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Association of North Thames Amenity Societies

 

 

Newsletter Autumn 1999

 

 

Inside this Issue:

From the Chairman                               3

CCTV and Street Clutter                     13

Civic Trust Regionalization                 15

Diversity of Member Societies             5

Light Pollution                                    18

No One Loves an Empty Home – II      17

Sustrans                                                9

AGM at Hitchin
2 October 1999


St Mary’s Church, Hitchin, from a sketch specially drawn by Jean Watts

 


The Association of North Thames Amenity Societies


President:  Jennifer Moss, J.P.

Chairman

Ian Morgan, D.L.

Vice Chairman

John Davies

Hon Secretary

Anthony Wethered*

Hon Treasurer

Ronald Sims


*Correspondence to:  Remnantz, West Street, Marlow, Bucks, SL7 2BS

 

ANTAS Newsletter Produced, Published and

Edited by                          Merrin Molesworth

Telephone:                       01494 773381

Email:                                merrin@lineone.net

Printer:                              Oakdale Colour Copy Bureau 
3 Edmonds Shopping Parade  
Edmonds Road   Lane End  
High Wycombe   Bucks   HP14 3EJ

 
Member Societies

Amersham Society

Hitchin Society

Aylesbury Society

Hoddesdon Society

Beaconsfield Society

Marlow Society

Buckingham Society

Potters Bar Society

Chesham Society

Radlett Society

Hertford Society

St Albans Society

High Wycombe Society

Stony Stratford Community Association

Hitcham & Taplow Preservation Society

Wendover Society

Reciprocal Membership

Chiltern Society

London Forum

 

 

Registered with the Civic Trust


 

From the Chairman

Ian Morgan

ANTAS had its inaugural meeting on 5th November 1994, when the represent­atives of eleven local amenity societies in Buckinghamshire and the western part of Hertfordshire honoured me by electing me their first Chairman.  Now, five years later, we have 16 member societies and enlarged boundaries which include the whole of Hertfordshire.

I feel very strongly that the hard work of many contributors has created a firm base from which ANTAS can face the challenges arising from the conflicting demands of, on the one hand, the ever increasing pressures of Government and local policies and, on the other, the needs and aspirations of the local communities from which our member societies derive their very existence.

The new consultative arrangements set up by the Civic Trust, based upon Regional groupings which conform with the Government's Regional boundaries, may have given rise to the fear that, because Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire fall within separate Regions, ANTAS could not continue to operate in its present form.  But this has been discussed with Michael Gwilliam, Director of the Trust, who has given an assurance that sub-regional groups such as ours need not be affected - indeed, it must be apparent that our two Counties have more in common with each other than Bucks has with Hampshire or Herts with Norfolk.  With this assurance we can continue to operate with enthusiasm.

I am delighted to welcome Merrin Molesworth, who has volunteered to take over the task of editing the Newsletter and of looking after our PR problems - I am assured that no bones were broken when she agreed!

This will be my last introduction to a Newsletter, as I reach the end of my term of office at the forthcoming Annual General Meeting.  I would like to take the opportunity to express my gratitude to all those who have attended our meetings and who have invariably treated me with great courtesy - they have enabled me to enjoy these functions immensely.

But in particular I would like to thank our President, Jennifer Moss, the Vice-Chairman, John Davis, the Treasurer, Ronald Sims and, above all, the Hon Sec, Anthony Wethered, for all their help, guidance and advice over these years - without their collective wisdom life would have been difficult, to say the least!

So, I wish whoever takes over the chair every success in the future and may ANTAS continue to thrive.

Never Fear, Anthony’s Still Here

Merrin Molesworth

Text Box:  
Anthony Wethered

The newsletter editorship has been passed to me to reduce some of Anthony Wethered’s workload and release him to do what he does best – organization, networking and responding to the ubiquitous consultation papers.  Since the inauguration of ANTAS Anthony has built up the membership, indeed this Newsletter is delighted to welcome the arrival of the Hertford Society and there is interest from the Oxford Society.  The other time consuming element of Anthony’s job is composing comprehensive and informed replies to consultation papers from DETR, Serplan etc.  By describing his workload no doubt I will deter any successor which, personally I don’t mind, long may Anthony remain!  The constitution does not demand Anthony should retire in any timescale and we sincerely hope he can continue giving us his expertise for the foreseeable future.

The constitution does demand that Ian Morgan must retire – so we will have to allow him to move on but his contribution to the opening years of ANTAS cannot be allowed to pass unnoticed, we thank him most sincerely and expect him to continue his efforts from the ranks like the rest of us.

A Diversity of Civic Societies

John Davies, Hitchin

Although not a collective noun for a group of civic societies, "diversity" certainly describes the societies covered by a recent ANTAS membership survey.

A few months ago it was realised that we had little information on the levels of membership being achieved by the societies within ANTAS.  Still less, we had no idea of what factors might contribute to success - or even how (in some cases) we could explain away low numbers!  It was therefore decided to send out a questionnaire to find out more.  An excellent response rate was achieved (over 80%), with 13 societies providing detailed answers.

Surprising conclusions

The first surprising conclusion was how varied are the levels of membership achieved by apparently similar societies.  Some societies achieve levels of up to 1,400 members (family membership counting as two people), while other societies, apparently no less active and energetic, have less than one hundred members.

To help find common themes that could explain high or low membership, societies were placed into groups - larger, mid-range and smaller societies.  It is emphasised that this grouping takes no account of how successful societies are in meeting their objectives, and the management consultants' breakdown into leaders and laggards certainly would not be appropriate here.

A further surprise was that the larger societies were from smaller places - contrary to the original expectation that large towns should be capable of supporting large civic societies.  In fact the reverse is true, with the larger societies coming from towns with an average population of 17,500, while the mid-range societies represent towns with an average population of 49,000.  It certainly seems that for large membership, one should start a civic society in a small community and, if at all possible, an affluent one!

Text Box:  An elastic market?

However, there are other factors more within the direct control of a society.  The level of membership fees is an obvious one, and here it was found that the larger societies charged distinctly less than many of the smaller societies.  One of the largest societies charges £3.00 for family member­ship, reducing to just £1.00 if paid by standing order, in contrast to smaller societies charging £8.00 or even more.  This looks like a classic example of an "elastic market", with price determining take-up, but it could just possibly be the other way around, with large societies not needing to put up fees compared with smaller societies under pressure to make ends meet.

Meetings and newsletters

Also within the control of a society are how many meetings to hold each year, and how frequently to issue newsletters.  Quite surprisingly, the largest societies seem to have a remarkably laid back approach, with some holding only one meeting per year, and only issuing one or two newsletters!  In complete contrast, the mid-range societies hold up to nine meetings per year and publish newsletters four time per year.  It is difficult to know what conclusions to draw, except to question whether fewer, higher profile meetings might be a better way to attract new members.  A particularly noteworthy example is the society whose one meeting is an ox roast on the village green!

In the case of newsletters, an example of best practice does seem to be delivering newsletters (with application forms) to every house in the town; this may well be a more realistic endeavour if only attempted once per year.

Competition

One of the strongest factors linked with high membership appears to be the combination of civic and local history interests in the one society.  This is the situation for the majority of the larger societies, while virtually all the mid-range and smaller societies face competition from a separate local history society.

This raises the question of whether the smaller societies would be better off seeking some form of merger, but much will depend on local circumstances.  It does however suggest that where societies have been combined since they were formed, any de-merger proposal should be treated with caution. 

Societies on-line

Only one society has a website, and one other society is planning one. These are not in the group of larger societies, and there is no evidence so far that the internet has led to additional membership - this of course is very likely to change in the future, and societies may well ignore this form of communication at their peril.

It was, however, found that almost all the larger societies used e-mail to communicate between their active members, while none of the mid-range or smaller societies used this technology.  Although clearly not a cause of high levels of membership, it certainly improves the effectiveness of any society using this form of internal communication.

Best practice

Various ideas were mentioned as being significant in boosting membership, including:

¨      Annual newsletter to all households

¨      Leaflet drops on housing estates

¨      Encourage payment by standing order

¨      Notice boards and publicity in the town centre

¨      Annual garden party

¨      Awards scheme

¨      Running the town museum or community centre

¨      Organising Heritage Open Days

¨      Participating at town show or environment show

¨      Regular letters to local press

¨      Town Design Statement

¨      Talks to Rotary, Round Table, etc.

The Report

Copies of the full report have been sent to each ANTAS member society - to find out more, just have a word with your society's Hon. Secretary.

 


SUSTRANS

Nicholas Harding
Director of Sustrans

Sustrans stands for Sustainable Transport and is one of the fastest growing charities in the country.  It works through practical projects – such as the National Cycle Network and Safe Routes to Schools – to design and build routes for cyclists and walkers.  These routes provide for journeys to work, to school and for leisure.  Sustrans believes our environment and quality of life can be immensely improved by a shift to more sustainable transport policies, and less dependence on the motor car. There are more bicycles than cars in this country, but most are little used because people will not ride them along the polluted and congested and frankly dangerous roads which characterise our towns and cities. Sustrans believes that if safe and attractive routes are provided, then people will use them. Over a million journeys a year are made on our Bristol to Bath cycle route, for example.

By 2005 the National Cycle Network will be 8,000 miles of traffic-free routes and traffic-calmed and minor roads, running right through urban centres and reaching all parts of the UK.  It will be a safe, attractive, high-quality network for cyclists, and a major new amenity for walkers and people with disabilities. The Network is being built in all parts of the United Kingdom, and will pass within two miles of 20 million people.

By the end of 1998, Sustrans and its partners had already opened over 2,000 miles of route, and this total is growing every week. Half the Network will be entirely traffic-free, built along old railway lines, canal towpaths, riversides and derelict land. These high-quality routes will be open to cyclists and pedestrians, and in the majority of cases will be ideal for push-chairs and wheelchairs too. The other half will follow existing roads. Town roads will be traffic calmed or incorporate cycle lanes, while quieter minor roads will be chosen for country sections with special road crossings where necessary. To help build the National Cycle Network Sustrans acquired more than 200 miles of former railway routes from British Railway Board, many sections opening up local networks, crossing rivers or main roads, or threading through con­gested urban areas. 

Text Box:  
Cycling through one of the many Sustrans outdoor public art sculptures


The National Cycle Network is one of the largest projects supported by the Millennium Commiss­ion and it certainly reaches more parts of the country than any other. It also features the country’s biggest collection of outdoor public art – spread across thousands of miles and accessible to all.  Artworks vary from large earthworks and “growing sculptures” to small details like fountains, seats, access points and gateways.

On Midsummer’s Day 2000, the longest day of the first year of a new millennium, we want as many people to be out there celebrating the opening of Phase 1 of the Network – 3,500 miles – with the most inclusive, exhilarating project of them all…Ride the Net.

Another Sustrans initiative, our Safe Routes to Schools project, targets the child’s journey and is now recognised and promoted by Government. 60% of children cycle to school in Denmark, compared with 2% in Britain. Research showed that most 9-13 year olds in this country would prefer to cycle, and this has been confirmed by the experiences of the pilot schools in our project. People know that it is modern madness to drive children under a mile to school when they would rather walk or cycle – Safe Routes to Schools shows how more and more parents could have an alternative.  At last, the much talked about virtuous circle, of safer routes, independence and healthy exercise, is beginning to be restored.

In further initiatives Sustrans and Railtrack are planning cycle routes to stations.  An integrated transport policy must have a strong cycle-rail axis, yet few stations in the UK have purpose-built routes for cycling and walking. And yet in Denmark 25% of rail passengers cycle from their home to the station. In addition we are working with employers to link them to the National Cycle Network and encourage staff to cycle to work.  After an enthusiastic review of a pilot study on cycle facilities and access, Sainsbury’s have asked us to design routes and cycle facilities for up to 40 of their new and revamped stores, for both staff and customers.

Meanwhile Ordnance Survey have provided another mapping first, putting the National Cycle Network and some other cycle routes on its 1:50,000 Landranger series.

Global warming has rapidly become an undisputed reality, and big reductions in fossil fuel emissions are required quickly if the world is to avert irreversible damage to environment and climate.  Sustrans hopes its practical work is already encouraging sensible transport choices. Important changes in transport policy are emerging – not least because of the heroic efforts of the hundreds of Sustrans Supporters who responded to the Government consultation on transport.  The resulting White Paper strongly promotes walking and cycling, and sets up a cross-departmental Schools Transport Advisory Group at Governmental level, of which Sustrans is a member.  English local authorities must now submit five-year Local Transport Plans giving priority to walking and cycling in line with Government policy to quadruple cycle use by 2012.

Sustrans believes that we should move towards sustainable transport programmes, both to improve individuals’ quality of life and to respond to the worldwide issue of global warming.

If you would like to know more about Sustrans and its work, or to join as a supporter, they can be contacted at 35 King Street, Bristol BS1 4DZ, telephone 0117 929 0888.

CCTV’s Impact on Crime

Pat Sutherland

Some 85% of British councils use CCTV as their main crime-prevention tool. Police hunting the recent London nail-bombers relied on closed-circuit television cameras. In the Soho area, 126 cameras can be seen, not to mention the dozens of hidden cameras that secretly monitor activities.

In the past five years, CCTV has been favoured by police as a method of identifying criminals, not only because it is cheaper than sending out officers, but also because the cameras act as deterrents.

In Scotland, Stirling council reports a 75% drop in crime since it introduced CCTV three years ago, and Bournemouth reported a reduction in vandalism costs of 83% after cameras were installed along the sea front. Another advantage is that almost no one caught on camera committing an offence pleads not guilty - thus saving time and money on long and expensive trials.

Although most people support CCTV monitors, civil rights groups such as Liberty, fear they herald an "Orwellian" police state, with people being monitored for such minor crimes as illegal parking.

There is no legislation controlling video surveillance in public places.


Caveat Custodes (Beware of the Guardians)

John Evans
Member of The Marlow Society Executive Committee

Last year, starting in October, thirteen CCTV security cameras were installed in Marlow Town Centre, a Conservation Area.  The cameras are mounted on black poles with a girth of nearly three quarters of a metre, and either six or ten metres tall.  Needless to say these poles have a substantial visual impact, and those that have been sited close to Grade II listed buildings have severely damaged the ap­pearance of those buildings.  The attempts by a few of us to get the most damag­ing poles re-sited, or the poles re­moved by mount­ing the cameras on buildings (as in the Cathedral City of Ely), have not yet been successful.


However, it might help avoid similar visual damage in other towns if I pass on some of the things we have learnt in the last eleven months.  What I suggest you should beware of are:

Text Box:  
Various ideas for fixing unobtrusive dome cameras

Firstly CCTV security cameras together with telegraph poles, street lighting furniture, telephone kiosks and bus shelters are “permitted developments”, which means that a local authority does not have to obtain Local Planning Permission in order to install them.  This can mean that:

a   Any “hot line” or early warning system an amenity society may have with a local Plann­ing Department will not be activated

b   The authority may think it unnecessary to involve its own Conservation Officer

c   The authority may believe there is little, if any, need for public consultation

d   Building-mounted cameras will not even be considered, because of the additional administrative work involved in negotiating with owners and in some cases getting approval from English Heritage.

Secondly, CCTV is “high tech”, consequently most authorities will have to contract out the design, positioning and installation of the cameras, and councillors and council officers may be inhibited from critically questioning the contractor’s recommendations.  Also specialist contractors may claim they know better than the local police where cameras should be sited.

Good luck!

 

CCTV
Historic sites can be sensitively protected.  Canterbury Cathedral has a substantial closed circuit surveillance system both internal and externally, provided by Wright Security Plc who are experienced in supplying CCTV to a number of historic sites around the country.

 

Civic Society Regionalization

The Editor

On July 2nd twelve ANTAS members travelled to Carlton House Terrace home of the Civic Trust, a fine Nash building (albeit with an interior unadorned by the hand-blocked wallpaper of Lord Irvine) overlooking the Mall through green majestic trees to St James’s Park.

But this was no architectural outing.  Our Hon Secretary-of-many-contacts set up this opportunity for us to learn about the new Regional Structure of the Civic Trust and the latest thinking of Serplan which is based on the government’s recent regional boundaries. 

The remarkable thing was that this meeting, chaired by Mike Gwilliam of the Civic Trust and addressed by the Director of Serplan, Brian Wilson took place at all.  ANTAS were the most numerically (not to say cerebrally!) represented by our members from Aylesbury, Buckingham, High Wycombe (2), Chesham (3), Hertford, Marlow (3) and St Albans (3).  Representatives also attended from Southern Comfort, the Federation of Sussex, the Kent Federation, the London Forum and an observer from Oxford.

Mike emphasized that government, environmental and voluntary sectors are well on the way to changing to a regional setup and we need to comply or risk losing influence.  After addresses by Mike and Brian (and a description of the beginnings of the London Forum) the meeting broke into three focus groups.  Member societies of the Civic Trust need to develop a clear process of getting people together in a credible regional organization to be in a position to make their voice properly heard.  Antas, an association of groups with similar interests, resulted from the old Civic Trust structure.  Now it has members in both the new Eastern and SE regions.  While it can continue to straddle this boundary, the umbrella group must coincide with the current government boundaries.

The focus groups could see that the workload of volunteers would incr­ease, but we tried to remain positive in order to have a credible voice.  Societies need to identify issues which unite us, eg transport and inward migration, and apply our expertise to a wider canvas.  We can avoid NIMBYism by devel­oping a regional picture and we should prioritize what we do best – monitoring planning app­lications and comment­ing on planning and environmental issues.  There was agreement for forming a Regional Federation.

A reader of Lord Roger’s Urban task Force report cannot fail to notice that the civic society movement was barely mentioned.  We need a higher profile and the 2nd July meeting was an important step towards this.

No One Loves an Empty Home - II

Ian Morgan

The Autumn 1998 ANTAS Newsletter included an interesting and detailed article on the vexed subject of empty homes, high­lighting the activities of the Empty Homes Agency. 

Just by way of reminder, this organisation is an independent registered charity which depends for its existence on donations from charitable trusts, companies, government departments and individuals.  It is a Housing Association affiliated to the National Housing Federation, though it neither owns nor manages any property; its purpose is to help, by any means available to it, others to bring empty properties back into use. 

The Hatcham & Taplow Preservation Society, an ANTAS member, has drawn attention to two instances of properties situated within a conservation area which have been empty for many, many years. 

One involves what was once a magnificent mansion beside the Thames, owned by a local company, which has been allowed to fall into a state of disrepair with its gardens reverting to "jungle"; the other comprises two Edwardian houses, next to one another, also beside the Thames which are owned by the local authority and are also boarded up and in a poor state. 

To be fair to the local authority in question, it is understood that they intend to bring their two properties back into use by modernisation and conversion into flats or apartments, but there is no indication as to when this will commence. 

Approaches by ANTAS to the local authority concerned, to DETR and to other organisations have failed to attract reaction or support, with the exception of the Empty Homes Agency which has responded helpfully by pointing out that councils already possess many powers for tackling empty and wasted homes. 

The Agency adds, however, that many councils do not have either the experience of using such powers or the political will from elected councillors to use them. 

The most powerful weapon is that of compulsory purchase conferred on local authorities under Section 17 of the Housing Act 1985 and there are examples of authorities, most notably Westminster City Council, who have pursued compulsory purchase orders with vigour and who, with close liaison with housing associations or private developers, have been able to put together back-to-back sales to ensure there is no detrimental impact on  the financial resources of the authority concerned. 

Further information is available from Ian Morgan (01628 486398) or direct from the Agency at 195-197 Victoria Street, London SWIE 5NE. 

Light Pollution

Light Pollution isn't the opposite of heavy pollution!  But it is becoming a heavy problem.

People have enjoyed looking at the night sky, one of the most beautiful parts of our environment, for thousands of years. Everyone should be able to see stars and planets, our Milky Way galaxy and shooting stars (meteors); but over the last forty years, millions of lights have blotted out the night sky for people living in towns, and even in the countryside road lights and security lights can cause problems for anyone who wants to see the stars.  Astronomers call the wasted light that goes up into the sky "Light Pollution".

Should we put all the lights out?  Of course not. We need light at night for many reasons. The astronomers would like to see better lights which shine downwards where the light is needed and not upwards where it isn't. Good lights are not too bright, and do not blot out the sky; they save energy and give us back something like the dark skies that people enjoyed long ago.

The light from the rest of the Universe takes hundreds, thousands or millions of years to reach our eyes. What a pity to lose it on the last moment of its journey!

Dark skies are compatible with quality lighting, in fact they require such lighting. Poor lighting has many adverse effects, including glare, clutter, light trespass, energy waste, and light pollution. We, the public need and deserve a quality night-time envir­on­­ment but light pollution is a major threat to that environment. Dark skies provide a relaxed, safe, secure, and functional night-time environment. Solutions are possible, and they work

The above information is supplied by the International Dark-Sky Association, a non-profit, membership-based organisation. IDA's goal is to be effective – through education about (a) the value and effectiveness of quality night-time lighting and (b) of the solutions to the problems – in stopping the adverse environmental impact of light pollution and space debris. 

For more information about the British Astronomical Association Campaign for Dark Skies, write to     
The Coordinator, CfDS, Bob Mizon, 38 The Vineries, Colehill, Wimborne, Dorset BH21 2PX.