Yes, Natwest is closing – but will you miss it?

Natwest Radlett Branch Closure Factsheet cover
RBS has confirmed that they’re closing 259 branches, 62 at the Bank of Scotland and 197 at Natwest. Radlett is on the list. The bank is doing a pretty thorough job of informing customers and local people about their plans. There’s a leaflet for each closing branch, with an explanation of why the branch has been chosen for closure and details of alternatives (although, amusingly, the Radlett leaflet suggests the soon-to-be-demolished petrol station as an alternative cash point location!).

Are you a Natwest customer? Will you miss the Radlett branch? Or have you already gone fully digital?
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Here’s what we know about Radlett’s new bookshop

Segrue Books logoNews that a new shop is opening in Radlett doesn’t usually cause much of a stir. But when we heard that David and Amanda Segrue were planning to open a bookshop right here in Radlett, we really were excited. I spoke to David about the project:

Tell us what kind of bookshop you’re planning, David. What will it be called?

“We thought long and hard about the name and talked about successful bookshops. They’re all named after their founders so we came up with the name Segrue Books of Radlett. It took some time to get used to a bookshop having our name on it! We put Radlett in the name as we want the bookshop to be part of the community and for the people of Radlett to feel the shop belongs to the village. The shop will have a good range of fiction – mid-market and literary. Non-fiction will range from history and politics through to popular psychology, science and travel. We’ll also stock illustrated books including cookery, design and practical art, plus a good selection of children’s books.”

Radlett’s well within range of Amazon’s same-day delivery service. What makes you think there’s still a place for physical bookshops in 2016?

“Amazon provides an online shopping service that suits some consumers, but there are many book buyers who want to browse in a good bookshop. They want to touch a book and get a feel for it before they buy it. It’s very hard to really get a feel for a book on a screen. The other key to success in bookselling is the way the shop presents its books and gifts, the knowledge of the booksellers and their customer service. We can order almost 500,000 books for next-day delivery too.”

What’s your background? Have you run bookshops before?

“I’ve worked in the industry for 24 years as a sales agent for independent publishers, I supply everyone from Waterstones and WHSmith to museums, galleries and independent bookshops. I advise publishers on packaging of books and cover design. Amanda started life working in the city and for the last 14 years has managed finance for our sales agency. Neither of us have run a bookshop but have the trade experience. We’ll be employing an experienced bookshop manager and booksellers.”

We hear that 30% of your shop will be children’s books. Why are kids’ books so important?

“Children’s books have grown in sales for the last three to four years and the quality goes from strength to strength. Children are continually distracted by screens from phones and tablets to televisions. Books are a beautiful, tactile object that can help focus children’s minds, help calm children and inspire creativity.”

Will your shop reflect your own interests?

Amanda will bring a sense of calm to the shop with her interest in interior design, she has a flair for it. The key to success in bookselling is to build a shop’s stock around the local market, we’ll build the opening stock based on our knowledge of the local area. We’ll buy a small amount of gift product to sell and Amanda and I will do this to suit the taste of the locals.”

There’s the exciting prospect of ‘locally-made cakes’. Tell me more about the café.

“Amanda’s a tea drinker and has picked Tea Pigs as our supplier for tea, it will be served in pots with tea cups the way tea should be. I’m a coffee drinker and am insistent that you can’t serve coffee unless it is the best coffee. All the staff will be trained as baristas as well as being expert booksellers. Amanda is currently tasting cakes from a number of local bakers that make cakes at home, when we say home-made we mean home-made.”

Will you put on events, readings and meet-the-authors?

“There’s great excitement in the book trade for the shop opening, publishers are always keen to find new bookshops to promote authors. We’ll be looking for author signings and meet-the-author talks. We’ll look to run a bookclub which can also attract authors to meet bookclub members. We’re also looking to run children’s events tied in with authors and activity books. Our 11 year-old son wants to read to children on a Saturday and during the holidays.”

I hear you’ve taken the location of the old Wine Rack. Will you retain the parking spaces in front?

“The parking spaces are owned by the shops along the parade and so the 4 spaces in front of the shop are owned by Segrue Books of Radlett. We love the idea people can park outside, pop in for a coffee and a book and not have to worry about parking.”

You can sign up for email updates about the new bookshop on the Segrue Books web site.

Seven things we know about Hertsmere’s plans for Newberries Car Park

Hertsmere Council's plan of the Newberries car park developmentThere’s an ugly old car park behind the shops, between the river and the railway. The council has big plans for it and the community is already mobilising against it. What do we know so far?

1. It’s a big project and it’s going to be politically explosive
Hertsmere Borough Council owns the land and will manage the project. Planning permission hasn’t been obtained yet and, incidentally, the council is also the planning authority. Governance of this project is going to be a hot topic. A committee of senior Hertsmere councillors and officials, led by Chief Executive Donald Graham and finance and property portfolio holder Councillor John Graham has been appointed to supervise the scheme through to construction. Transparency and propriety are going to be hugely important. Everybody in the area will be paying attention.

2. It’s going to be a big shop with a hotel above it
It’ll be a no-frills hotel. A Premier Inn-style joint with no on-site catering, although the retail unit could include a cafe. Guests will, of course, also be able to use local restaurants and shops.

3. It’s all about the money
A local authority sitting on 5,000 square metres of land in a location like this would probably be irresponsible not to try to boost its yield – especially when their numbers suggest it is under-used. The swingeing cuts in local government funding are real and add to the pressure. The document presented to the council’s executive (PDF) makes a lot of the need for funds and uses government cuts as an argument for maximising the income from the land by retaining ownership of the project and partnering with a developer rather than just selling the land.

4. There’s risk – for the authority and for the community
The provisional plans have some sketchy numbers for return on investment and there are obviously no guarantees for the success of a big new shop (some people say it’ll be an Aldi) and a hotel. The proposed approach sees the council taking on more risk than if they simply sold the land. There may also be substantial borrowing. Hertsmere is not a big authority and doesn’t have much slack. This won’t be a walk in the park.

5. We’re all going to be talking about the parking
Newberries car park has 216 places and, according to the council, an occupancy rate of 60%. So, on average, 130 of the available spaces are used at any one time. That leaves 86 spaces for the use of the 80-room hotel. More spaces are planned as part of the development, for the shop mainly. Whatever happens, it’s going to be tight, even on an average day. And all that’s before we’ve even thought about access to the site and extra traffic.

6. The land floods
Everybody remembers the car park under water as recently as 2014. The car park is part of an area that’s meant to be allowed to flood when the river overflows. Elaborate measures will have to be taken to make the development comply with the Environment Agency’s rules. The council’s response is to build the shop and the hotel on stilts. Does that sound viable? Quite possibly. Does it sound unproblematic? No.

7. There’s already opposition from the community.
Local campaigner Clive Glover has written a detailed objection in the Radlett Village Facebook Group (you may need to be a member of the group to see this). He questions the business case and asks important questions about capacity and access. We’ll hear a lot more of this. There’s talk of a petition and a public meeting.

And there’s going to be a lot more to this project. It’s certainly the biggest individual development in Radlett in the eighteen years I’ve lived here. It’s bound to cause a big fuss in the village. No one’s automatically against development and we, like all communities, expect our local authorities to get the best possible return on their assets but we also expect plans like this to respect the needs of the community and not steamroller existing businesses. The obvious potential for conflict of interest in this development is going to make it particularly tricky for officials and councillors. The financial risks are potentially ruinous and the plan so far contains no new community amenities at all, beyond the commercial elements.

The council’s plans were presented to a meeting of the executive committee. Download a PDF of the documents presented (including drawings).

The Borehamwood Times wrote up the executive’s approval of the council’s proposal, based on this Hertsmere press release. A big story like this needs serious treatment from local media. This is a great opportunity for them to really dig in and devote some full-time effort to it. I hope they do.

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?

A new convenience store on Watling Street

We’ve been dropping into the new shop in the Oakway parade on Watling Street since before Christmas so this is a belated welcome to owner Ali Sumbul (pictured) and his family who run the shop. Staff are terrifically friendly and have the entirely charming habit of noting down the things you’re after that they don’t have in stock so that they can get them in for your next visit.

Retail is pretty brutal at the best of times but whenever a new shop opens in this grim climate I find myself crossing my fingers. Ali’s chosen an unpromising stretch of Watling Street which has seen more than its fair share of closures but his shop is open all hours and serves the Northern end of the village that’s a good walk from Tesco and Budgen so he stands a chance of making a success of it. I do hope so!