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!