St Albans District Council 1 : Labour Government 0

Overturning the Government’s proposals for house-building in the St Albans Green Belt is a mighty achievement for the Liberal Democrat administration at St Albans City and District Council. Local Liberal Democrats formed the Hands Off Herts campaign to fight these wholly inappropriate Labour Government plans under their so-called Regional Spatial Strategy to extend Hatfield westwards and Hemel Hempstead eastwards into our precious Green Belt.

See a previous entry here. There were just too many houses going to be crammed into the wrong places. 5,000 west of Hatfield, 12,000 east of Hemel. It would have coalesced Hemel, Hatfield and St Albans and turned south Hertfordshire into another extension of suburban Middlesex. St Albans deserves much better than that. But it was a brave decision of St Albans District Council to challenge the Government in the High Court. If it had gone the wrong way, they could have incurred huge expense. Many people said they were wasting their time. Well they held their nerve, stood up for local people and we have won this round. The Government has been given a well-deserved bloody nose. It’s a great victory for St Albans and for common sense.

Sir Ranulph Fiennes achieves his Everest - literally this time

The news that Sir Ranulph ("Ran") Fiennes has finally got to the top of Everest - or as he puts it, "the closest you can get to the moon by walking" does not surprise me at all. Our paths crossed quite frequently when I worked many years ago for Texaco and he rather bizarrely had been hired by Armand Hammer of Occidental Petroleum. Texaco and Occidental ("Oxy") were partners in the Flotta oil terminal at Scapa Flow in the Orkneys.

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Is it the end for Speaker Martin?

Events are moving very rapidly in terms of the Speaker of the House of Commons. I have written previously in this blog of my dismay at his abject performances. Both opinion polls and comment on the doorstep are showing the huge damage being done to the institutions of democracy by the whole ghastly story of misuse (and sometimes worse) of expenses by MPs. Over the weekend I joined Lib Dem parliamentary candidates from around the UK in an open letter to the Speaker calling on him to address the issues without delay.

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St Albans versus Helioslough - Round Three

Now it has been confirmed that St Albans District Council will consider the new application from Helioslough, we will have to dust off the "Hands Off Herts" logo. I cannot over-emphasise the destructiveness of the Helioslough proposal. There is no meaningful change in their new proposal. The monster freight terminal they propose would be a knife in the belly of St Albans. They are planning on our getting tired of having to raise yet more money and summon more energy to fight them off.


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Secondary transfer blues

To Helen Mair's in The Park in Marshalswick to meet a bunch of mums whose children did not get any of their ranked preferences for secondary school in St Albans this year. Anne Main, county councillor Chris White and district councillor Chris Brazier were also there in a crowded living room. It is quite clear that the system is broken in the whole south-west of the county. Last night I was in Bedmond and the same issues were being raised on the doorstep.

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Captain Ashdown comes to town

Paddy Ashdown dashed in to St Albans yesterday on the latest stage of his tour to promote his autobiography "A Fortunate Life". Given his current superstar status and his universally admired success as High Representative for Bosnia-Herzegovina, it is worth recalling how much he was sneered at and patronised by his opponents and the media when he first became LibDem leader. Nick Clegg is being similarly under-estimated today. They were wrong about Paddy then and they are wrong about Nick today. Of course Paddy and I were fellow candidates in Conservative seats back in 1983 and have remained friends ever since. He has come to St Albans on several occasions and is very impressed by the LibDem progress over recent years. He sees the similarities with his first stunning victory in Yeovil and has promised to come to help whenever the general election comes.

Not with a bang but a whimper

This is the way that the story ends: Not with a bang but a whimper. Today was LibDem day in the Daily Telegraph revelations about the abuse of MP expenses. Do we emerge stain-free? No we do not. But overall the scale of inappropriate expenditure seems to be an order of magnitude less than in some of the other parties. And I remain fiercely proud that none of the seven LibDem MPs who represent commuter constituencies has a second home at taxpayer expense - in marked contrast to all the Conservative and Labour MPs representing commuter constituencies in Hertfordshire.


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What does a body lying undiscovered for three days tell us about Watford Hospital?

It is perfectly disgusting that a young man's body could remain undiscovered for three days in Watford Hospital. This is of course the main acute hospital for everyone in St Albans after the government closed down most of the departments at St Albans City Hospital and then reneged on its promise to build a new super-hospital at Hatfield. The body was found in a toilet. Allegedly it had an out-of-order notice on the door. But it is still difficult to comprehend that a proper cleaning regime would not have exposed the tragedy much sooner West Hertfordshire Hospital Trust is rightly holding an inquiry into the case.

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A lick of red paint

Having had a real pop at the Post Office last year for their failure to maintain their St Albans pillar boxes and the consequent degradation of the street scene, I suppose I should be grateful that someone has been round with a pot of paint. Sadly closer examination of the box in Hillside Road shows that the new scarlet coat flatters to deceive. The previously peeling paint has just been painted over, the rust patches have not been rubbed down, I doubt that they were primed. A long hot summer and a wet winter and we will be back to where we were before. Together with broken paving stones and pot-holed roads, it just seems part and parcel of a generally shoddy attitude to maintaining the things that make the street scene and a cherishable public realm.

We are neighbours not numbers

Following the fascinating We Are Names Not Numbers conference organised by Editorial Intelligence at Port Meirion, participants were invited to contribute to a publication to be launched in July. Nothing fancy, just a few words. So here is what I have submitted - with thanks to my friend Abdul-Hakim Kadodia for checking out my understanding of Islamic teaching on being a good neighbour:


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