SIR, — This is the time of year when those in commerce and academia are subjected by their managers and tutors to appraisals of their performances and resolutions are made as to how those performances can be improved upon. If such systems operate in local
SIR, - This is the time of year when those in commerce and academia are subjected by their managers and tutors to appraisals of their performances and resolutions are made as to how those performances can be improved upon.
If such systems operate in local government it is not readily apparent in St Albans and so I now humbly submit my own modest attempt to remedy the situation.
By whatever standards of assessment one uses, the conclusion has to be that those who have been running the council for the past year have made an almighty hash of it. It seems impossible to apportion the responsibility to either the elected or appointed members and so it would appear that both sides are equally to blame for the inefficiencies, incompetence and ineptitude electors have had to suffer.
You yourself, Mr Editor, have on many occasions, used your Comment column to highlight the repeated failings of our rulers and you have had much support from dozens of your readers. Alas, all seems to have been in vain since little has been done to make St Albans a better place in which to live. If there is one field in which the council excels it has to be maladministration. To give an example I refer to the travesty and tragedy of the Tavistock Avenue planning application.
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Readers may recall that this was an application for an in-filling development which was extremely controversial and against which many objections were submitted. A local councillor asked for the application to be "called in" so that it could be thoroughly discussed in committee. But thanks to the inefficiency of a planning clerk the councillor's request was ignored or overlooked and so the application was approved by default. In attributing responsibility for this gross error one must certainly blame the planning clerk(s). I think we should also hold the other committee members responsible and most certainly the Director of Planning who has the ultimate responsibility for the efficient administration of his department In fact in a matter so serious I am surprised that he has not felt fit to tender his resignation or even found his Chief Executive handing him his P45.
I am given to understand that the only way justice can be done in this case is by means of a judicial review. If that is what it takes then that is what must be done. It may well be a costly process but then the costs of the process should be borne by those who allowed it to happen - the planning officer(s), the Director of Planning, and the 57 councillors who failed in their duty to notice what was going on. An initial surcharge of perhaps £1,000 a head should tempt a half-decent barrister to take up the case.
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The next farce to catch my eye is that of the redevelopment of the Bricket Road car park. Many months ago in his madcap idea to get a multi-screen cinema on the site Cllr Melvyn Teare was reported as saying he was willing to let the developer have the income from several hundred parking spaces - about £45,000 annually by my calculations - in order that the scheme would be more profitable for him. But then the public shot down this idea and we then had an alternative scheme - also rejected by a sensible public. I understand that the council have now drawn up their own brief for a five-screen cinema plus two restaurants etc etc. Will sanity and reason ever prevail?
But have the council not achieved anything in 2007? Oh yes. They have achieved their aim of reducing traffic speeds in St Peter's Street. Not only have they got it down to 20 mph they have brought it to a complete standstill for many hours of the day - not only in St Peter's Street but also on practically every approach road into the city centre. Having done that they now want to ban traffic altogether but they have no idea where to put it. I suspect they want to re-invent the old proposed one-way system which really appealed to everyone.
If they are so keen on clearing the streets, might I ask them also to have go at clearing the pavements? On a recent afternoon I counted 14 free-standing billboards on the Maltings side of Chequer Street. If these were hanging signs they would need planning consent so why not for pavement obstructions?
Might that spoil their ambition to allow the franchisee for the (yet another) new restaurant in the Town Hall to have an outdoor table-and-chairs area - for which he will presumably be charged an economic rent.
Now to the resolutions. With luck we are nearing the end of the disastrous contract with Herts Highwways so we should resolve not to renew it.
We should reinstate the hatched marking on the road junction at Chequer Street/Victoria Street and St Peter's Street. We should restore High Street to its former width so that traffic can turn into Holywell Hill and allow other traffic to flow on the near side into Chequer Street and London Road. We should insert a right-turn pause in the lights at the Peahen to allow traffic a chance to turn into London Road from Holywell Hill. And we should ban parking at all times at the top of Victoria Street by the Salvation Army Citadel.
We should not shy away from prosecuting illegal pavement parkers on the flimsy excuse that they may not have been "witnessed driving onto the pavement". Any magistrate worth his salt should readily recognise it is virtually impossible to get a vehicle onto the pavement without driving it there. And if that does not result in a prosecution then there is always the offence of obstruction.
We should encourage electors to choose councillors who actually live in the wards they purport to represent. I see we have one councillor who actually lives in Dorset - I do hope he isn't claiming a mileage allowance.
One final resolution for my local LibDem county councillor, Allan Witherick. His latest newsletter shows him seated in the new bus shelter by the City Hospital. Presumably this an attempt to claim some credit for getting it erected. If so I am sorry to disillusion you. The first suggestion for the shelter was made by me three or so years ago but my request was rejected. I thought I might have more success if I could enlist the support of my local ward councillor and Cllr Roma Mills readily took up my suggestion but her first request was also refused. However persistence and patience was eventually rewarded and I am sure she is as pleased as I am that Cllr Witherick was able to have his mugshot taken for such cheap publicity purposes.
Townsend Drive, St Albans.