The Society’s aims include:
- fostering a greater awareness of the heritage and amenities of St Albans
- encouraging the highest standard of design in new developments
- campaign for the retention of features which give St Albans its own special character
- contest inappropriate development proposals
- stimulate informed debate amongst residents, developers and the Council
Our Five Year Plan has been developed to help us identify priority areas and monitor our performance. You can find more information including our aims for the current year (2019-20) here.
Every month the Plans Group comments on current planning applications, these typically include conversion of offices to residential (such as the Ziggurat or Abbot House) as well as use of inappropriate materials, over development of small sites, and building in the Green Belt.
See below for details of some of the issues we have pursued in the last couple of years.
City Centre Opportunity South Site (CCOSS)
We are delighted that planning application 5/2019/2001 City Centre Opportunity Site South (CCOSS) has been withdrawn. We understand that 3 architectural practices have been invited to submit proposals for a new scheme and we keenly await more details of their ideas for this important site. We hope that the new plans will:
- enhance St Albans through excellent quality of design and detail – a ‘wow’ factor;
- have high levels of sustainability and greening;
- avoid being entirely driven by cost;
- not be designed by committee;
- and reflect the character and uniqueness of St Albans (respecting the Conservation Area).
The Civic Society meeting on the City Centre Opportunity Site South (CCOSS) on 23 September 2019 was attended by just over 40 people. Cllr Robert Donald, and Council Officers Tony Marmo and Jenny Stenzel gave a presentation. Our Committee unanimously supported a decision to submitted an objection. You can read our letter here In summary it says that “although supportive in principle to the mixed development of this site our objection is to the appearance of the current proposal ….. we do not see in this application the “listed buildings of the future” sought in the CCOS Development Brief / Supplementary Planning Document July 2012. Indeed what we do see is a lost opportunity to create “a landmark building as a key gateway feature” at the Victoria Street / Bricket Road corner envisaged in the CCOS Development Brief….” Our reasons for objection to this application and the efforts we have made prior to the planning application being submitted are set out here.
The Society supports the Save Symondshyde campaign and has made a donation to their funds. They produced a very detailed response to Welwyn Hatfield Council’s proposal to build 1130 houses in the Green Belt close to the John Bunyan next to Symondshyde Wood. The Plan was submitted for public examination by an independent inspector to determine whether it meets the test of soundness. After almost four years of campaigning Welwyn Hatfield Council have agreed to remove the Symondshyde development proposals from their draft Local Plan. Congratulations to the save Symondshyde campaign, read more here.
2019 is the 50th Anniversary of a Conservation Area in St. Albans, whose Local Authority was among the first to implement the scheme. The primary purpose of Conservation Areas was “the protection and improvement of buildings of architectural or historic interest and of the character of areas of such interest”. Conservation 50 is a collaboration between St Albans Civic Society, Abbey Precincts Residents Association and Aboyne Residents Association. Public events have been organised to celebrate the first St Albans Conservation Area, to assess its value to the city and residents throughout the District, and to establish what is necessary for the protection and enhancement of our Conservation Areas in the future.
Trees really matter to our city and the people who live and work in it. They are individually beautiful and in groups they can have as great a visual impact as architecture. But they are much more than decoration – they are the lungs of the city and a major natural engine for removing carbon emissions and pollutants from the air that we breathe. At a time when Earth’s ecosystem is under extreme threat from Man’s mismanagement, we cannot afford to ignore the vital role of trees. They must be respected as beautiful and dependable allies, not treated as a nuisance or a disposable resource.
The trees that touch us most are those that live among us, along our street, in the local park, beside our school or place of work, and in our gardens. Trees give the best urban landscapes their distinctive character. Like us, they grow and change, and eventually die. They need space to breathe and support to thrive.
The Society has produced a Tree Charter for our city, especially our parks, playing fields, open spaces, roads and gardens. It is not aimed at the rural landscape outside the city, but naturally the urban parts of the green belt will come into its scope.
Ten things you can do to help the Ver. Click here for 10Things you can do to help, some are exciting and some are less so! The more you can do the better but just one would be fine.
The River Ver, one of only 200 chalk streams in the world, flows from the Chiltern Hills south through St Albans and joins the River Colne near Bricket Wood. It enjoys a unique, biodiverse ecosystem because of the clear, chalk-filtered water and its stable water temperatures. The Ver should be a wildlife rich, stress-free environment for the whole community to enjoy. Today, more than ever, the River Ver is under threat. Millions of litres of water are pumped from the Ver Valley every day and the demand for water continues to increase. The Ver is only 28km long but 14km from Kensworth to Redbournbury is bone dry. And there’s barely a drop through St Albans.
Help keep the Ver alive and flowing. Join the Ver Society
‘The Devil is in the detail’. True of many things and certainly true in the case of buildings, where an incorrect material or colour scheme may strike a jarring note. That is why the Society carefully reviews planning applications. Attention to detail is also important another key part of our built environment: our pavements. ‘Black Spot’ is a common disease of roses. Unfortunately this nasty blight is now affecting the city’s pavements. The affliction manifests itself in the form of a rash of patch repairs with dollops of tarmac used to infill missing paving stones.
A tour of the city’s pavements would make for some pretty depressing viewing, for while some have retained and had their traditional blue bricks relaid, many of them are in a parlous state of repair and look like a patchwork quilt of bodge ups. Does it matter? Well, granted it is not up there with the loss of Green Belt, the state of the River Ver, or the city centre redevelopments. But things like this set the tone of our urban environment. When you aggregate sub-standard paving with other minor degradations such as potholes, damaged and dirty signage, unkempt kerbs and verges, unauthorised retail ‘A boards’ and banners, graffiti, etc, it makes the streetscape look a mess and makes it harder to take civic pride in our city. We are therefore unapologetic about highlighting these smaller issues, which effect people throughout the district, not just in the city centre. If there are issues like this affecting your neighbourhood, do take it up with your councillors, but please let us know, too.
Those of you who have recently walked down from the Clock Tower to the Abbey Cathedral may have noticed how pristine the passageway, known as Waxhouse Gate, is now looking. Providing pedestrian access from the town to the Abbey, the Waxhouse Gate is an open passage through the ground floor of 15 High Street. Originally there was a Gothic arch but round stone archways and brick work were inserted in C18. It may once have been Sacrist’s Gate which existed in C14 and was rebuilt 1420-40 by Abbott Wheathampstead. It is a Grade II listed building. At the north entrance on the east of the arch there is one of St Albans First World War street memorial tablets, which is also listed.
The passageway has been in a pretty poor state and the Civic Society, with the proprietor of 15 High Street, and the support of the Council, have initiated some renovation and redecoration of this important piece of St Albans’ heritage. There is still more work to be done around the passageway: the redecoration of Waxhouse Gate – still more work to be done the flanking wall and Thai restaurant, as well the cleaning and repainting to the lamp-posts that run down to Sumpter Yard. With the an increased footfall of visitors, following the opening of the new Museum and Gallery at the Town Hall and the Visitor Centre at the Abbey Cathedral, this important walkway must be maintained as part of the city’s heritage.
A very special tree planted in St Albans to commemorate one of the bloodiest battles of the First World War now has an information panel to explain its significance. This was achieved through pressure from members of the Society.
The district council installed the panel, and it was unveiled by St Albans Mayor, Cllr Frances Leonard. Members of the St Albans branch of the Legion attended the ceremony, along with representatives of the Civic Society and the council’s portfolio holder for heritage, Cllr Annie Brewster.
Cllr Brewster said: “The Verdun Tree is a wonderful historical monument in the very heart of our city that has not received the interest it deserves. This smart new information panel puts it firmly in the spotlight and brings the moving story behind the tree back to life. It will be read by many thousands of people in the years to come. The Civic Society is to be congratulated for the work it has done to ensure the only tree that survived the battle is now going to get more attention. It is fitting that this panel was unveiled on Remembrance Day and in the centenary of the battle itself.”
By way of a relief from the relentless and ever problematic lakes in Verulamium Park it was pleasing to see that during the summer the general housekeeping standards have continued to be high in the park. Litter was being collected daily (sometimes twice daily) and disposed of early on days following weekends and other busy times. The park management and staff deserve considerable credit for employing and motivating staff to do this often unpleasant and unrewarding work. The problem of litter left by vagrants (or worse) in the wooded area adjacent to King Harry continues to be dealt with by Cllr. Jessica Chivers and her loyal band of litter pickers, whose monthly gatherings keep this often dangerous detritus under control. Rough sleeping and a Traveller incursion were dealt with promptly by the park management and the police.
We have now gone three years and the Council has still not come up with action to resolve the problem of eutrophication of the lakes and the adverse effect on the wildlife. The Council was lucky this year that the frightful smell experienced in 2015 and 2016 was less overpowering. What indeed could be a magnificent park is still being badly let down.