City Centre ‘Lost Opportunity Site’?

The Abbey, the Gatehouse, the Clock Tower, the Museum + Gallery, Samuel Ryder’s Seed Hall, the Fighting Cocks, Verulamium Museum – St Albans is not short of impressive and attractive buildings that raise one’s spirits. You will have your favourites.

Most areas of the city have varied, attractive building stock. But there’s the area between the old police station on Victoria Street and the Alban Arena. Seven depressed and depressing acres are up for redevelopment and the Council brands it ‘Civic Centre Opportunity Site South’ (CCOS).

An opportunity indeed! To replace that collection of soulless monuments to the decades of architectural bankruptcy with a landmark development that will revitalise the area and make a positive contribution to our streetscape.  There are concerns, however, that it might result in the ‘City Centre Lost Opportunity Site’.

The Council, having bought the bulk of the site, has initially adopted an existing planning consent granted to a private developer. That might well limit the scope to produce something of real quality. Instead we might get tinkering at the edges. To be fair the Council has acknowledged that its plans need improvement. It is a pity that, rather than coming forward with a new vision, what it proposes at present are essentially cosmetic changes to make the scheme ‘more St Albans’.

This was apparent at the Council-organised ‘Community Design Review’. The 27 volunteer participants (out of a community of 145,000!) were asked how elements of the current scheme could be ‘improved’. There was virtual unanimity about the ‘monolithic’ nature of the proposed blocks, so all that was up for discussion was design detail. 

Certainly there were worthwhile contributions which, if adopted, would improve elements of the scheme. Ideally, the Civic Society would have liked a competition for the design concept, and far wider public involvement and debate, including re-engagement with local interest groups. A market stall would have been better than the poorly advertised and attended Civic Centre exhibition.

The Civic Society’s Design Advisory Group have met several times with the developer in order to improve the quality of the design. It hopes to continue this dialogue with the Council. It agrees with Councillor Daly that this is an exciting project. The latest planning drafts show signs that people are listening to concerns and suggestions, particularly over elevations.

On the 7th March a ‘Design Review Panel’, made up of experienced architects, examined the development plans and voiced some of the same criticisms that have been made by the Civic Society. Their report will be published shortly. 

We do not want history to repeat itself with a new generation having to put up with a second-rate and anonymous development. That would just be more of the same. The Society will continue to work with the Council in an attempt to deliver a development that St Albans can be proud of!

The Society is pleased to have been engaged in the process of developing the CCOSS scheme and, although there have been concerns about the concept of the project, based upon the Angle permitted plan, the Design Advisory Group recognise the considerable amount of work that has gone into the development of the project. Click here to read our CCOSS comments which are intended to be positive and constructive, having the intention of enhancing the approved scheme.

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Do you know of a project that might deserve recognition in the Society’s Awards? These can be for new developments, large or small, but could be for a small extension, restored windows on a period property, or a rebuilt wall. Its not just about buildings either. Remember the Society’s Awards cover things that enhance the quality of St Albans environment or amenities and the Trevelyan Award is presented for a conservation project.

Get looking about now. Send your nominations to us Please provide a brief description and thoughts on why it should be considered.