Abbey Precincts Residents Association: Minutes of Second Annual General Meeting,
Tuesday 17 November 2015, Spicer Street Church hall, 8.00 pm
1. Peter Trevelyan took the Chair and introduced the rest of the Committee. He welcomed members (32 attended) and thanked the Church authorities for their hospitality. Apologies had been received from Sandy Walkington, Jessica Chivers and several others.
2. Reports on the year’s activities were presented as follows:
Membership. Robert Pankhurst reported that 23 new members had registered during the year, but some 40 old members had so far failed to renew their subscriptions; current membership stood at 103. We need Street Reps for Temperance Street and Queen Street. A newsletter had been produced in March 2015. Catherine Soave was thanked for managing the website.
School Buses. John Hedges reported on the campaign to remove the large school buses from the narrow streets of the Conservation Area. An SADC Task and Finish Group had been set up following earlier pressure from APRA. Its recommendation for a safety audit of the Romeland area, prior to consulting on a change to the Romeland Hill parking bay to allow coach parking, had been side-stepped and substituted by a safety audit to allow coach parking.
In practice this would legitimise its use as a bus stop/stand but without the safety audit appropriate for a bus stop/stand. He had been contesting this failure, at first with SADC and then with the Local Government Ombudsman, who had indicated that, although in principle the complaint was justified, the Council had apologised and no further action was necessary. The only remaining way to mitigate the dangers and congestion from the buses was by a Judicial Review. Taking this stage by stage would keep costs to a reasonable level. Members present were in generally in favour of continuing the struggle, but a wider canvas of the membership was necessary to establish a fighting fund. Other local resident associations would be circulated and asked to contribute too.
The imminent consultation on car parking (see below) would almost certainly try to legitimise another dangerous bus stop/stand at the top of Fishpool St, opposite Welclose St, again without a proper safety audit.
Car Parking. Gillian Field outlined activity following the SADC survey of residents following earlier complaints of pressure on parking bays, especially in Zone B. Although responses had not, according to SADC, reached the required threshold for action, a comprehensive new scheme was being considered that will involve merging zones B, Q (Fishpool St) and E (Abbey Mill Lane) with parking restricted permit-holders and vouchers 8am to 10pm, 7 days a week. Some bays in Romeland and Romeland Hill would also be available on meter payment but it was claimed that 26 new bays had been identified across the wider zone. The scheme should be sent to all concerned residents for comment within the next week or two. It will be very important to maximise returns this time and to emphasise the positive elements of the scheme, although it might be important to argue that the TRO be disentangled from that for the school bus parking.
Roads and Pavements. Geoff Dyson reported on progress with relaying some uneven brick pavements in the Conservation Area. Experimental asphalt patterned to look like bricks had been used alongside the Brickie but was not suitable from the conservation viewpoint. A programme of full resetting of brick pavers along the north side of Lower Dagnall St had been carried out (thanks to Sandy Walkington’s HCC budget) and was now progressing along the east side of New England St; in some places this involved stretches of uniformly dark new bricks breaking the continuity of the old style bricks, but the more level surface was appreciated. Unfortunately the programme was now suspended for 18 months.
A rolling plan of road repairs (HCC) was being carried out on in the area – Abbey Mill Lane and Mount Pleasant were badly uneven and breaking up, but no further work was scheduled for 12 months.
The water leak in Romeland had been successfully diverted into the existing drain and was no longer spilling across the pavement, but the source had not been identified and the costs could not be allocated appropriately, so the area had not yet been reinstated – we are pressing for tidying up.
Planning & Licensing. Robert Pankhurst summarised events since the Planning Inspector upheld The Brickyard’s appeal against SADC enforcement on the expanded development. There had been further licensing applications (one refused and appealed, one re-application in progress) together with two current planning applications, all concerned with the use and remodelling of the front courtyard on Verulam Road. The major issue since April had been noise disturbance from the outside areas, i.e., the frontage and, especially, the fully paved rear courtyard now used intensively as an all-weather terrace to the cocktail bar. Environmental effects for neighbours in College St with a shared boundary meant that they had lost the reasonable use of their gardens and rear rooms on many occasions, as revealed by an APRA survey of experiences up to July.
A suggestion of mediation made by the owner was not considered an appropriate way of dealing with issues that are properly the concern of SADC Licensing Department. Therefore APRA has called for a Licence Review, open to comment until 20 November: further details were requested from the floor and have been e-mailed.
Environmental. Justin Douglas spoke on the proposed authorisation by SADC of Penalty Charge Notices for littering, largely resulting from a campaign against persistent refuse on the pavements in Verulam Road, led by Mollie Kennedy and taken to Council by Cllr Hill.
Potential solutions to the well-advertised but difficult problem of botulism in Verulamium Lake were controversial. They might well involve using contaminated silt to construct reed borders and artificial oxygenation. The River Ver Society would further signage to emphasise the need not to feed bread to the birds on the lake.
The recent rise in homeless campers in the Romeland garden was in part associated with criminal elements travelling up from London. The Centre 33 drop-in centre for homeless and socially or materially disadvantaged people has had to close at times because of anti-social behaviour. The SADC enforcement officer had met with interested parties, including our MP, and proposed a Public Space Protection Order that would empower the police to move people on from Romeland, the Abbey Orchard and Yard. There has been some improvement with the down-turn in the weather.
Justin would welcome volunteers to work on environmental issues.
Andrew Yaras presented accounts as verified by Gordon Shepherd, showing a current balance of £666. Gordon was re-elected unopposed as Examiner for 2015-16.
One valid nomination had been received and Norman James was elected nem. con. Officers continued in post, but changes to the Constitution would be necessary for the next AGM.
5. Ward Councillor Edgar Hill gave an entertaining and well-received talk on his experience so far in his official role and on a number of varied issues of importance to members. He was gratefully thanked for his efforts on our behalf.
There being no other pressing business, Chairman thanked the committee for their work during the year and the meeting was closed at 10.10pm