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?
It’s good to see work progressing well at the Town Hall to transform it into St Albans Museum and Art Gallery due to open in 2018. The city really will then have something to shout about that has the potential to boost our visitor economy. It could become a centre of civic pride for us all.
The £7.75 million project is partly funded by a £2.8 million grant from the Heritage Lottery. The community is now trying to match-fund £1.4 million of the overall cost through initiatives and events by people and organisations like the Society. As such, there is an added vested interest for residents in the finished product and how it functions.
A sort of Visitor Information service, it is said, will return from its temporary, makeshift location just inside the Arena. While such a move was understandable, the dumbing down of the service once offered was not so good.
Remember the friendly and efficient staff at the hitherto TIC? They offered you leaflets and brochures, bus, coach and railway timetables and ticketing, plus local hotel/b&b reservations and information. You could even book local concerts and gigs. A veritable civic culture hub for EVERYONE.
Rumour has it that this comprehensive service will not return. If so, all that previous training and good efforts of the staff will be thrown away. A skeleton facility akin to the present set up at the Arena is envisaged. Ask Councillors and Officers associated with the Town Hall’s exciting upgrade what actually will return and you detect a sense of reluctance to give details. We wonder why. A great opportunity could be being lost.
Similar questions should be asked about future facilities at the city station. In the June 15 Herts Advertiser, a St Albans resident wrote about Thameslink bosses giving ‘a thought to the long-suffering ticket counter staff’ who have to explain and issue all those ‘complex’ fares. Well, apparently this has been thought about. The answer they have come up with is to CLOSE the ticket office! Customers (passengers) will then have to rely machines, hoping they have been updated. Or they go get the attention of the staff at the barriers as they do their important job.
We can see some campaigning coming on if these suspicions are true. Memos to Council and Thameslink . Give us excellent customer service which means being able to talk to knowledgeable and helpful human beings. We pay enough and have contributed enough to expect this.