Often referred to as the ‘City’s Watchdogs’, the Civic Society is the conservation and amenity movement for St Albans. We are a member of the national organisation ‘Civic Voice‘.
Founded in 1961 and part of the nationwide civic society movement, we are a registered charity, number 200330, and a non political organisation, ready to welcome everyone who cares about the future of St Albans.
So, do join us, maybe to offer to help, or maybe just to show you support our aims. We offer, above all, a chance to be involved and have a say in what our city looks like and how it functions.
All our meetings are now online talks, see details below
It surely comes as no surprise that the British public ‘overwhelmingly’ showed a preference for traditional architecture over brutalism in a recent poll conducted by the Policy Exchange. The survey of over 1,500 people found that the majority liked public buildings built in the 19th -century style through to the early 20th century the best. Top of the poll came Bristol City Hall built in 1952 to a Neo-Georgian style. Indeed, the top five were all built in a traditional design whilst those at the bottom of the poll were all post-modern and brutalist, built after 1960. We can draw some similar comparisons right here in St Albans along St Peter’s Street. Framed at the southern end is the former Town Hall, built 1830 to a Neo-Grecian style, architect George Smith. Whilst we have seen the once brutal façade of the BHS building demolished, there are the somewhat block-like buildings opposite currently housing Barclays and a betting shop, namely Lockey and Forrester Houses respectively (Gibbard 1960). We wonder how people rate them?
That BHS building has been replaced by a new hotel (Travelodge) which with its more traditional brick façade, and despite some controversial adornments, blends in much better with the street scene. Its entrance is in Drovers Way. There an opportunity presents itself – but will it be missed? Drovers Way, until recently presented a very off-putting look to anyone arriving into St Albans seeking this cathedral city’s multi-storey car park. It gave a bad impression and more like some ‘armpit of St Albans’ welcome. But things have started to change for the better. Now there is the Premier Inn building’s entrance, a modern block of flats on the former Butler’s site and the new Travelodge entrance. The market stalls compound might be up for possible development; the former nightclub is to become residential and there is the area at the rear of the empty Holland and Barrett and Pound Shop stores.
This is a real opportunity to enhance the streetscape. It is to be hoped architects, developers and the Council’s planners and Councillors will take notice of the recent poll and the public’s preference for well-designed, modern buildings reflecting some traditional characteristics with an overall planning vision. Along with some pedestrian safety measures at certain pinch points, Drovers Way could become considerably enhanced, thus demonstrating the Government’s aim in its planning reforms to ‘build beautiful’ in keeping with local designs and people’s preferences
George Street, in the heart of the Cathedral Quarter, still holds special appeal and potential. 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?
The Civic Society circulated the George Street Enhancement proposals for consultation during November and December 2020. There were 37 responses, 28 in favour, some with ideas, 1 against and 8 expressing concerns. Read our full report here
- 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 illustration.
What else have we been doing?
A quick update on some of the areas where the Society has been active recently:
- City Centre Vision: working with the Business Improvement District (BID) establish a Neighbourhood Forum to determine how the city could look
- Vintry Gardens: encouraging the Council to address the issues arising from the mud path that has been created in the Gardens
- Blue Plaques: 16 initial nominees proposed and permission being sought from property owners, click here for more details.
- Radio Verulam: regular interviews each month, to listen to previous ones click here The Society made a donation to help Radio Verulam keep the service running following the impact of Covid and the lockdown.
- Planning applications, every month we comment on a few applications. Recent examples include: illuminated fascia signs on St Peters Street, UPVC replacement windows in the conservation area, quality of design for new buildings at top end of St Peters Street
Our events are now online talks and discussions.
To request the link for these please register using the link shown on each event. Note that registration links are added about two weeks before each event.
Learn about the role of transport in tackling climate change and how changes in your daily travel patterns can benefit the environment and wider society.
Save the lime tree in Bricket Road
Hertfordshire County Council (HCC) still intend to fell this mature healthy tree because it is considered a safety issue with regard to the planned car park entrance to the Civic Centre Opportunity Site South (CCOSS) project. The loss of a fine mature tree at a most important point adjoining the Victoria Street/Bricket Road junction shows extraordinary misjudgement, which once more prioritises traffic at the expense of the natural environment at a time when every effort should be made to reduce traffic and pollution by promoting greening. This tree has been on the pavement of Bricket Road for many years without any recorded safety issues, either for traffic or pedestrians. It is ironic that felling this tree should be on the grounds of ‘health and safety’ and actually ignore the health benefits and beauty it brings to the community. The CCOSS project should take into account the importance of this tree and all the others to the citizens of St Albans and accommodate its plans accordingly and not the other way around. The petition on the County Council website closed with over 700 signatures on it. Following a meeting with the County Council, the matter is now back with the District Council to find a way to vary the planning application so that the tree can remain.
We have submitted a detailed response to three Government consultation documents in the last few months. Please click on the headings below to read each response:
- National planning policy framework and model design code
- Planning for the Future
- Supporting housing delivery
City Centre Opportunity Site South (CCOSS)
For the full history of our involvement with CCOSS, click here
In 2019 after reviewing more than 50 development projects completed in the calendar year 2018 the Society gave its highest Award to the renovated Town Hall, and the Trevelyan Prize for the most outstanding conservation project to a 1930’s Art Deco house in Marshalswick. Read more
For its Awards, the Society looks for projects that contribute to the preservation and enhancement of the character of St Albans, and achieve the highest standards of architecture, planning, landscaping and civic design. Previous years winners can be seen below and more details here.