Often referred to as the ‘City’s Watchdogs’, the Civic Society is the conservation and amenity movement for St Albans. We are a member of the national organisation ‘Civic Voice‘.
Founded in 1961 and part of the nationwide civic society movement, we are a registered charity, number 200330, and a non political organisation, ready to welcome everyone who cares about the future of St Albans.
So, do join us, maybe to offer to help, or maybe just to show you support our aims. We offer, above all, a chance to be involved and have a say in what our city looks like and how it functions.
Download our Autumn 2020 newsletter
All our meetings are now online talks, see details below
Focus on George Street – making it even better
George Street, in the heart of the Cathedral Quarter, was once referred to as the (mini) ‘Bond Street’ of St Albans. Time has changed things somewhat but the street still holds special appeal and potential. Yet even before Covid-19, when the street was open to traffic, footfall was often poor. In recent years a few shops have been converted into residential, whilst some are now empty. Concern has been expressed over the future for shops in this part of the Cathedral Quarter. But concern is not enough. The ‘patient’ needs some TLC!
The Covid-19 situation has brought emergency powers that closed George Street to traffic in order to enable effective social distancing. It has been pedestrianised. Whilst it is early days in strange circumstances footfall appears to have improved. Free from having to dodge and put up with passing traffic, people are appreciating the street more. They notice the character buildings and can enjoy the various shops and hospitality venues. Could things be made even better thus establishing it as a ‘must visit’ destination to browse, shop and spend leisure time?
St Albans Civic Society is proposing some ideas on how this might be achieved. There are various options in respect of traffic flows, particularly for large vehicles using this part of the historic Conservation Area. Such options could affect nearby narrow streets, Romeland and the role and status of High Street.
The plan shows set down and pick up areas for cars at both ends and for mini buses only at the south end and for coaches in the north end area only. Delivery vehicles would arrive before 10.00 and after 20.00 hours. There would be room for al fresco eating, displays and stalls etc. The street surface (material to be decided) would be level. Thus avoiding any trip hazard on kerbs and, whenever appropriate, enabling any social distancing as well as room to stroll about. College and Spicer Streets could have a large vehicle restriction except for emergency ie fire engine access. Romeland could be returned to exclusive resident and visitor/shopper parking only as it once was. Vehicles/coaches unable/not willing to turn at the top of the street from Verulam Road to be able to use a West to East route via High Street and the Peahen Junction at least during the peak hours until 10.00 and after 16.00 Mondays to Fridays.
Nothing has been decided. It will be for the County and Local Councils and elected representatives to determine what might take place. The Civic Society, however, would like to have the views and suggestions from organisations, traders, Residents’ Associations and individuals – preferably by 31st December 2020. Responses to email@example.com
Please remember, the focus is on George Street and making it even better thus securing its future as part of the Cathedral Quarter experience.
What else have we been doing?
A quick update on some of the areas where the Society has been active recently:
- Responding to the consultation on Planning for the Future
- Waxhouse Gate and Sumpter Yard: liaising with the Council and property owner concerning state of the paving and piles of rubbish behind the apartments
- Vintry Gardens: encouraging the Council to address the issues arising from the mud path that has been created in the Gardens
- Blue Plaques: 16 initial nominees proposed and funding being sought from the BID to support the initiative, click here for more details.
- City Vision conference: working with the BID and the Council to determine an approach for how the city could look in the future
- Radio Verulam: regular interviews each month, to listen to previous ones click here
- Local Plan Examination: Society represented and would have participated if Inspectors had not postponed the next stage
- Planning applications, every month we comment on a few applications. Recent examples include: illuminated fascia signs on St Peters Street, UPVC replacement windows in the conservation area, quality of design for new buildings at top end of St Peters Street
Our events are now online talks and discussions.
John Pritchard, Chairman of the Ver Valley Society will update us on what’s happening with the river.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org for the link to join us online
An informal meeting to introduce the new committee and to discuss current issues. An opportunity to talk about what we are doing, what should be the priorities and how members can get involved.
Mac Quinton will give a talk on the architect Sir Frederick Gibberd with particular reference to St Albans and the Arena
Johanna Gibbons (J & L Gibbons LLP) continues our Greening the City talks which first started in 2020
Sara Croft of The Woodland Trust continues our Greening the City talks.
Planning for the Future
We have submitted a detailed response to the Government consultation document. You can read our response here.
It seems that the underlying premise of the While Paper is that an outdated planning system is not fit for purpose and is a primary cause of the failure to build enough homes for a growing population. This is not an entirely fair analysis, as a lack of strategic thinking has also contributed to the housing crisis. The reliance on market forces to entirely solve the shortage of homes has been misguided and has created a dearth of appropriate residences, especially in regard to affordable and social housing.
The Society shares the view that the present planning system is too complex and, therefore, tends to exclude local participation while at the same time allowing developers to build, too often, poor quality designs. Though many of the general objectives of the While Paper are laudable in sentiment, the lack of practical details raise many concerns, especially with regard to the level of local input and in what could result in a very top down system. An overall criticism would be that while identifying problems in the existing planning system the White Paper proposals fall short of coming up with credible solutions in meeting the objectives of a faster, more transparent, simpler, democratic process that will produce affordable high quality build and protect communities’ existing heritage.
We believe that Civic Societies, like that of our own in St Albans, with their local knowledge and pool of expertise can help and support the planning process from the initial development to the planning application stage. Their commitment to creating ‘better places’ make Civic Societies powerful allies both in engaging local communities and insisting on high quality developments.
City Centre Opportunity Site South (CCOSS)
The planning application has gone out for comment and you can find details on the Council website by searching for application 5/2020/1773. Comments were due by 6 November and the decision is due in December.
For the full history of our involvement with CCOSS, click here
Supporting Radio Verulam
The Society has made a donation to help Radio Verulam with their fundraising to keep the service running following the impact of Covid and the lockdown. We are pleased to hear they have now assured their future through at least until the middle of 2021.
Please note: there will be no awards presentation in 2020. Nominations are still being collected for an event in 2021 which will recognise projects undertaken over the previous two years.
In 2019 after reviewing more than 50 development projects completed in the calendar year 2018 the Society gave its highest Award to the renovated Town Hall, and the Trevelyan Prize for the most outstanding conservation project to a 1930’s Art Deco house in Marshalswick. Seven other projects were commended, including a remarkable make-over of a terraced house in Bernard Street. Certificates and plaques were presented by Cllr Janet Smith, Mayor of the City and District of St Albans. Read more
For its Awards, the Society looks for projects that contribute to the preservation and enhancement of the character of St Albans, and achieve the highest standards of architecture, planning, landscaping and civic design. Previous years winners can be seen here.