© 2017 The Harpenden Society

Spring 2016 Newsletter

There are an estimated 300,000 drug addicts in the UK – and 33% of theft and property offences are drug-related. There are 120,000 licensed premises in England and Wales, with a turnover of £22bn a year – and 40% of violent crimes are alcohol-related. Although police numbers rose from 60,000 in the 1930s to 140,000 by the end of the last century, reported crimes sprang from less than 0.5m to 3.5m annually in the same period and prison numbers grew from 30,000 to 86,000.

Similarly schooling is radically effected by social factors. Research suggests that a child's development score at 22 months is an accurate predictor of educational outcomes at 26 years of age. One key to this is the gap between language rich and language poor households, with children from the former having heard up to 30m more words than the the latter by the age of three. A report from the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission in 2015 based on its longitudinal study of some 17,000 children born in a particular week of 1970, showed that children from a high income background with LOW academic ability when aged five are a third more likely to have higher earnings at the age of 42 than children of poorer families with HIGH ability at five.

Some of you may recall my editorial in the previous newsletter on the social causes of ill-health. Health along with crime and education offer three  examples of where the community determines its own social destiny. Traffic congestion is another one. The institutions created to deal with these issues, such as schools, hospitals and prisons, grapple, often bravely, with these situations but they are relatively powerless to alter the underlying basic causes. Politicians, central and local, and professional cadres strive to find answers, frequently performing with energy and skill. But they are akin to a gallant fire brigade that dowses some of the flames but cannot prevent the conflagration.

The Harpenden in Question - being a series of editorial commentaries on important Harpenden issues that should challenge thought and encourage inquiry and action.

20. Why Civil Society needs Civic Societies

Some may resignedly and negatively yield to a gloomy pessimism, as in:

There once was a man who said 'damn,

I suddenly see what I am.

I'm a creature that moves

In predestinate grooves

I'm not even a bus; I'm a tram.'

A good civic society puts the case for the bus. It recognises that communities are organic entities, flexibly capable of change. A community can act collectively to halt bad and encourage good changes but it requires constant vigilance and an awareness of how communal factors shift the levers of its facilities and amenities. It is the task of a civic society, such as the splendid Harpenden Society with its long history of public good, to act as cultural and social sentinel for the town, alert to helping its host community understand these communally related problems and respond positively to them.

Eric Midwinter

Letters from the Editor

An Urbane Word about Urban Life

Mathematicians have proved to be shrewd publicists. In Victorian times (and, to hear some politicians talk, still today) it was the Three Rs, which gave the mistaken notion that 'rithmetic is of the same importance as reading and writing. Then they went one better in the 20th century in coining 'numeracy', with the pretence that it was equal in significance to 'literacy', a very dubious proposition  - the consequence being that most children find themselves celebrating Holy Maths  every morning like papal adherents.

In another such mythical fashion, 'rural' is often set against 'urban' as though it necessitates the same attention, a deplorable error, especially when one finds townsfolk so beguiled by the concept that they fall into the trap of admiring the purported 'village' aspects of their town. Then they run the risk of putting the poplars first and the populace second. One of the reasons The Harpenden Society is a 'civic' rather than an 'amenity' group is to ensure it is all-embracing of all the town's anatomy and not just its flora and fauna.

In effect, and using the norm of 2000 constituting an urban settlement, the World Bank figures for 2013 indicated that some 10% of the UK population was 'rural' but that the 90% of urbanites occupied only 6.8% of the landscape. Furthermore, a National Eco-system Assessment in 2012 showed that, such are the green and allied areas within towns, 'the proportion of the English landscape built upon is 2.27%.'

We need to put so much more effort into ensuring our towns, one hopes 'new' as well as old, are well-balanced socially and ecologically and that they are, as human settlements, decently sustainable.


Housey Housey

That synonym for Bingo, with its winning cry of 'House', is no bad symbol for the lottery that is the building industry. Given the threat of an overdeveloped Harpenden, it came as some surprise to read the Local Government Association' s announcement that planning permissions are in place for 475,647 homes that remain completely or partially unbuilt. That is three times the number of homes constructed in the last financial year. Indeed, the number of new-builds in the last five years was the smallest number for any five year peacetime period since the 1920s.  This followed an earlier report that the country's top nine developers were sitting on enough land, some with, some without planning permission, to build 615,152 homes.

This rather goes against the excuse that onerous planning restrictions are a barrier to solving the housing crisis. One must wonder whether the primitive state of the British construction industry's productivity and, dare one suggest it, a slice of being choosy about when and where to build according to profitability could possibly have something to do with this curious condition.

Might it be a good idea to ensure that all those options were taken up before developers come descending, as did Lord Byron's Assyrian, 'like a wolf on the fold' of tender lambs such as poor old Harpenden?