Weighing the risk to benefit

PUBLISHED: 12:09 20 July 2006 | UPDATED: 10:31 06 May 2010

Since Marlene Gray and Caroline Hardy in their letter (Risk of Building – The Comet July 13) refer to me by name, it is appropriate that I should respond. Can I say first, however, in the context of comments in several of last week s letters, that it is e

Since Marlene Gray and Caroline Hardy in their letter (Risk of Building - The Comet July 13) refer to me by name, it is appropriate that I should respond.

Can I say first, however, in the context of comments in several of last week's letters, that it is entirely inappropriate to criticise the Director General in respect of the Foundation's town centre revitalisation plans.

These plans have been approved by the Board of Management who are the Trustees of the Foundation. They have reviewed extensive background information, including a comprehensive report on the results of the public consultation. I would stress consultation. Unlike the two retailers' surveys this was not seeking a vote on the proposals, nor did it involve leading questions. Also, the Foundation's consultation amounted to much more than the written comments received; the Director General fed back to the Board the responses he had had to more than 20 presentations he had made at a wide range of organisations in the town.

As the Director General made clear at the Town Meeting in May, a key consideration as to whether we proceed with the proposed redevelopment schemes will be their financial viability. We have reviewed the audiotape of the Town Meeting and Mr Kenny did not make the comment attributed to him. He did state that, assuming that the Charities Bill progressed through Parliament in the anticipated timescale, the Foundation would be responsible to the Charities Commission later this year, rather than to the Financial Services Authority as at present. It followed that we would have to satisfy the Commission as to the viability of our proposals. While no property development can be entirely risk free, our proposals will have to weigh in the balance the risk against the overall benefit to the Garden City.

As regards the development of our proposals, again as was anticipated at the Town Meeting, a great deal of work is currently being undertaken by staff, and advisors, in translating our broad proposals into detailed schemes. This work takes into account suggestions/comments made by the public during, and, included, since the consultation period. As and when that work is complete, planning applications will be submitted to NHDC along with, as the Director General points out, the request for Compulsory Purchase Orders. The detailed plans will also be exhibited at that time in prominent locations in the town centre, all of us at the Foundation look forward to that day; not just the Director General.

ALAN SCOULLER, Chairman, Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation

* May I thank the 679 Letchworth shoppers who completed the first of two surveys regarding the Heritage Foundation's plans for the town centre.

Whilst the results speak for themselves, it appears the Heritage Foundation wishes to plough on regardless of even such strong evidence that their plans are unsuitable for Letchworth.

Therefore, if you feel strongly about the future of Letchworth and have not yet had your say, please give your views to the second large scale survey by completing a survey form at Cox's fish and chip shop in the Arena Parade.

Sooner or later, this massive public rejection of this plan has got to have an effect on the rest of the Heritage Foundation board, even if Mr. Kenny is still looking forward to destroying livelihoods of so many independent retailers by slapping compulsory purchase orders on us.

RICHARD WESTON, Photo Finish of Letchworth

* In the continuing debate about the Letchworth town centre plans, a letter last week asked what the Heritage Foundation governors were doing to preserve Letchworth's unique and historic character.

I would not presume to speak for my fellow governors, but I think it fair to say that we are all very conscious of Letchworth's uniqueness and the need not to endanger this. That does not mean, though, that the Garden City can afford to stand still, as if preserved in aspic. The sad fact is that, despite many excellent traders such as those featured on your front page last week, we have either watch Letchworth's continued decline as a shopping centre or we can attempt a revitalisation, as proposed by the Heritage Foundation, that will benefit everybody who lives, works, trades and shops in our Garden City.

The concerns being expressed about the impact on existing traders and ways of alleviating that; about the character of the town; about not just creating a clone of other shopping centres are very real concerns and I know governors and indeed Heritage Foundation executives take them seriously.

The Heritage Foundation governors are not a decision-making body (beyond electing six of our number to the non-executive management board). Meeting four times a year, we are there for consultation, as a sounding board for the town. I and others seek to use the governors meetings to ask questions on, and secure debate about, major issues for the Garden City, especially now, of course, the town centre plans.

Personally, I support the broad thrust of the Foundation's plans, but I think it vital that existing traders who are affected by them are looked after. Something of this scale is bound to cause some pain before we see the eventual benefit. But huge effort needs to go into keeping this pain as low as possible and, especially, in ensuring that people affected are given as much information as possible and not put at risk of going out of business. It worries me a lot that Mr Maniscalco of Coco and Paolo feels he has been left adrift, given neither information nor advice. I will keep hammering home on these issues.

I, and I am sure other governors, will also carry on stressing the need to retain the character of the Garden City and not to let Letchworth become a pale shadow of everywhere else. Indeed, it is worth noting that some changes have been made, for example on roof heights, following comments about the original proposals. Detailed plans are still awaited.

There is a great opportunity for a very necessary revitalisation with this project. The implementation, how existing businesses are protected, how the Garden City's unique character is retained and, indeed, enhanced has to be got right. As a governor, this is what I will continue pushing on at our meetings.

DAVID WALKER, Sollershott East, Letchworth Garden City

* Why not ask the residents what they want! With all the controversy and unhappiness over the LGCHF's proposals for alterations to Letchworth town centre why not repeat the process that occurred when Morrison's was embarking on its entry to the town.

After much public protestation three proposals were drawn up which were then displayed in the town and residents were asked which proposal they like the best. This resulted in a much better set up than had originally been planned.

Mr Kenny seems hell bent on pushing his ideas through on his return from Iona - I urge people to urgently make their views known to the members of NHDC so that more thought is given to such a serious issue. Surely Letchworth does not need such drastic steps to revitalise it - it has its own unique character let us keep it that way and enhance it in a much more thoughtful and appropriate way. Incidentally the planned removal of the Post Office to the outskirts of the town is surely yet another crazy decision for our town centre that must be fought!

PAULINE MARTIN


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