Saturday, 1 June 2013

Democracy, Harpenden Style....Updated

Westfield Playing Fields


As many of you know I live in Harpenden, a town north of St Albans. Or south of Luton depending which way you're facing. As you also know, just before Christmas, I acted as community lay advocate on a Public Inquiry in Harpenden to decide whether our local playing field could be registered as a Town/Village Green, thus preserving it as an unspoiled green space for future generations to enjoy. In preparation for this, Harpenden residents contributed witness statements, documents, filled in evidence questionnaires and allowed me to take pictures of them enjoying the field 'for lawful sports and pastimes'.

However instead of supporting us, Harpenden Town Council chose to spend a great deal of our tax payer money hiring a barrister to fight us. This is because the town council had recently signed off on a deal with the district council, who owned the land, to return it. The deal was sold to us as getting the land back to use as 'amenity space' for local residents. The actual deal was that a piece of disused allotment land next door was to be turned into a high-density housing estate, with the main access road running right across our landlocked and child-safe field. Also embedded in the deal was a clause giving them future permission to sell off portions of the field.

Roman Snail. Rare and very protected.
Even before the independent Inspector hired to listen to the Town Green case had finished his report, the town council submitted a planning application for what they euphemistically described as 'access' to the field. It was filled in and signed by the town clerk, who failed to indicate there were legally protected Roman Snails on the allotment land, omitted to say there was an outstanding Town Green application on the field, and did not supply an ecological report which clearly indicated the adverse effect of any development on all the animals in the area (Noctule bats, Roman Snails, Tawny owls, toads, and slow worms). This report was commissioned by the town council in 2011. As many of you know, with the help of several wildlife societies, and a ferocious email and local press campaign, we managed to get the planning application withdrawn at the 11th hour.

An official complaint about the actions of the town clerk was submitted by me to the Monitoring Officer, along with additional material obtained under the Freedom of Information Act that clearly showed he knew all about the wildlife issues, and had indeed been advised by Natural England, the UK government's adviser on the natural environment, NOT to proceed with any development upon the land. In any other business or organisation, my complaint should have resulted in disciplinary action. Instead, a large bucket of whitewash was produced, wagons were circled and nothing whatsoever was done.

When the report from the Inspector on the Town Green Public Inquiry finally arrived, it recommended either refusal, or the possibility of awaiting the outcome of a similar case to ours which had been also refused, but was undergoing an appeal in the Supreme Court (''The Barkas Case''). The Rights of Way Unit at Hertfordshire County Council decided, wisely in my opinion, to go with the latter option, given the very strong feeling in the local community.

However, the Harpenden mayor, on behalf of her colleagues but not on behalf of the residents she and they were elected to serve, has now launched an objection to this. More of our money has been spent getting their barrister to prepare a further report saying the Town Green decision must be decided before the outcome of the appeal, and on the law as it stands. They know that, should the Barkas decision be overturned (as happened recently on another controversial case), we cannot appeal retrospectively.

Words like unbelievable barely come near describing Harpenden Town Council's actions. The Barkas Case appeal will be heard sometime later this year, and the final judgement handed down in 2014. Is it not beyond the realms of decency and respect for the local community to await the outcome? Especially as the council acquired the land, so they say, to use as 'an amenity space' in the first place?

Apparently not. Hertfordshire County Council are the ultimate arbiters of our Town Green application. As a further incentive to them to play ball, the threat of legal action has been made by Harpenden Town Council's obnoxious barrister. Given the massive cost of any such litigation, the outcome of the final decision can hardly be in doubt. The meeting will take place at County Hall in July. I shall be allowed 5 minutes to speak.

How low can they go? It is not enough that Harpenden Town Council has behaved with callous arrogance towards local people, riding roughshod over us and refusing to consult, listen or work with us. It has parted with thousands of pounds of our money to stop us saving an urban green space which it keeps saying it got back for exactly the same purpose. It has allegedly skewed a planning application for its own ends. Now we are faced with the ludicrous situation of a Tory council threatening to sue another Tory council, at taxpayers' expense, for suggesting a course of action that favours its own residents.

Seriously, you couldn't make this stuff up if you tried.

Since writing this post, I have learned that as a result of the upcoming Barkas appeal, a number of Inspectors are now reserving their recommendations, and a number of judicial reviews have been stayed pending the outcome. This makes the actions of Harpenden Town Council even more iniquitous and unfair, and looks even more suspicious to the outside onlooker. 

Related post: Localism, Harpenden Style  http://carolhedges.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/localism-harpenden-style.html


36 comments:

  1. If this were part of a novel you'd say it's too far-fetched! What is it about having local 'power' makes people into little hitlers?

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  2. I'd say it's beyond belief...but sadly it isn't! As clichéd as it may seem these parasitical, self serving, arrogant, shallow leeches upon the coffers of the taxpayer....are so twisted...were they to swallow a nail they would excrete a screw! However...you're the right kind of strong determined woman to shove it straight back up there...via a fist of fury... when they do!...I for one applaud you with unrestrained gusto for all you have done and continue to do for your community...you're not a bad egg Hedges!..x

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    1. Thanks people. This is what happens when you have 100% power by one group. See North Korea (which I've suggested we should be twinned with..) The 'nice' green Tory inhabiting areas in North Harpenden are exempt from development.

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  3. It's not unbelievable, Carol. It appeats t be par for the course. For some reason, when people get elected, whether it's to a town, city or county council, or to government, they undergo some form of brain transplant which turns them into opposers of everything sensible, and promoters of exactly what the people who elected them DON'T want. You've talked to local TV and radio, haven't you? (PS I used to live in St Albans. Eldest child born there.)

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    1. I am talking to everyone! This blog is also part of the campaign .note the careful placing of 'key search terms'!

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  4. I know what you mean Carol, but we should be able to make it up, probably better than 'they' do because we are exposed to it all the time. I really don't understand how we are such good people, surrounded as we are by all this b***sh***!

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  5. we should be able to make it up, after all we are surrounded by all this b***sh***. We should be pretty good at it by now!

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  6. Carol, you need the TV and press in on this. It is outrageous that these elected councils should make such arbitrary decisions against the wishes of their electorate to serve their own purposes and spend your money in hiring top lawyers to defend themselves against you. As Jo says, the truth is more far fetched than fiction. I hope you manage to go national with this, and even viral.

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    1. Valster, I am as on to it as I can be!! Thanks.

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  7. I hope you are appreciated by the local people for all the hard work you've done on this Carol!

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  8. I don't understand all of it, but sounds completely crazy. Couldn't they spend the money on playground equipment for children instead of fighting?

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    1. Excellent question.One which we've asked them.However, that would mean they couldn't build on the field, which is eventually what they want to do. So no nice play equipment for us.

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  9. Time speech just under 5 minutes. Practice until perfect. Chairs usually very strict keeping time (not necessarily, to be fair, to stifle opposition).

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  10. Ridiculous, but not suprising. I agree, you need more publicity. Well done for standing up to them : ))

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  11. Hopefully, at the next local election the residents of Harpenden will show their Council what they think of them!

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    1. Oh I wish!! Sadly, they do this by NOT voting. So they geet in on the slender Tory voting majority who turn out because their end of town and their lives are wonderful!!

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  12. No you can't make this stuff up. Sheesh.

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  13. Aaah, progress. /sarcasm.

    In the short term, cities and towns do make more money by kowtowing to developers and allowing dense property development. In the long-term, the value of what is lost is incalculable.

    Good luck in your battle.

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  14. Thanks Kelly and Beverly. I so agree. Once it's gone, it's gone. Pity we see this and they don't!

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  15. The amount of time and money they've invested in this fight makes me intensely curious about the money trail. It has to be a LOT. Any chance of an investigative reporter tracing who has a horse in this race and how much money/political consideration is changing hands over this? That could be interesting and enlightening.

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    1. Autumn, you have hit the nail on the head. I could name you the developer behind this, for sure...but I have NO proof, so I can't!! I was told,way back in 2009 by a councillor that 'we all know what's going on here.. a certain councillor has been working behind the scenes with a developer' (quote). But you need concrete proof!! Local press would LOVE to nail this, but can't!! This is how the shits get away with it. EVERY time.

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  16. That's the masons for you. You can guarantee there's plenty of back-slapping and 'gentlemen's' deals and agreements going on here. It's despicable, and happening everywhere, sadly. Wish I was allowed to swear on your blog :)

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    1. I can hear you, though!!! And I agree.

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  17. Good to read the update on this Carol. How worrying is this development?

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  18. There does not seem to be an end to this saga, but i think I know who will win in the end.

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  19. Oh my goodness,the plot thickens!

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  20. Hi Carol. I'm full of admiration for you. Wish I could win the lotto or find a sugar daddy. There cannot be many people in Harpenden who haven't been shafted by the shower of s**t that are our elected members. There is one who is outstanding as particularly vile.

    Our little close has taken a battering over the past ten years with infill from the neighbouring roads. We have just had yet another approved. Developers wrecking the place making shed loads then moving on to make misery for others.

    My neighbours are elderly and this has had a huge detrimental affect on them all. One is waiting for a triple bypass.

    It's too late for us the damage is done.

    They love the developers - the voting council tax payers are treated with utter contempt.

    I'm boiling over with anger and a desire to do anything that would get right up their noses.

    Please let me know if I can you help in any way.

    Sylvie Richardson.

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    1. suggest you contact me via Twitter: @carolJhedges.... we can take it from there...

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  21. Hi Carol. Thanks for coming back. Sorry don't do twitter. S

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    1. Facebook? Or will have to be via HertsAd .ask them to pass on your detais to me...Matt/Debs deal with me regularly...... won't put my contact nos in public arena for obvs reasons!!

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    2. Have left message on your F/B page....

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    3. Sorry Carol. Haven't got your message.

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    4. It did say it was filing it somewhere....suggest you FB me ..... or contact Matt at Herts Ad with your details and he'll pass them on.

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  22. And even if it all turned around and you won the fight, it would be sent to appeal and the decision would be overthrown. It' say lose lose situation, as we found in our personal fight.

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  23. This is turning into a soap opera, and a bad one at that. I can almost feel the greed oozing from political pores. The council must be getting huge kickbacks from the developers. Can't think of any other reason they would so adamantly oppose their own citizenry. It happens often this side of the pond. I thought y'all were more civilized! :)

    Keep your spirits up Carol, and try hard to get the national press interested. They probably won't be, not enough gore, but you can try. Love ya hon!!!

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So here's your chance! Talk to me. Comments will be visible after moderation.