Letters round up (Including thoughts on naked cyclist’s identity)

Reader's photo: Shot of Ashridge in the autumn by Gordon Dumpleton
Reader's photo: Shot of Ashridge in the autumn by Gordon Dumpleton

A selection of your opinions from this week’s Gazette.

> Planning

Protecting Green Belt: At the forefront of our minds?

Cllr. Williams draws comfort from the misreading of national planning policy by the Inspector who accepted Dacorum’s Core Strategy as sound’.

If Mr. Inspector had seen the unambiguous support for Green Belt which has been expressed more recently by the appropriate Government Ministers he would not have come to quite the same conclusion.

He would also have benefited from study of the recent High Court case (Gallagher Homes vs. Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council) which stressed the need for extreme stringency in deciding whether there were ‘exceptional circumstances’ which justify releasing land from Green Belt.

But Dacorum councillors were urged, by council officers, to quickly get a Core Strategy approved which met their forecasts so as to avoid risk of developers being able to run riot all over the Borough in the absence of an approved plan. So, like good little soldiers they signed-off, with insufficient scrutiny and asking few if any hard questions, what was put in front of them: only one Councillor declared that his support was only with ‘profound regret’.

And thus we find ourselves faced with the various Local Allocations, aimed at meeting forecasts which take no account of current developments, and a Core Strategy which was approved against an incomplete understanding of Government policy.

Things are now, it seems, even worse. DBC is appearing to consult residents about these Local Allocations, and to seek support for, or opposition to, the Local Allocations. Yet one of its planning officers has been telling attendees at the various exhibitions that ‘the land is no longer Green Belt’. I asked why, if that was the case, what was the purpose of the consultation, responses to which will in due course be considered by the independent Planning Inspectorate before the Site Allocations can be signed-off, in planning terms, as “sound” and “legally compliant”. But the DBC person was adamant.

One is therefore entitled to ask why potential respondents were being told, in effect, that they’d be wasting their time in registering opposition. I think I may know why. and, since the Planning Inspectorate will be looking at the responses, I’ve let them know that there may be a good (i.e. a bad) reason why they didn’t get as many as they might have expected.

Does DBC’s interpretation of ‘to consult’ match that in Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary – to seek the disapproval of others for a course of action already decided on?

Michael Nidd, Piccotts End

> Planning

Just who is driving the ‘un-greening’ of Hemel?

On October 22 the Gazette carried no fewer than three letters and two stories on plans for major developments across Hemel, and Dacorum more widely.

Despite the protests of Conservative council leader Andrew Williams that ‘the protection of the green belt is at the forefront of our minds’ and Conservative MP for South West Herts, David Gauke, that ‘the green belt is vital to maintaining the character of our towns’, their actions tell a different story.

Brownfield sites lie dormant while plans race ahead for a 900 home development at Pouchen End to the west of Hemel, a 200 home development in Tring and a 2,500 home development to the east of Hemel, albeit just beyond Dacorum’s boundaries.

Les Taber may be right that Gauke, Williams and their colleagues have ‘meekly raised the white flag of surrender to their taskmasters in Whitehall’ but other forces are also at play.

It has become evident that most of the Pouchen End land has been long-owned by two of the country’s biggest house-buidlers, Barratt Homes and Taylor Wimpey. No wonder the principled objections of the West Hemel Action Group (WHAG) appear to be falling on deaf ears, and that they are so angry about a consultation process that barely justifies the name.

The issue of land ownership begs three simple questions: (1) are major developers driving the ‘un-greening’ of Hemel and our other local towns through their speculative acquisition of large swathes of green belt land? (2) If so, what is the extent of their land ownership around Hemel and across this part of Hertfordshire? (3) To what extent has this influenced the content of the Core Strategy on development that Labour has pledged to review after next May’s local and national elections?

Affordable new homes yes, but any strategy has to demonstrate its principles through the proposals it makes. Green Belt crocodile tears from our political leaders won’t paper over the widening gap between the sound-bites and the strategy. Nor will they satisfy an electorate that looks for truth and integrity from its politicians.

Tony Breslin, Labour candidate for Hemel

> Parking

Is ‘pay and display’ the correct term for our parking systems?

I thoughtI would share a response from the parking department of the Dacorum council that I received recently.

The back ground is that I parked my motor scooter in Waterhouse street in Hemel Hempstead – a ‘pay and display’ parking area.

Having checked the signage and seeing that there was no mention of motor cycle parking being forbidden.

I assumed that it is hardly a workable solution to ‘pay and display’ on a motor bike. which is often the case elsewhere, and indeed in the pay and display car parks in Hemel Hempstead, motorcycles are exempt and may park free of charge. So I assumed this was the case and was surprised to see a parking ticket stuck to my seat when I returned.

I then proceeded to appeal as per the advice given on the Dacorum Borough Council parking department website. I never really expected to get anywhere fighting the bureaucracy, and let’s face it there is only so much you can be bothered to do for a parking fine.

However I was surprised with the response from the council. I would have thought there was a responsibility for clear signage clearly displaying parking rules for motorcycles. But seemingly they don’t need to display any signs and expect bike users to know their rules.

The reply to my fine appeal received in the mail, verbatim, was: ‘If you wish to park a motorbike in a pay and display bay, we recommend that you purchase a pay and display ticket and keep it on your person rather than leaving it on the bike.

‘If you receive a penalty charge notice as a result, you can then send in a copy of the ticket explaining the circumstances.

‘Provided the ticket is valid and there are no exceptional circumstances the penalty will be cancelled.’

I am left wondering if ‘pay and display’ is in fact the correct term for this type of parking system? It seems that ‘pay, keep on your person and appeal parking fines’ or ‘pay and not necessarily display’ are more apt names.

And we wonder why the town centre is in decline with the empty shops and why more people shop in retail centres and online?

Dave Pike, via email

>St Albans land

East Hemel housing proposals would impose a massive burden

Councillor David Mitchell is quite right to draw the attention of Hemel residents to the two housing developments proposed in the St Albans District Local Plan, which will, to a large degree, erode the green belt buffer between Redbourn and Hemel Hempstead.

Tied in with this proposal is a wider review of Green Belt land carried out in 2013 by a firm of Consultants engaged by SADC and which informed the development plan. The review actually recommended that, of the eight Green Belt sites identified for potential housing development, the two East Hemel sites should be used last.

In their wisdom, SADC appear to have ignored the consultants’ recommendation and decided that the East Hemel sites should be used first and also reduced the list of potential sites from eight to only four sites. Of these, three are as far away from St Albans city centre as possible, which, to me, smacks of ‘NIMBY-ism’ at its worst.

Being so remote, such development in East Hemel would have little impact on St Albans itself in terms of satisfying local housing need or provision of services, but will impose a massive burden on the social infrastructure and lives of current residents of both Redbourn and East Hemel Hempstead.

Add to this the Government’s renewed guidance, issued to clarify policy in respect of protection of Green Belts, which states explicitly that ‘once established, Green Belt boundaries should only be altered in exceptional circumstances.’

At the launch, the Minister Eric Pickles stated: “Protecting our Green Belt must be paramount and the guidance will ensure that councils can meet their housing need by prioritising brown-field sites and fortifying the green belt in their area.”

How SADC can square these proposals with the policy guidance and the Minister’s statement is beyond me, quite clearly they intend to ride roughshod over it.

The Green Belt along the Redbourn Road, including the Nickey Line, could largely disappear if these proposals are approved.

As David Mitchell highlighted, when added to the already committed Spencers Park development south of Hunters Oak, some 3,500 additional dwellings could appear between East Hemel and Redbourn in the next few years.

Redbourn Parish Council is clearly opposed to the plan and, in light of his letter last week supporting the protection of Green Belt, it would be interesting to hear the views of council leader Andrew Williams, given the SADC site’s proximity to an expanding Maylands and his understandable commitment to jobs growth there.

The Public Consultation is open until November 23, so there is still time for Hemel Hempstead residents to have their say via the SADC website at www.stalbans.gov.uk/planning.

Geoff Walke, Wootton Drive

> Mystery

Let’s get to the bottom of naked cyclist’s identity

I think we need to get to the bottom of this naked cyclist mystery (Berkhamsted & Tring Gazette, 29/10/14).

Some of my Tring aquaintances have suggested to me that if the suspect is in the possession of a cooking pot and some seasonal vegetables it could be none other than Jamie Oliver.

But I could be on the wrong track.

Horace Horlicks, Bury Court

> Politics

Dacorum deserves better

Our MP Mike Penning, in the Gazette on October 22, said he backed David Cameron on his immigration policy.

David Cameron’s policy on immigration is an absolute disaster. Hospitals and schools are struggling to cope with the influx of migrants and then there is the case of the illegal 50,000 who this government have lost track of.

Yes, we know Cameron lied before the last electionwhen he said we would get an in/out referendum. Failing to stand up to the Lib Dems, the referendum never happened.

As for our two Tory MPs Mr Penning and David Gauke, these two have done nothing to get our hospital or our Pavilion back. Can anyone tell me what these two have done for us since being in power?

As for this Tory council they have squandered million of pounds on projects that have failed for the Pavilion, another promise made by leader Andrew Williams, and in its place the people of theDacorum will get another carport.

As for many years now the Conservatives have made a great thing about building on Green Belt land, and now they are talking about building 3,500 houses and most of these will not be for those people on the waiting list,Out of the 6,000 on the list 3000 have been cast aside by this council as they have said they will never be rehoused,,

As for the PCC who had £3bn invested in the Icelandic banks – that money would have housed all the people in Herts. Who has taken responsibly for that?

They tell us crime figures are down yet our Tory county councillor and crime commissioner apologised for the figures that had been fiddled.

Is this really what the people of Dacorum deserve, two MPs who are looking after their own interests, a council that is incompetent and a PCC who can’t count at that? I ask the people of Dacorum to remember all this when going to the polls next year.

Noel Swinford, via email