at the NIMBY (and it really is despite people protesting otherwise) arguments being put forward against developing areas of Harpenden and surrounding areas. The letter from Rhoda Harrison is a great example. She makes the suggestion of developing under-used golf courses instead of developing Green Belt. This highlights the problem with the misunderstanding of the term. Golf courses are very often in the Green Belt (Harpenden Common golf course for example). More to the point Green Belt areas are not necessarily pristine, picturesque countryside (as many people picture in their minds). Green Belt is a planning designation designed to prevent urban sprawl and towns merging. It is not an environmental designation and whilst some Green Belt is beautiful countryside, a large percentage is not. It’s time we all faced the reality that populations grow and move, towns develop and places ultimately change. We all need to accept this and take a more sensible and less emotive approach to this issue so that we genuinely protect the highest quality countryside – Green Belt or otherwise. (I’m not even going to go there on the woman who suggested a few weeks ago that we should not allow any more people to move into the area! And yes, she was serious!)

ANDREW AMBROSE Cornwall Road, Harpenden

SIR – I live directly opposite land which, although designated Green Belt, is owned by a building company. Bedmond Field, between Mayne Avenue and Bedmond Lane, is now being fenced off, thereby denying access to the public except along narrow original footpaths. Apparently the owners are legally entitled to do this, but why should they, other than as a first step towards an application for building? Their original application to turn the land into paddocks for horses, which many local folk view as a cynical first step towards a building application, has been rejected by the council. Local dog walkers and ramblers have enjoyed this little strip of land for many years without causing any problem, but even more relevantly, Bedmond Field is a rare local wild area of scrub land which is vital for so much wildlife. Early morning dog walkers frequently encounter deer. Different varieties of butterflies can be found – I was watching a speckled wood butterfly only yesterday. I have seen and heard 44 different species of bird on this area, including the more unusual grasshopper warbler and bullfinch. I have watched a barn owl and a family of tawny owls from my bedroom window. All this could be lost. NIMBYs are frequently derided, but unless we fight to protect our precious local areas, who will?

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E SMITH Glevum Close, St Albans

Rail depot supporter answers back

SIR – Mr Bowes-Phipps (August 28) asks why I am interested in this project. I used to live in St Albans under the flight path of Victor bombers from Handley Page and aircraft from DeHavilland. I still visit the town regularly. I have no financial interest in the project, but I am interested in our environment. Those who don’t want the terminal there need to find another site equally suitable – and I think that that is a difficult task. I know the area – I went to the model aircraft rallies held at Handley Page many years ago and my brother and I were picked up by the police for putting pennies on the line under the North Orbital Road. That was when we had real pennies and real railway engines! And I never found a squashed penny. The population of London is growing by 1,000 every week, week-in, week-out. That was the figure quoted by Boris Johnson to justify Crossrail recently. Those people want food and all the other things that we expect to find in our shops. At present, lorries trundle up and down the M1 and A1(M) with goods for London. If those goods can be put onto trains with lorries for the final leg, then each train will typically replace 42 lorries (a National Rail figure), producing only a fraction of the pollution. Mr Bowes-Phipps asks what sacrifices we make for the benefit of others – we live under the flight path of Luton Airport so that St.Albans residents can fly from their local airport, and we live sandwiched between the A1(M) and main East Coast railway. We do our bit. Meanwhile, I urge the people of St Albans to demand that their local politicians do all they can to get a direct link from this site onto the M25. That is a fight that they can and must win.

DAVID STONEBANKS Chequers Bridge Road, Stevenage

Basic errors in design of signs

SIR – You recently reported the installation of new direction signs in Verulamium Park, These signs close to the Roman London Gate indicate: ‘Cycle Path (North)’ and ‘Cycle Path (South)’, i.e. from the Museum to Westminster Lodge. In fact they are intended to be combined pedestrian and cycle paths and both paths fail to comply with the minimum width requirement (3.0m) for a combined pedestrian and cycle path: a fact previously conceded by council representatives despite the original design drawings clearly indicating a 3.0m width. How on earth was it possible for the new signs to be authorised before this error is corrected? And are we to assume that those responsible for awarding Green Flag status to the park turn a blind eye to such basic design errors. In the meantime it is disturbing to observe the extent to which pedestrians – particularly the elderly, young children and the disabled – are at serious risk. Surely, until such time as the council sees fit to carry out the necessary remedial work the new sign must be amended: ‘Cycle Path’ obliterated and replaced by ‘No Cycling’.

JOHN LIDINGTON Corinium Gate, St Albans

Bus service cuts

SIR – I would like to reply to ‘Concerns over bus services’, in your paper of August 21. I think stopping certain bus routes by 6.30pm on weekdays and not at all on Sunday is totally disgraceful. I use the 635 bus service a lot as it comes close to where I live, and now I am older, I don’t always want to drive so much due to all the traffic around these days. For example, I have booked a seat to see the musical Grease in November during the evening and was hoping to use the 653 bus service to and from the Alban Arena and also, I would like to enjoy a glass of wine in the interval and not to have to drive home in the dark. Anyway the public car park nearby the Arena will probably be full. What about people who want to meet friends in town for a drink or two; they won’t want to drive or queue for a taxi because there won’t be a bus home for some of them. It will also affect London commuters who aren’t home by 6.30pm with no-one to meet them off the train. They will just have to queue for a taxi or walk home. I do think the council does have a low opinion of its citizens, some of whom are old. It is always the ordinary people who suffer but they are just as important as the rich ‘fat cats’ who look down on people, such as me, for example.

ROSEMARY WALTON Windmill Avenue, St Albans

Hospital’s future

SIR – Gerald Stone’s analysis of the attitude of the West Herts Hospitals Trust is absolutely correct (August 28). The trust’s chief executive’s main interest is in balancing its books, with as little time and energy spent in forward planning as possible, never mind the needs and opinions of the St Albans electorate. The City Hospital occupies a convenient site for St Albans residents and has excellent potential but because of the large cash sum which could be raised at our expense, we may well continue to be the Cinderella town in the Hertfordshire health community. We must appeal to Anne Main, our elected representative, to campaign for an executive with the initiative and vision to bring our existing hospitals up to scratch and find other ways to solve the trust’s financial problems. Many far less modern buildings are being used to good effect in health trusts elsewhere and it is sheer sophistry to pretend that this could not be achieved in St Albans as well.

EVA LAWRENCE The Ridgeway, St Albans

SIR – I have read the ongoing letters regarding our St Albans City Hospital in “Your Views” very carefully and am troubled at people’s naivety concerning this amenity of ours. It is quite obvious that the very valuable land on which our hospital stands is destined to be sold off – if it hasn’t already been so – probably for a very lucrative return. And we shall doubtless be left with, perhaps, just enough space for a small walk-in centre. Never mind the fact that the site on which our hospital stands was donated by the people of St Albans, specifically for the purpose of building our hospital which is what we seriously need here, and not have to travel all the way to the clapped-out ageing hospital at Watford. We have to realise of course that the land on which this ancient hospital in Watford stands would be worth very little in monetary terms, in comparison to our St Albans site, hence the reason why the Government keeps this ancient amenity propped up for all and sundry, and prefers instead to sell our hospital off for its very profitable value. It was unfortunate indeed for Anne Main that I picked up on the rumour of her intention to have a brand new state-of-the-art hospital built elsewhere, but miles away. So this is supposed to placate us, considering the fact of our having our own cherished hospital sold off, and where will all the millions of pounds needed for the purpose of this brand new hospital come from, considering the NHS is supposedly on its knees? In closing, may I inform Adrian Birchall (August 28) that I might not reside in Anne Main’s constituency, just a few yards outside of it in fact, but I am a five-minute drive away from our hospital which is all that matters. And I certainly can’t condone his politically motivated and not completely factual letter that suggests at the end that I might have “another agenda”. No, Mr Birchall, my one agenda is for the re-establishment of our much revered hospital and thereby avoiding any more wasting of our already over-burdened NHS resources. Personally, I, myself and my family owe our hospital a huge debt for all their past care, so why shouldn’t I fight for its survival? It’s a thing called loyalty Mr Birchall. Finally, as John Morrison said in his letter (August 28), these public meetings called occasionally are a waste of time and I, for one, will not be availing myself to attend any future ones planned, with my having more fruitful things to do. But the mismanagement of our NHS resources though worries me deeply at times. Established, well-heeled facilities pulled apart all in the name of progress, and a brand new building built at enormous cost and then turning into useless appendages. Will there be no end to it? There seems to be a lot of underhand activity going on behind the scenes. Those responsible should now come clean and tell us has our hospital been sold off or not? We should know, so that we can act accordingly.

ELIZABETH DUMPLETON Wilstone Drive, St Albans

SIR – Many of the letters that have appeared in your pages in recent weeks have shown that the people of St Albans are very concerned about the future of St Albans City Hospital. They will soon have an opportunity to put their concerns to Samantha Jones, the Chief Executive of the West Herts Hospitals Trust, that runs Watford and Hemel and St Albans Hospitals. At 7pm on Wednesday, September 24, she is due to speak in Committee Room 1 at the Council Offices at the Civic Centre, just off St Peter’s Street, St Albans. The meeting is one of the St. Albans and Harpenden Patients’ Group’s bi-monthly events and members of the public are welcome to attend.

JOHN WIGLEY Chair, St Albans and Harpenden Patient Group