City Centre Opportunity Site South (CCOSS)
The public voted for Option 2 in the Council organised vote. This scheme is, designed by Space and Place, who were already contracted to the Council with regard to CCOSN(orth). It received a winning 57% of the vote out of 429 (it has to be admitted that the number of participants, voting on such an important project for the city, is disappointing but this may well have been another consequence of the Covid-19 crisis). The public vote counted towards 50% of the decision-making, the remainder was linked to various indicators from sustainability to design costs. The Council opposition had several concerns about Option 2 and the selection process: the level of consultation; the appropriateness of the design; the budget, both in terms of cost and financial return; and the integrity of the voting procedure. They ‘called in’ the project and it was debated at the Planning, Resources, Housing and Commercial Scrutiny Committee on 11th June 2020.
The Society was invited to virtually attend and did make a non-party political representation, giving its support to the option method of selecting a design. The point was made that the Society would have preferred a competition from scratch which would have allowed the architects a completely free hand in preparing their designs. However, as some works had already been carried out and there were clear financial constraints, the Society recognised the need for compromise and so were prepared to endorse the administration’s proposal to offer their options to the public. It was considered preferable over the previous planning application where no choice of design was offered to the public. For the full history of our involvement with CCOSS, click here
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.
Planning for the Future
We have submitted a detailed response to the Government consultation document. You can read our response here.
It seems that the underlying premise of the While Paper is that an outdated planning system is not fit for purpose and is a primary cause of the failure to build enough homes for a growing population. This is not an entirely fair analysis, as a lack of strategic thinking has also contributed to the housing crisis. The reliance on market forces to entirely solve the shortage of homes has been misguided and has created a dearth of appropriate residences, especially in regard to affordable and social housing.
The Society shares the view that the present planning system is too complex and, therefore, tends to exclude local participation while at the same time allowing developers to build, too often, poor quality designs. Though many of the general objectives of the While Paper are laudable in sentiment, the lack of practical details raise many concerns, especially with regard to the level of local input and in what could result in a very top down system. An overall criticism would be that while identifying problems in the existing planning system the White Paper proposals fall short of coming up with credible solutions in meeting the objectives of a faster, more transparent, simpler, democratic process that will produce affordable high quality build and protect communities’ existing heritage.
We believe that Civic Societies, like that of our own in St Albans, with their local knowledge and pool of expertise can help and support the planning process from the initial development to the planning application stage. Their commitment to creating ‘better places’ make Civic Societies powerful allies both in engaging local communities and insisting on high quality developments.
Local Plan Consultation
The Society has responded to the St Albans District Council Local Plan consultation concerning the future development of the City from 2020 to 2036. In our response we recognise the importance of a new Local Plan (LP) which is needed, in order to update the previous LP, drafted in 1994. This is, not only to ensure that the authority’s LP is compatible with latest edition of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), published in July 2018, but also that the District Council will not have to relinquish its control, over planning in the district, to Government, because there has been a failure to produce an approved, up-to-date Plan. You can read our full response here.
Luton Airport Consultation
Another application has been made by Luton Airport to increase their annual passenger numbers and amend the day and night noise limitations to accommodate this. The consultation is on the Luton Council website and comments must be made by 17 February 2021. If you would like to respond there is a lot of useful information available on the LADACAN website here.
The Society submitted an objection the expansion of Luton Airport in 2018 and you can read the response here.