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.
Strategic Railfreight Interchange (SRFI)
St Albans Council’s decision to throw in the towel in opposing the Strategic Railfreight Interchange (SRFI) is disappointing but not entirely unexpected. The SRFI became embroiled in the problems over the Local Plan obtaining approval and earlier threats of legal action from the developer, Helioslough. But all is not yet lost? David may have got smaller in the battle with Goliath but should still fight on.
The Railfreight saga has rumbled on since 2006 with the Civic Society joining in with STRIFE and the Council in opposing the plan. It gave evidence at the two Public Inquiries. ‘The Green Belt is safe in our hands’ former Minister Eric Pickles once declared. That turned out to not be the case in 2014 when he gave the go ahead for the land to be used for the SRFI.
Apart from the environmental implications for St Albans, the Society has always questioned the capacity and ability of the railway line (Midland Main Line) to accommodate the proposed long and heavy freightliner trains without adversely affecting the reliable operation of the passenger timetables of both Thameslink and East Midlands Trains services. There are also the necessary infrastructure works needed to enlarge tunnels (like at Elstree and near Kentish Town) and the underpass off a spur from the down slow line so as to access the depot. These questions with detailed answers from Network Rail are still awaited despite St Albans’ previous MP, Anne Main’s persistent attempts to get answers from Network Rail. It is good that our current MP, Daisy Cooper, is raising the subject in the House of Commons and we urge her to continue pressing Network Rail for some definite answers.
Network Rail is a nationalised organisation and now, as a result of the coronavirus crisis, the Train Operating Companies have effectively been nationalised too. As taxpayers we therefore merit some answers. Whether the two Government Departments, Planning and Transport, now actually work together to force things through remains to be seen. But the threat to our reliable passenger service remains real. We cannot return to those days of delays and cancellations with passengers packed in like sardines. This is for obvious reasons.
Our County Council should seek answers too before selling the (our) land for something that could affect a key rail artery in Hertfordshire. Other questions also arise. As the result of coronavirus, Brexit and the proposed Freeports, do the previous freight distribution routes still apply? The danger remains that works commence on the depot before answers to all these questions are obtained which results in the freightliner trains not operating and the depot morphing into a juggernaut interchange. It’s happened before elsewhere. ‘David’ needs answers and hasn’t surrendered yet. We fight on!
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.
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. For the full history of our involvement with CCOSS, click here
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.
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.