LETTERS: Comet June 6
THE letters published in the Comet on Thursday, June 6.
SIR - Whilst in sympathy with S Craig’s letter (Comet, May 30) about the potential loss of the allotments between Gaping Lane and West Hill if Samuel Lucas School is expanded, I feel a certain despair at the omnipresent sentiment of ‘change must not be allowed’ expressed by so many in relation to so many issues within Hitchin.
One of the most striking documents attached to Herts County Council’s expansion plans was figure four of the archaeological ‘desktop’ survey. (Such generous commissioning of reports by the council is keeping valiant consultants in business. As well as this armchair report the slowworm specialist kindly suggests a suitable resting place for the footless dears at an address not dissimilar to his own.) That page is a reproduction of part of an 1881 Ordnance Survey map. And it is a small revelation.
West Hill, from which Mr Dartington has trumpeted his opposition to the school’s expansion, was at best a path between an allotment (not, alas, a leisure garden) and an open field. It’s lovely to contemplate unchanged vistas, but please ensure your house isn’t made of glass before you throw a stone. After all, S Craig’s beloved green beside Oughtonhead Way appears to have been an orchard in 1881, and perhaps its subsequent use as a refuse dump was opposed. The people who lived in the houses along Bedford Street and Dell Lane and used the allotments may well have rejoiced in affordable food grown in an efficient manner available to all from local shops, and a local school free to enter.
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A town forms its character partly from its architecture and open spaces, but mainly from the hearts of its people. And those hearts are formed most strongly in childhood, and most strongly within childhood at its onset. Samuel Lucas is the local school for this side of the town and imparts the community with some measure of place and time. I was taught in the ‘temporary classroom’ in the late seventies and was told then it would soon be replaced. That time has surely come.
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SIR - Thank you to S Craig for the excellent letter describing the ecological value of the Gaping Lane allotments. It seems to me that this should be designated as a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation / Wildlife Site, and that NHDC would appear to be remiss in not having designated the allotments as such. The allotments additionally serve as a green stepping stone linking to Oughtonhead Common.
The Phase 1 Habitat Survey, which NHDC commissioned, acknowledges that “the allotment site is more extensive than the area subject to the feasibility study” (para 4.2.3) and it therefore excludes much of the biodiverse habitat which will be lost. The report focuses almost exclusively on slowworms and gives little consideration to the allotments’ habitat value to birds and small mammals which are very likely to be present, including voles and dormice (a European Protected Species).
Local authorities have a statutory ‘Biodiversity Duty’ as set out in Section 40 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006, which requires that, ‘Every public body must, in exercising its functions, have regard, so far as is consistent with the proper exercise of those functions, to the purpose of conserving biodiversity’. I fail to see how development of the site is consistent with this statutory duty!
The proposal to build on the allotments also flies in the face of several of NHDC’s own policies, notably its Green Infrastructure Plan, August 2009:
“.......hedgerows, such as those found along Lucas Lane, should be conserved, enhanced and reinforced .......... and as green corridors” (p158)
“......the LDF requires the design, appearance and landscape schemes of development proposals to protect or improve the landscape character of North Hertfordshire (Policy 1) and encourages them to make a positive contribution to district biodiversity (Policy 2) and safeguard trees, woodland and hedgerows” (Appendix 1)
NHDC may well be committing an offence if it gives itself planning permission to develop this site or, at the very least, it would most certainly be guilty of Ecocide. Development of a site with such a high ecological value would be utter vandalism, as well as, potentially, illegal. There are plenty of disused brownfield sites in Hitchin which could be utilised for a new school.
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SIR - For years, residents of Hitchin have been telling me and my Labour colleagues how much they want plastic recycling on the doorstep, not at bring banks that get too full too quickly and cause major littering. And for years we have been putting our case to NHDC, who always rebuffed us, citing financial cost as a reason for leaving things as they are.
Things as they are involve cardboard mixed with compostable material. This was always likely to be a problem: cardboard boxes often have tape still attached, or are coated in a weatherproof film. The consequence, as Cllr Burt explained in his letter last week, is that whole lorry-loads are spoiled and sent to landfill.At last, the cost of leaving things as they are has become greater than the cost of the change for the better that many of us have so long wanted: compostable materials will actually be composted, saving landfill costs; the time and cost of collecting plastic can be shared with other, more valuable recyclable materials (such as paper and glass); and people will finally be able to dispose of plastic from home.
It is rare that such a positive change can be achieved at no extra cost, and I for one am very happy to support the council administration in this. I hope your readers will feel the same way.
Cllr Deborah Segalini
Shadow Waste, Recycling and Environment
SIR - I would like to thank Cllr Peter Burt for his enlightening reply in last week’s Comet. The fact loads are spoilt, I think, is common knowledge. However a remedy to this was not suggested. Pity. It will be interesting to see how much cardboard returns to landfill after being contaminated with the empty tins and bottles, I understand cardboard for recycling should be ‘clean and dry’.
Another interesting point Cllr Burt brought up was the dark hint of withdrawing our waste service if we do not toe the line, an interesting turn of events, especially as we are paying for these ‘services’ and the attendance allowance of our councillors in our taxes.
Am I being cynical in noticing that these changes have been rolled out to public knowledge just after an election, I seem to recall other contentious issues being run out after the last two elections. Cllr Burt was elected by the taxpayers to represent the taxpayers best interests.
In last weekend’s national press there was talk of MPs being able to be dismissed by the electorate, I think we should consider this for local councillors who seem to forget they are elected to represent the benefit of the taxpayer and not press ahead with alterations to a service that is actually working. As I have tried to highlight in previous correspondence the pressing needs of the community are what should be addressed at present, not theoretical savings that are unlikely to be paid for in a number of years. As some people have tried to imply I am not anti-recycling that works I am against our gardens being turned into waste transfer stations for NHDC and the associated costs at this moment in time, perhaps a better thought out idea, perhaps a national scheme could achieve more recycling.
Please listen NHDC to what people want and need and not blindly follow party political doctorate.
SIR - I feel a bit disappointed with The Nobel School.
After many years of it being a great school and being oversubscribed, it is having problems. For some reason my daughter has had four different English teachers this year and the high turnover has surely resulted in the teaching quality dropping while the new teachers establish themselves. It’s a shame but let us hope that the new headteacher will turn it around again.
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SIR - I’m sure I am not alone in Comet country, eagerly anticipating my first trip across the Hitchin flyover in the next week or so.
But this is nothing compared to how delighted I will be if the East-West Rail project eventually connects Bedford to Cambridge. This could open up a whole new choice of ‘easy to reach’ rail destinations from North Herts. While Network Rail has officially approved a project to link Oxford to Bedford, with services to start from 2017, there is no guarantee that the link from Bedford to Cambridge will get built. It’s important for rail users to show their support for this ‘missing link’, which is why Railfuture and Campaign for Better Transport are organising a rally and walk on June 29. If you would like to be able to travel by train from North Herts to places in Bucks, Berks and Oxfordshire without going via London, please come and support us. There is a rally in Priory Park followed by an optional walk or cycle on the sustrans route 51 all the way to Sandy. You can also show your support by signing an online petition. But please note, we’re not campaigning to reopen the particular route of the walk – we are campaigning for a new railway from Bedford to Cambridge, taking an optimum route in terms of cost, environmental aspects, journey time, and social benefit.
There is no entry fee, nor sponsorship needed. For more information visit http://www.railfuture.org.uk/ox-cam/ Or mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
North Herts Volunteer for
Campaign for Better Transport
SIR - The ever present, ever whingeing Stevenage Liberal Democrat ‘leader’ strikes again – though how you can be a ‘leader’ of a group of just two councillors beats me.
Cllr Parker “calls election of scrutiny chairman a ‘farce’”. It may have escaped our pint-sized political pundit’s attention, but more or less every vice-chairmanship of the scrutiny/select committees has been given to an opposition members. The vice-chairs have the same voting rights as every other councillor on the committee, are invited to the same briefing sessions that the chairs are and the whole thing operates on a scrutiny/non-partisan basis. So what is Cllr Parker’s problem? Does he need a bauble like the mayorship to dangle round his neck? Is he upset that he’s yet again been passed over as Stevenage’s number one citizen?
Cllr Parker’s lack of chairmanship certainly does not appear to have impeded his criticism of the council and (cough) his “effective scrutiny” so the value of a chairmanship must be brought into question. Is he worried that council officers or cabinet members will not take him seriously if he doesn’t have some form of ‘status’ within the organisation?
A quick check on another Herts council – Rickmansworth based, Liberal Democrat run Three Rivers District Council’s website reveals four scrutiny committees – which, despite the presence of 20 opposition councillors (42 per centof them all), the chair and vice-chair of each were all Liberal Democrats – not an opposition member in sight. If an “independent review some years ago suggested exactly this approach”, can I suggest that Cllr Parker approaches his West Herts colleagues and asks them to respect this approach rather than lecture us about his perception as to SBC’s shortcomings? The fatuous comment “The Liberal Democrats refuse to support a continuation of this farce? – well, Robin, when you have a majority, rather than a mere five per cent of councillors at Daneshill, we might take a bit more notice.
SIR - Once again the good burghers over in Biz4BizLand provide us with some Conservative Party propaganda, thinly dressed up as ‘independent’ business advice. I am of course talking about the shameless puff for group, and therefore the party in last week’s Comet on page 29, wherein Biz4Biz provide us with ‘advice’ that bears a passing resemblance to present and putative Conservative Party policy.
Biz4Biz’s website prominently features a picture of our present MP (one wonders if Sharon Taylor were our MP whether Biz4Biz would be quite so keen). Pictures of McPartland feature throughout this (cough) ‘non-partisan’, ‘independent’ website. And indeed Biz4Biz’s founder Adrian Hawkins wrote to this august publication in January praising Mr McPartland to the hilt. Biz4Biz’s opinion page includes a letter from Paul Beasley criticising the PM for allowing gay marriage – what on earth has this got to do with “providing a coherent voice for businesses in Hertfordshire”? I’m not sure that opining that Cameron “has proven himself unfit to hold the office of Prime Minister” really features highly on the list of concerns of your average SME in Hertfordshire, to be brutally honest. Visits to the House of Commons are also sold there – solely in the company of Conservative MPs, you understand.
But to the article itself – which recycles all the usual “if we were taxed less we would collect more in tax” myths that economic neo-liberals peddle (we all know that big business whisks all their considerable profits to offshore accounts anyway, irrespective of the local tax regime – Amazon, Vodafone, et al). But to return to Mr Beasley’s proposition – here we are in the middle of a recession, and he wants to reduce taxation? How is that going to work? How are vital services going to be financed? It has long been Conservative Party policy to abolish or significantly reduce capital gains and inheritance tax – and what does Mr Beasley propose? Precisely that.
Mr Beasley then proposes attacking ‘red tape and employment law’ – that’ll be things like sick pay, minimum wages, paternity and maternity leave, and unfair dismissal proceedings to peons such as ourselves. A ‘free and flexible’ workforce in this world is a low paid, zero rights workforce to be hired and fired at will by ‘entrepreneurs’ keen to maximise profits and minimise personal risk. It’s time Biz4Biz stopped pretending they are anything other than a front for the Conservative Party.
SIR - I am writing in response to the article published in a recent edition of the Comet (May 23) entitled ‘Consultation launched after toxic gases found in Hitchin’. I thought I should help to put the article into context.
Last year, NHDC designated a small area along Stevenage Road, east of the Hitchin Hill roundabout, as an Air Quality Management area. This followed tests which showed levels of nitrogen dioxide at slightly above the recommended limit. Nitrogen dioxide is a pollutant, one of the sources of which is road transport. Therefore, any road will have a certain level of nitrogen dioxide. Across Hertfordshire, eight out of the 10 districts have designated air quality management areas.
The levels of nitrogen dioxide in Stevenage Road, Hitchin, are only marginally above the Government’s nationally set air quality objective, meaning that the levels of pollution are not yet so serious that there is a health risk. However, they are at a point where we would like to prevent them from getting any worse.
The council has drafted an action plan to look at ways to improve the air quality on Stevenage Road and we would value the views of the people who live and work in the area.
To find out more about NHDC’s proposals, and to take part in the survey, visit www.north-herts.gov.uk/airqualityconsultation
Cllr Bernard Lovewell
Portfolio Holder for Housing & Environmental Health
North Herts District Council
SIR - I read with interest the outcry against the recent plans for development of Letchworth Golf Club. Concerns were raised about the transport arrangements whereby for over 12 months fleets of lorries would be carrying soil onto the site to construct the proposed academy.
I do not oppose the idea of improvement of the club facilities, nor to temporary transport problems if necessary for the development. However, I wonder why so much soil needs to be brought onto site to construct a six-hole facility.
Does the development depend on the utilisation of a tax dodge whereby construction companies avoid paying landfill tax? Instead of sending their soil to landfill, the companies pay golf clubs to utilise their waste in a totally unnecessary but financially lucrative ‘landscaping’ development.
I certainly would not support such a scheme if it were based upon taking money from the Treasury (in other words it’s paid for by the taxpayer) to fund this development. Will the golf club committee formally refute such a suggestion?
SIR - I was worried that we might receive an issue of the Comet without some photographs of our Stevenage MP. I was wrong to worry: he appeared on the front page and on page 8 of your issue of May 23. On the latter page he was dressed as a chef. Can we be assured that when the circus comes to town he will not appear dressed as a clown?