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 latest newsletter Summer 2020
We have cancelled all our meetings and events until further notice. Talks will be rearranged later in the year.
City Centre Opportunity Site South (CCOSS)
The public voted for Option 2 in the Council organised vote. This scheme is, designed by Space and Place, who were already contracted to the Council with regard to CCOSN(orth). It received a winning 57% of the vote out of 429 (it has to be admitted that the number of participants, voting on such an important project for the city, is disappointing but this may well have been another consequence of the Covid-19 crisis). The public vote counted towards 50% of the decision-making, the remainder was linked to various indicators from sustainability to design costs. The Council opposition had several concerns about Option 2 and the selection process: the level of consultation; the appropriateness of the design; the budget, both in terms of cost and financial return; and the integrity of the voting procedure. They ‘called in’ the project and it was debated at the Planning, Resources, Housing and Commercial Scrutiny Committee on 11th June 2020.
The Society was invited to virtually attend and did make a non-party political representation, giving its support to the option method of selecting a design. The point was made that the Society would have preferred a competition from scratch which would have allowed the architects a completely free hand in preparing their designs. However, as some works had already been carried out and there were clear financial constraints, the Society recognised the need for compromise and so were prepared to endorse the administration’s proposal to offer their options to the public. It was considered preferable over the previous planning application where no choice of design was offered to the public.
It is an unfortunate that the political practices of such committees are adversarial (you can either speak ‘for’ or ‘against’ a decision of the committee) and the Society was accused by one councillor of being in ‘cahoots’ with the present administration and even responsible for the Council’s decision to adopt the Space and Place design. It had to be pointed out that the Society’s Design Advisory Group is just that, ‘advisory’, and it only offers advice and all decisions over CCOSS were correctly made by the elected Council. The Society was also asked if it endorsed the choice of Option 2 but you will remember members were invited to make the vote of their choice without any recommendation from the executive committee. Although there were weaknesses in the selection process, in particular the voting system, where there were worries about its security, the Society not only supported the commissioning of three options of choice of designs but also respects the democratic choice of the citizens of St Albans. At the end of the CCOSS item the chair of the committee made some recommendations relating to openness, consultation and voting procedure. It was agreed that the project should proceed but, as it will exceed the original budget, it will have to go to the full council to gain financial approval for extra funding. The Portfolio Holder for Commercial, Development and Wellbeing hoped that a planning application will be lodged this coming autumn. For the full history of our involvement with CCOSS, click here
What else have we been doing?
A quick update on some of the areas where the Society has been active recently:
- 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 postponed until later in the year. Please check here for updates. We will list online events organised by other organisations which we support.
There are no upcoming events.
The Civic Society has supported STRIFE (Stop the Rail Freight Exchange ). However, it was clear at the Inspectors Examination of the SADC Local Plan (LP) that Helioslough’s Barrister’s argument that Eric Pickles’ (then the Secretary of State) approval of SRFI, which had been confirmed by the High Court, would trump the proposal for housing on the site, was a stumbling block for the LP. The owners of the old airfield, Herts County Council, preferred it to remain Green Belt but under the pressure to sell, opted for housing development. Presumably, now they will sell for the SRFI. A big question mark has also been Network Rail’s failure to be open about how the logistics of a freight depot will work in relation to passenger trains. The fear is that the SRFI would become a road depot with lorries clogging up the highways. The Civic Society will be writing an article about this issue for The Herts Advertiser.
Can you help
The Civic Society are looking for volunteers to serve on the committee. Specifically could you help us as Treasurer or as the Clock Tower Co-ordinator to help organise the volunteers who man the opening of the Clock Tower. We’d be delighted to hear from you. Please use the contact us form or phone our chairman Tim Boatswain 07873 586074
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.
The awards presentation took place on 24th July 2019 at Kingsbury Barn, St Michaels. 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.