LETTERS: Comet October 25

THE letters published in the Comet on Thursday, October 25.

SAMUEL LUCAS EXPANSION

SIR - I would like to reply to Tom Condon’s dismissal of apparent ‘scare mongering’ about road safety near Samuel Lucas School.

I wonder if Mr Condon has ever walked with a child along Oughtonhead Way at 8.45am and tried to cross Gaping Lane, or indeed at 3.15pm in the rain. Or indeed if he has thought of the implications for disabled children trying to reach Samuel Lucas safely? Currently I have a ‘blue badge’ for my child who needs constant medical supervision whose sibling attends Samuel Lucas, and so we have no option but to drive to the school. This school journey is a daily battle. I struggle to turn from Oughtonhead Way into Gaping Lane, and then to turn into the school gates to the staff car park, where I have special dispensation to park. This short stretch of road is lined by residents’ parked cars on one side and then parents try and park on the other side, in about 15m of kerb space. Right outside the school gates are the statutory yellow zig-zag lines to prevent parking, and thus create a safe place for children to cross the road. However, parents park on these lines every single morning and afternoon.

There is little alternative parking along Oughtonhead Way as residents have to park on this narrow road. There is no turning space on Gaping Lane, other than the very school gates themselves.

Add to this school traffic, the essential daily traffic that needs to visit the local pub (right opposite the school gates) and the residential home for the elderly on the corner of Oughtonhead Way, and you must surely begin to picture the extra congestion and chaos that will ensue if construction traffic is added too.

It is a constant surprise to me that a child hasn’t been knocked down outside the school. While crossing Gaping Lane I have had a car reverse into me; luckily for me on that occasion it was travelling very slowly. If I had been a child, the car would have struck my head rather than a glancing blow to an adult’s rear.

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So it is all very well for Mr Condon to say that not one child has been injured in more than 30 years outside the school. Surely no one wants that to happen?

Can he, and others who have similarly dismissed the traffic chaos, imagine what Gaping Lane will look like if construction begins? Dumper trucks; diggers; delivery vans and lorries to the school, pub and nursing home; staff cars parked in an already congested school car park; residents’ cars legally parked; parents’ cars illegally parked on the zig-zags; fun club drivers arriving to pick up children from the school; rising stars and premier sports vehicles arriving to run after-school clubs; oh yes and then the pedestrians trying to manoeuvre their way safely through this melee?

It would be interesting to hear what residents think who live on the lower reaches of Gaping Lane and who would have to drive through such chaos to reach their own driveways and garages.

NAME AND ADDRESS

SUPPLIED

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SIR - Recently Robin Dartington encouraged us to email Justin Donovan, the Herts County Council director of education regarding the proposed expansion of Samuel Lucas. After the recent consultation meeting at the school I decided to do just that, and this is what I told him:

Firstly I congratulated him on running what I thought was an excellent consultation meeting, with a clear presentation on the proposals. I think all will agree that a significant level of additional detail on the proposal was given, to an appropriate level making it clear that due process had been carried out - after all it shouldn’t be necessary to provide every fact and figure from the extensive research in order for we amateurs to carry our own rudimentary comment. I also thought Mr Donovan handled what was a comprehensive, and at times a difficult, Q&A session in an extremely balanced and professional fashion. This was in the face of increasingly repetitive questioning and some pretty embarrassing comments from the floor (from both those for and against expansion).

Overall I came away with a few key facts:

1. The analysis has clearly been done in a robust and professional way by a team of people with significant experience in this area.

2. There is projected to be a shortage of reception places in Hitchin over the next five years. This ranges between eight and 31 (out of a total of around 450 children). Without expanding a school there would not be enough places, and providing an additional 30 places will cover this shortfall and more - providing a sensible degree of flexibility in the system in the coming years if, for example, a handful of new families moved to the town.

3. A majority of those living and breathing children would count Samuel Lucas as their nearest school.

4. Whatever school is expanded there will be local residents with concerns about the impact on their area.

5. Importantly, the money available for expanding a school does not come out of the council’s budget, will only be made available by central Government for the purpose of school expansion, and cannot be used for other things or across multiple locations.

In the face of these facts I hope that the debate (and the education team’s time) can move forward from this necessary delay and quickly into the key issues of the proposed expansion, namely that the facilities provided are appropriate for the increased number of pupils, and any impact of increased traffic can be appropriately managed. As one parent with relevant experience pointed out, this has been successfully achieved in other primary school expansions in Hitchin and there is no reason to believe that it won’t be the case for Samuel Lucas.

John Martin

Greenside Drive

Hitchin

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SIR - To the author of the letter opposing the Samuel Lucas expansion who criticised ‘Hitchin parents who choose to drive their children to Preston Primary which perpetuates the problem elsewhere’.

Your letter only confirmed your complete ignorance, your elitist beliefs and added weight to the argument to expand SL. Don’t you get it, some of us live only 300m from SL, but because of inadequate space there we’re driving 3,042 miles per annum to Preston school? Polluting the atmosphere at a financial cost of �1,825 p/a.

You asked ‘why don’t they go to Highbury/Strathmore?’ - in our case we weren’t offered a place at any Hitchin school. Families in the Grays Lane/Offley Road area are living in an admissions void. If we miss out on places at our nearest school, we’re too far for a place at our second nearest school. This letter is not criticising Preston Primary, it is a fantastic, warm and inspiring school, but refusal to expand SL denies families the opportunity to walk to school and be part of the local community.

You said you’re finding it hard to be calm and measured, I wonder if you’d have coped applying in 2012, times have changed a lot in the 10 years since you applied, if your younger daughter is in Year 6 that was a low birth rate year and as you’re aware not a very good example for comparison. You criticise Andrew Southam and Hannah Wiseman yet they present the facts with a balanced mind - the last child admission was 189m from Samuel Lucas in 2012 (294m in 2011), contrastingly Strathmore was 1527m, Oughton was 886m, Highbury 1020m. Even in your irrational state, surely you can read the writing on the wall – the problem is in our backyard and needs to be solved here.

NAME AND ADDRESS SUPPLIED

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BADGER CULL

SIR - I agree with your correspondent, Pamela Mansfield, that the Government’s proposed badger cull is misguided, scientifically flawed and will not work.

The name of the disease gives the clue. It is bovine TB. Not badger TB. In today’s high-intensive livestock rearing industry, animals are kept in close confinement with each other and thus facilitate the transfer of the disease from infected to healthy cattle. Badgers may be a vector but unless every badger in the country is culled then there will be an inward flow of badger re-populating culled areas.

The obvious solutions are to: a) keep cattle at a lower density; b) spend a great deal of money on badger-proof fencing, similar to what Australia did to prevent the spread of rabbits 100 years ago; c) to inoculate the cattle against TB. For reasons which escape me (and I am happy to be enlightened), farmers appear to be reluctant to inoculate their animals, although happy to give them massive doses of antibiotics which pass into the food-chain and thence to us.

They were/are similarly resistant to inoculating against foot-and-mouth. A disease which affects cattle, does not kill them but reduces their value. The burning of slaughtered cattle in vast pyres produced toxic fumes which were certainly hazardous to those living downwind and may well have increased the cancer rate (thanks David Miliband, agriculture minister at the time).

In Britain we eliminated human TB by a combination of improving living conditions (slum-clearance in the 1920s on what is now St Mary’s Square being a local example) and by mass inoculation, although sadly it has now been re-introduced by those arriving from countries less advanced than ours.

The badger cull is the result of the Government seen to be doing something in response to pressure from the farming lobby. It is not based on solid science or even on statistics, however skewed the Government tries to make them.

Still, when was any government, national or local, ever seen to respond to logical argument?

Robert Sunderland

Oak House

Little Wymondley

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MARKET FIGHT

Sir - The news that the council are proposing to close the outside market reminds me of Neil Kinnock’s speech several years ago when he said “We have a Labour council”, and he emphasised “a Labour council, giving redundancy notices to their own staff.”

Of course, I know that the stall holders aren’t council employees, but clearly they depend on the council’s goodwill to continue to make a living. It is said that the three most important factors for retailing are location, location, and location. The traders have shown that their current location is pretty good.

We’ve been buying fruit and veg from one of those stalls at prices around half of those charged by Tesco. It seems spiteful to kick the traders off their pitches without very good reason - and if they have good reason, then the council should stand up and tell us through the local newspaper.

NAME AND ADDRESS SUPPLIED

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LUTON AIRPORT

Sir - I am absolutely furious at Stevenage Borough Council’s decision to support the Luton Airport expansion plan. Where does Cllr John Gardner live - on another planet obviously - and certainly not under the flight path of the planes flying over Stevenage.

Can he really explain how an increase in flights to and from Luton can “further boost the local economy...” in respect of Stevenage. Furthermore what about the increase in road traffic on the A1(M), with Luton Airport being the destination - which will of course mean the bypassing of Stevenage on the way. Again, what benefit can he see here?

I notice with interest that other neighbouring towns are not supporting the expansion plans, for very obvious reasons.

Yes, I did attend the meeting held some months ago run by the Luton expansion ‘consortium’. Were they interested in listening to the views being expressed by Stevenage residents - no way. All they were interested in was telling us about the increase in prosperity and benefits for Luton. Come on Cllr Gardner can you really vindicate your decision to support the Luton Airport expansion plans as being “beneficial to Stevenage”?

And is this really the view of your Stevenage constituents? I do not think so.

Mrs JJ Smith

Address supplied

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SIR - I am appalled at the news that Stevenage Borough Council has decided to back the proposed doubling of air traffic over Stevenage.

I suspect this is becuase for most councillors it is not a problem.

The council have abandoned those of us who live under the flight path to more noise and pollution.

I hope they sleep easily in their beds.

Ken Poole

Cuttys Lane

Stevenage

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SIR - I was pleased to see your report that Stevenage Borough Council has come out in support of the Luton Airport expansion scheme.

The council, unlike the Comet, obviously have the prosperity of the vast majority of the borough’s residents at heart.

I have been surprised, dismayed and puzzled that you have thrown your weight behind the ‘Stop The Expansion Campaign’. You have for some reason taken up the cause of a handful of NIMBYs rather than campaigning for the future prosperity of the vast majority of your readers.

If the expansion happens together with improved road and rail links between the airport and Stevenage there will undoubtedly be a much needed boost to the local economy. Additional employment opportunities will include: jobs at the airport, new businesses in distribution and catering, much increased business for local hotels, taxi firms etc.

I hope you will change your stance on the airport expansion and support the welfare of the vast majority of Stevenage residents. Alternatively you might want to change your name to ‘The Breachwood Green Comet’.

John Cullen

Lyndale

Stevenage

EDITOR’S COMMENT: The planned expansion of the airport will give Luton all the benefits with absolutely no evidence that there will be any payback for Comet country. Instead there will be at least a doubling of flights, the potential for massively increased night flights and a road network not improved but clogged by airport traffic. To make matters worse Luton Borough Council owns the airport and is the authority which will sit in judgement on its own planning application. The plan must be called in now and it appears there are still some who must wake up to the fact that we have an awful lot to lose.

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COUNCIL TAX

SIR - The coalition Government, in spite of their plans to have a unified benefit system, has delegated the power to set council tax benefit to local councils (council tax benefit reduces the cost of council tax for those on low incomes.) Inevitably, this will lead to different levels of benefit in different districts.

The Government has also cut the grant to councils for this benefit by 10 per cent, while telling councils not to cut the benefit for pensioners, who are around half of those in receipt of the benefit. Thus, if funds cannot be found from elsewhere, the cut for others could be around 20 per cent.

North Hertfordshire District Council is consulting during this month about how they should deal with this new cut that has been imposed on them. If you want to have your say, go to the council’s website. The Government are still tinkering with the policy, possibly at this late stage finding some extra money to lessen the impact of the policy – an impact that surely must have been obvious from the start.

I understand that the council is examining ways to lessen the impact and protect vulnerable claimants, such as parents with disabled children. Like so many government policies, these changes seem not to have been thought through, but rather to have been thought up over a pint in the saloon bar.

David Bell

Parliamentary spokesperson

North East Hertfordshire

Labour Party

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BELL HISTORY

Sir - I read with interest the article in the Comet (October 18) about the unknown person who complained that Baldock church bells were too loud.

The question I ask, is this person a Baldock person, or have they recently moved into the town? If they are a Baldock person then they would know about the time, hard work and fund raising that has been done over the years to preserve the bells and tower.

Do they also know any of the history of the bells? Legend has it that way back in history a member of the landed gentry was lost in thick fog one night just outside Baldock not knowing which way to go. He then heard the church bells striking the time and was guided to Baldock by the sound. He was that grateful that he bought the piece of land where he was when he heard the bells and donated it to the parish of Baldock. That is how the the piece of land just outside Baldock got its name of Bell Acre.

Also I say to the person who complained if you do not like the sound of bells that have brought pleasure to people over the centuries like farm hands working on the land to people who just like to hear the bells both the clock and the peal of the eight bells, then perhaps you should move to an area where it is much quieter and leave the sounds of Baldock to the true people of Baldock.

Len Lucas

Holroyd Crescent

Baldock

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MOBILITY

SIR - I write to ask if you could please help the Stevenage Shopmobility which has recently been moved to Swingate House (ground floor). I am one of the many disabled people who find these scooters that we can hire are a godsend.

When I eventually found them after moving and rang the local council they had no idea where they were. So, I rang the county council in Hertford who rang Stevenage Borough Council and after quite a wait the helpful lady in Hertford managed to get an answer i.e. Swingate House. How many people have done the same as I, they may have given up - if our own council doesn’t know where they are located - it’s so ridiculous.

There are a lot of people who would not get into the town centre to shop and visit the library etc. without the help of these lovely people who give their time.

If you need to speak to either Bob or Edie, the telephone number is 01438 350300.

Mrs C Coker

Long Leaves

Stevenage

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