Verulamium Park derives much of its character from its water-features. The view to the Abbey over the lakes affords one of the finest vistas in St Albans. And the Ver, which feeds the lakes, is valued as one of the World’s rarest and most endangered habitats: the chalk stream, a precious wonder of which we are custodian for future generations.
Unfortunately, closer inspection of this bucolic scene reveals that all is not well in paradise. Low volumes of water-flow have exacerbated inherent silting problems which are now manifest: residents and visitors may encounter unsightly mud, unpleasant smells and dead wildfowl.
The good news is that, after decades of dithering by Councils of various political hues, the Environment Agency in conjunction with other authorities concerned (including our City Council), is developing a master plan which addresses the underlying hydrological and other issues. The first stage which involved analysis of options and public consultation concluded in May.
Broadly, the plan is to:
- increase water-flow volumes through modest corrections to the course of the river;
- ‘soften’ the lake edges through planting;
- somewhat increase the size of the island; and
- have nature trail-style boardwalks over the resulting wetland margins.
Of course, none of this would be entirely free of controversy: the proposed changes to the river’s course and margins will mean:
- ‘softened’ (planted) edges to the lakes;
- boardwalk expanses by the river; and
- the displacement and relocation of some allotments in the reach by Sopwell.
Some of the changes (for example, those to the allotments) are said to be necessary on account of significant anticipated rises in ground water levels in the next few years. Others are more discretionary, for example how the lake margins are treated. The reasoning behind the major changes is underpinned by complex scientific analysis, so ‘knee-jerk’ responses are not appropriate.
To see the plans and have your say in the next consultation click here
At last, there seems every reason to be optimistic. The project has a real momentum behind it and the relevant authorities appear committed to bringing it to fruition. Once the final design is selected and costed, the ultimate challenge will be (as ever) funding. There are various sources of funds and the project is surely too important to be abandoned or even deferred. But the collecting tin will need to be rattled loudly.
Giving Verulamium Park the riverside landscape it deserves for the next hundred years is important for residents, visitors and, of course, the wildlife of the Ver. Now that the old Town Hall has been revitalised as a showcase of excellence, let’s do the same with Verulamium Park! It is an overdue renaissance but one now within our grasp.
Plans for the Civic Centre South site are moving forward. The planning application by Angle Property, which the Society supports in principle (see Summer Newsletter), was approved by Plans Referral Committee on Monday 30 October. Angle Property, however, owns only the car park and Hertfordshire House – which is to be refurbished for residential flats. At the end of October the Council acquired the former Police Station, and expect to secure the NHS clinic. Presumably there has to be an agreement between the various landowners which will allow the development to proceed. The Council is still working with Building Design Partnership (BDP) to produce a blueprint for the northern part of the Civic Centre area.
The Strategic Local Plan process staggers on! It is a Sisyphean task and we have lost count of the number of ‘consultations’ that have taken place since the 1996 First Review. The consultation runs for six weeks from 9 January to 21 February 2018. This is your chance to express your views, to find out more go to http://www.stalbans.gov.uk/planning/thelocalplan.aspx
Alarm bells are ringing! An Inspector has granted planning permission to build 348 houses on 13 hectares of the Green Belt by developers Taylor Wimpey on behalf of Oaklands College. The main access will be from Sandpit Lane. This is surely just a start of unplanned housing development around our city. It was reported that the lack of an up to date Strategic Local Plan was one of the reasons for approval. Given the previous warnings about this it was only to be expected. Things are compounded by the latest pronouncements from Sajid Javid, the Government’s Community Secretary. First, he announces that the previous annual target of 250,000 is to be increased to 266,000 with additional quotas for those Councils that have failed to produce a Strategic Local Plan (that’s ours!). Just weeks later, after blaming the homes shortage on NIMBYS, with no mention of all the thousands of houses with planning permissions that developers are sitting on, nor certain land banking practices (see Autumn Newsletter) he reveals a revised target of 300,000, with special budget money to achieve this. The Chancellor appeared to be unaware of this, but is subsequently reported to be investigating ways to further relax the planning process, and a possible fresh assault on the Green Belt, so prized by developers. In contrast, the Prime Minister still declares that building on Green Belt is not to be considered. Who can be believed?