George Street, in the heart of the Cathedral Quarter, was once referred to as the (mini) ‘Bond Street’ of St Albans. Time has changed things somewhat but the street still holds special appeal and potential. Yet even before Covid-19, when the street was open to traffic, footfall was often poor. In recent years a few shops have been converted into residential, whilst some are now empty. Concern has been expressed over the future for shops in this part of the Cathedral Quarter. But concern is not enough. The ‘patient’ needs some TLC!
The Covid-19 situation has brought emergency powers that closed George Street to traffic in order to enable effective social distancing. It has been pedestrianised. Whilst it is early days in strange circumstances footfall appears to have improved. Free from having to dodge and put up with passing traffic, people are appreciating the street more. They notice the character buildings and can enjoy the various shops and hospitality venues. Could things be made even better thus establishing it as a ‘must visit’ destination to browse, shop and spend leisure time?
St Albans Civic Society is proposing some ideas on how this might be achieved. There are various options in respect of traffic flows, particularly for large vehicles using this part of the historic Conservation Area. Such options could affect nearby narrow streets, Romeland and the role and status of High Street.
The plan shows set down and pick up areas for cars at both ends and for mini buses only at the south end and for coaches in the north end area only. Delivery vehicles would arrive before 10.00 and after 20.00 hours. There would be room for al fresco eating, displays and stalls etc. The street surface (material to be decided) would be level. Thus avoiding any trip hazard on kerbs and, whenever appropriate, enabling any social distancing as well as room to stroll about. College and Spicer Streets could have a large vehicle restriction except for emergency ie fire engine access. Romeland could be returned to exclusive resident and visitor/shopper parking only as it once was. Vehicles/coaches unable/not willing to turn at the top of the street from Verulam Road to be able to use a West to East route via High Street and the Peahen Junction at least during the peak hours until 10.00 and after 16.00 Mondays to Fridays.
The Civic Society circulated the George Street Enhancement proposals for consultation on 20th October 2020. It was emailed to some two dozen individuals, Councillors, organisations and local traders, and Society members. The article, with map and illustration appeared in the Winter newsletter giving a further opportunity to all members to comment. An article with illustration appeared in the 5th November 2020 edition of the Herts Advertiser as the Society’s monthly column. By close of consultation on 31st December 2020 there were 37 responses, 28 in favour, some with ideas, 1 against and 8 expressing concerns. There was also one detailed response on design suggestions which could be considered in support and, although not asked for at this stage, along with other comments and concerns, could be useful and made available at a later date. Some of the responses were from non members arising from the 20th October 2020 circulation and the Herts Advertiser readers article. Read our full report here
There is support for an ENHANCED, pedestrianised George Street. However, as some respondents pointed out, further consideration is needed of how the retail and hospitality facilities function, which includes the so-called night time economy. These in themselves are important subjects. Several respondents, not unsurprisingly, commented on traffic flows. As the circular highlighted: ‘there are various options in respect of traffic flow, particularly for large vehicles using this part of the historic Conservation Area. Such options could affect nearby narrow streets, Romeland and the status of High Street.’ Perhaps inevitably, reference was made about the movement of St Albans School coaches in and out of the area and the cause of long standing complaint. There is reference to this in using the top end of a pedestrianised George Street in the Verulam Road/High Street area to set down/pick up. Whilst this deviates from the main focus on George Street it does present a possible solution to the problem existing for many years of coaches invading this part of the Conservation Area in the Cathedral Quarter. Another subject that has concerned the Society.
Recommendations and conclusions
- This has been a worthwhile and successful exercise in the Society’s aim to consult with its members and the community over important issues. The proposals have drawn responses from individuals, some Residents’ Associations and brought the subject into the spotlight. An e-petition has been set up to ensure Herts County Council (HCC) holds a consultation on the permanent (post Covid-19) pedestrianisation of parts of the city centre, which includes George Street.
- The Society continues to support and will publicise any Consultation held by HCC, inviting members to consider participating in the exercise.
- If the decision to permanently pedestrianise George Street is taken by HCC the Society asks that there should be further consultation on design aspects prior to any planning application. The comments, concerns and suggestions this exercise has received will be made available and taken into consideration.
- The Society offers to bring together the various parties to formulate a plan for the next steps.
It is clear that there are various options, suggestions and concerns from certain quarters. These come from individual residents, Residents’ Associations, St Albans School and the Society itself. There will need to be co-operation, compromise and consensus if any progress is to be made, and that could prove difficult. However, the focus needs to remain on George Street and how it can continue to be a retail and amenity magnet attracting people to this part of the Cathedral Quarter.
Thanks to Angela Mellen for the plan and illustration.