Local elections, 3 May 2012

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A developing story

6 April 2012 Update. Yesterday, @RadlettPolice tweeted “Following the recent allegation of abduction police are satisfied that no criminal offence or suspicious incident took place.”

I’m chair of the Fair Field school governors so I’ve been quite close to the events of Thursday and Friday in Radlett. I’ve gathered together some of the media coverage plus updates from Fair Field School and the local police to clarify the sequence of events because there’s been some confusion and quite a lot of apparently unfounded rumour. I’ll keep this post up to date if there’s news and do leave a comment at the bottom if you can add anything yourself.

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Wheel clamping – the results are in

You’re a surprising place, Radlett. Over 60 of you have completed our wheel clamping survey so far (click through and complete it yourself if you haven’t done so – the results will still count). We wanted to know what you thought of Wine Rack’s policy of clamping non-customers who park outside the shop – with release fees of at least £200. And it’s a close-run thing. Half of you, in fact, think it’s a good thing. 49% of those who responded said their attitude to Wine Rack’s policy was either positive or very positive. Only 47% thought the opposite (you can see the results in full, updated in real-time, here). Interestingly, Radlett’s response to other questions is more mixed:

  • 55% think that the government should ban private wheel clamping, only 29% think they shouldn’t (the balance is the ‘don’t knows’).
  • 31% think it’s OK for private clampers to operate outside the shop’s opening hours, 21% say it’s never OK.
  • 49% think a policy like Wine Rack’s would be damaging to their brand.
  • 88% think the release fee should be the same as or less than the local authority’s penalties.

Most interesting are the narrative responses. Almost all are negative:

How can shop owners possibly think this is good for business?! Totally narrow minded. I avoided the last wine shop at that site and will buy wine in budgens. Idiots

I will not consider spending one penny in wine rack. I am disgusted.

They are bully’s (sic) and crooks.

A quite astonishingly bad decision by Wine Rack… I will not buy from Wine Rack under any circumstances while the parking ban is in place.

A handful are more sympathetic:

I feel they are looking out for their customers. It’s nice to pull up and be able to put things in my car without having to park down the road…

It must be frustrating for shop keepers to have parking blocked by people who are not patronising the shop, having been clamped by local authorities before it’s never ideal but sometimes the only way to control parking!

Several think we bring it on ourselves:

there is a bloody FREE car park at the back but people cant be bothered to walk! Laziness!

I wish I didn’t have to agree with it but people in Radlett take advantage… Unfortunately some people do not use their brains and therefore have to sadly be trained by authority.

I think the most telling comments are the ones that place the shop in the Radlet context:

not the best way for a new business to endear itself !

think it is really poor of wine rack, we live in a village and they should be encourging people to use the high street and local shops. they are showing they don’t understand the area and I won’t be using them again…

And this one sums up my attitude best:

It seems out of keeping with the general friendly vibe of Radlett shops.

Radlett Wire’s attitude to the policy is unequivocal. It’s nasty, predatory, unethical and it’s a PR disaster for Wine Rack. I cannot think of a worse way to enter a new market at a difficult time than to hire a private clamping firm with all the attendant bad news, hostility and aggravation. Wine Rack has been in Radlett for a couple of months and what are we talking about: Wine Rack’s lovely premises, their great product and attractive prices? No, we’re talking about the fact that they’ve hired a private clamping firm.

I hope that Wine Rack thrives in Radlett but I suspect they won’t while customers have to enter the store through a zone patrolled by people who hang around in a van waiting to pounce on careless motorists – people, remember, who earn a substantial commission for every car they immobilise and who are empowered to clamp your car at any hour, even when the shop is closed. It seems like the most elementary failure of retail common sense and quite the opposite of encouraging people to come in and experience the store.

Most survey respondents supported Wine Rack’s right to reserve parking spaces for customers but many wonder why clamping should be allowed while the shop is closed. Release fees, which start at £205 (including various fees), are clearly predatory and represent the kind of abuse of the civil law that encouraged the government to pledge to ban clamping on private property in the first place (thanks to Mr Cyril, in a comment on an earlier post, for this link to the relevant part of the legislation, still on its journey through parliament .

While times are so hard for retailers, the suspicion must also remain that this clamping policy is not about keeping spaces clear for customers but about earning income for the company. Retail premises with private parking spaces in front must be rather rare and the likely yield from these four spaces patrolled by PCS with release fees in the £200 area must be substantial. It’s a depressing thought but, with the economy bumping along the bottom for the foreseeable future, we’re likely to see more of this. Wine Rack have just made Radlett’s High Street a slightly less friendly place. Can it be long before other shopkeepers join in and this becomes a trend?

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Wheel clamping in Radlett

Update: we’re asking Radlett residents and shoppers what they think of Wine Rack’s decision to use a private wheel clamping firm to enforce parking rules in front of their new Radlett shop. The 1-minute survey has been live since this morning and there are already dozens of responses. We’d like the widest possible response to the survey so please tell your friends, like and share this page on Facebook and Twitter and generally get the word out. Thanks! Steve

Private wheel clamping firms are a fact of life but here’s an interesting variation on the theme. The parking spaces outside the new Wine Rack in the parade on the East side of Watling Street in Radlett are now protected by a rather well-known firm of private clampers called Parking Control Services. Cars parked without ‘a valid P.C.S. authorised permit’ are liable to clamping and towing. The penalties are substantial and apply around the clock, even when local authority parking restrictions do not apply and when the shop is closed.

The warning sign uses the usual rather chilling language of surcharges, tow fees and daily rates and the phrase “Includes blue badge holders” stands out. There’s no mention of customers on the warning sign but I’m assuming that buying something from the shop will entitle you to a permit. All the spaces in the parade are private so Wine Rack are well within their rights to bring in the private clampers but what do you think of the shop’s clamping policy and do you support the government’s – much delayed – plans to ban private clampers? Complete this one-minute survey and we’ll publish the results here on the blog.

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Fair Field’s Summer Fair – pics and another episode of the podcast

Fair Field is the junior school on the Watford Road at the edge of Radlett. I’m not impartial (I’m chair of the school’s governors and I’ve got kids there) but it’s an extraordinary place. Full of life and creativity, with a young and hard-working team, lovely children and parents who are unfailingly enthusiastic about the place. It was the school’s amazing PTA who organised yesterday’s Summer Fair. It was enormous fun, absolutely packed and will inevitably have raised a lot of money for the school. Highlights? The school choir’s performance of songs from Oliver, the Radlett Gymnastics Club’s exhibition performance, the gorgeous tones of Borehamwood Brass – and chatting with so many lovely Fair Field people.

Visit the school’s web site for more information.

Here’s another episode of the Radlett Wire podcast, a montage of sounds from the Fair. Download the MP3. Get audio like this delivered to your computer for nothing: subscribe to the Radlett Wire podcast.

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The Radlett Art Society’s annual exhibition

The 45th annual exhibition closed last weekend and I dropped into the Radlett Centre for a chat with Carmen Beal, the society’s chair, on the final morning. She reported another successful show – local artists exhibited and sold works in all media – and urged me to let you know that the society is always eager to welcome new members from the area for its programme of events, lectures and exhibitions. If you’d like to know more or to join, let me know and I’ll pass on your details to Carmen.

Every year, pupils from Fair Field Junior school come down the exhibition for a tour of the work and some inspiration (two years ago they exhibited their own work in the show). This year they were brought by art teacher Jacqueline Voyce and The Watford Observer covered the visit.

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The Post Office delivery office in Radlett is closing

A closed sign

UPDATE, 27 June: I dropped into the Post Office on Saturday to grill the always friendly and helpful staff there about the fate of the branch. They were, understandably, reluctant to speak out of turn and stuck to the official line that the branch will not be closed. However, it was suggested that they’d know more about the location of the branch in a month or so. Speculating wildly now: maintaining the Post Office counter business in the current Post Office premises might not be sustainable once the delivery office has been closed, so a ‘back-of-the-shop’ location – in, for instance, Budgen or Chocolate Box – or a full-on shopfront operation in one of the village’s empty shops would make perfect sense. I’ll stress that this is just guesswork on my part right now and the Post Office’s official line is that no ‘relocation’ is planned. Watch this space, as they say in other exciting, fast-moving news outlets.

Staff at the Radlett post office have begun to tell customers that the delivery office at the back will close early next year. Barry Allsuch, local estate agent, tweeted (in a Direct Message to @RadlettWire) this week that he’d been told the closure would also affect the post office branch at the front, an even nastier prospect for Radlett people. The Watford Oberver’s 24 May story is based on this press release:

RELOCATION OF RADLETT DELIVERY OFFICE

Royal Mail announced today (Tuesday 24 May) that Radlett Delivery Office, 122 Watling Street, RADLETT WD7 7AF will be relocated to its Borehamwood office in early 2012.

Faced with declining mail volumes and increasingly tough trading conditions, Royal Mail constantly reviews the operational efficiency and commercial practicality of all its units. As part of our business-wide investment and modernisation programme, Royal Mail is investing in new technology and equipment and upgraded operational facilities to ensure we have world class facilities which provide the most efficient and effective network for delivering the post.

At the same time we need to respond to the huge growth in electronic communications and the resulting decline in overall mail volumes which in the UK means that there are now 16 million fewer letters posted every day compared to five years ago.

The move of the Radlett operation which delivers mail to customers in the WD7 postcode area will provide improved working conditions, secure more cost effective operation.

Detailed planning for the move will take place in the coming weeks and months to ensure a smooth transition for our customers and staff in Radlett. Following the move customers will be able to collect mail from Borehamwood Delivery Office, 23 Shenley Road, BOREHAMWOOD WD6 1AF on the occasions when we have not been able to deliver first time and have left a card. For customers who prefer not to visit the enquiry office in person, Royal Mail offers a free redelivery service which can be accessed online www.royalmail.com or by calling the number on the card we leave. The delivery of mail will continue to meet Royal Mail’s specifications.

Royal Mail’s Thames Valley Delivery Director, Gary Burgess said: “We are telling our people about the move now before the detailed planning starts. We want to be able to work with our people on the change and have the opportunity to discuss the implications individually.”

There will be no compulsory redundancies as a result of this change and Royal Mail will also reimburse its people for any extra mileage incurred as a result of the move.

I contacted the press office looking for an official line. Val Antoine came back with these fairly unequivocal words:

I can confirm there are no plans to relocate Radlett Post Office.

I’ll keep an eye on this and please leave a comment if you know more. It seems to me that a good way to diminish a bustling small town of 9,000 is to take away its Post Office.

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Radlett’s shortlived farmers’ market is no more

Honey and beeswax on sale at the first Radlett farmers' market in April 2011

Hertsmere Borough Council issued a press release yesterday. The company brought in to operate the three month trial of a farmers’ market in Newberries car park (behind Budgen’s) have given up on the idea. Here’s the release:

Following a three-month trial, the farmers’ market in Radlett will not be continued.

The management company – Hughmark Continental Ltd – came to the decision as they feel the market is not financially viable for them. Lew Hughes, Director, said: “Unfortunately we have decided not to continue with the market. Even though we weren’t charged for using the car park for the trial we have struggled to cover our costs so it just isn’t worthwhile for us.”

The trial ran at Newberries car park on the third Sunday of April, May and June, with the last market on Sunday (19 June).

Councillor Seamus Quilty, Portfolio Holder for economic development at Hertsmere Borough Council, said: “This may be disappointing for local residents but we cannot continue with the market if it isn’t cost-effective for anyone. We have tried to make it work but we can’t continue it for just a few residents, especially in the current financial climate.

“A small number of people have suggested that we haven’t promoted the market enough but we have done everything possible. This has included putting articles and adverts in various residents’ magazines and local papers, putting up posters in local shops and on lampposts and advertising it on our website and through social media. The last market was also promoted at the Radlett Festival the week before it.”

Simon Payton, Head of Engineering Services at Hertsmere Borough Council with responsibility for markets, added: “The trial started off quite well but never became economically viable – at the end of the day if stallholders don’t make a profit they will not return.

“It is a shame the market hasn’t worked but I think Radlett is a very different place to somewhere like St Albans which has a popular farmers’ market but also has a lot of other things to attract visitors.”

What do you think? Did Hertsmere and Hughmark promote the market properly or was it doomed from the start by a lack of adverts and banners? Was the location up to the task or essentially hidden behind the shops? And does anybody really need a fancy market selling artisan bread and organic honey anyway?

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The sounds of Radlett Festival

The audience for the combined choirs of St John's and Fair Field schools in Radlett in the rain at the 2011 Radlett Festival

For your listening pleasure, a montage of sounds from last weekend’s Radlett Festival. You will hear Gavin from Tzar in the High Street; Louis (selling cakes for a charity whose name he can’t remember); Nicola and Louise from Radlett Ladies’ Circle (poker nights, cocktails, chocolate but apparently no crochet classes); Nicolai, a governor at Fair Field and St John’s; an anonymous woman apparently looking for some Morris men; the intrepid founder of Salsa Brava, Radlett’s own (only?) artisan salsa manufacturer; the quite unhinged people from Radlett Players; Graham Taylor, chair of the Radlett Society (with his really wonderful Aldenham walkers’ map).

Also Susanna with an entirely unearned coconut; Catherine Rose with her Sweetcheeks gluten-free cakes; the combined choirs of Fair Field and St John’s (with selections from Oliver); Gemma, promoting recycling for Hertsmere Borough Council; the girls from the Radlett World Challenge (they’re raising money for a charitable trip to Thailand and Cambodia); Mrs Strickland, Brownie leader (and long-time Fair Field dinner lady), Clive Glover from Radio Verulam (and the voice of Phil Richards on the mic); John Mileham from Elstree and Borehamwood Light Operatic Society; the sound of Ricky Lopez and his Bratpack show and Sylvia Cohen from the Radlett Festival organisers. Plus some dogs.

I could (and really should) have spoken to so many more people on that rainy day. I missed the Morris men all together and definitely should have spoken to Ricky Lopez and the nice people from Bhaktivedanta Manor (who were there with their lovely free food as usual). Next time!

Download the MP3. Festival founder and chairman Allan Beaver spoke to Radlett Wire a couple of weeks ago. Lots more pictures from the Festival on Flickr. Get audio like this delivered to your computer for nothing: subscribe to the Radlett Wire podcast.

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The Radlett Festival. Were we downhearted? Not really

Yes, it rained all day. Yes, the dog show lacked its usual glossy sheen in the downpour. But the Ricky Lopez Ratpack Show proceeded with pizazz worthy of Palm Springs and Clive Glover, one of the organisers, tweeted on Monday that over 1,000 attended the festival during the day so I expect that the event will still have raised a substantial sum for the charities and local organisations it supports (I’ll try to update on that once the details are available). I was taking photos and recording audio of the event (which I’ll publish later) and literally everyone I spoke to during the day was relentlessly chirpy about the whole thing. A proper British Summer treat, in fact.

All the photos on Flickr are published under a Creative Commons licence, which means you may use them without permission and for free. You just need to provide a credit or a link back if you use them. Let me know if you do. And if you’re in any of the pics or you know the names of those who are, please add a comment or a note to let me know.

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