Sainsbury’s successfully appeals St Albans council rejection of nostalgic murals in Harpenden

PUBLISHED: 17:00 10 May 2016 | UPDATED: 17:17 10 May 2016

The murals on the outside of Sainsburys in Harpenden High Street

The murals on the outside of Sainsburys in Harpenden High Street

Archant

Illustrations depicting Harpenden’s yesteryear which were banished for being Sainsbury’s ‘advertisement clutter’ have been allowed to remain, after a successful planning appeal.

The murals on the outside of Sainsburys in Harpenden High StreetThe murals on the outside of Sainsburys in Harpenden High Street

St Albans council’s rejection of mural-style pictures on the supermarket chain’s High Street branch was overturned recently, in a decision hailed as a victory for ‘common sense’ by the town’s civic watchdog.

The retailer had asked for permission to display ‘a significant number’ of new and replacement signage to the conservation area-based store and car park.

While the council gave the go-ahead for most of the signage, it rejected mural-style pictures on its supermarket, which fronts onto High Street.

Planning officers were not happy that the proposed heritage graphics would “visually dominate the front of the building and fully obscure the existing opaque glazed windows beneath”.

The murals on the outside of Sainsburys in Harpenden High StreetThe murals on the outside of Sainsburys in Harpenden High Street

The council said in its refusal last November that the graphics “would result in significant advertisement clutter to the street scene and would have an adverse impact on the character and appearance of the subject building.”

But Sainsbury’s fought back, saying in appeal documents that while the store was a “key driver of custom and footfall within Harpenden town centre” the building was neither nationally nor locally listed, and had not been identified as being an important feature in the conservation zone.

Furthermore, “the panels have been incorporated to add visual interest to the elevation. In our view, [they] enliven the appearance of the building”.

The supermarket giant explained the images comprised hand drawings of “important heritage assets in the local vicinity of Harpenden and provide a positive link between the store and the wider heritage designations in the area”.

Sainsbury's previous vinyls in High Street, Harpenden, before they were replaced with heritage panels. Photo courtesy of Sainsbury'sSainsbury's previous vinyls in High Street, Harpenden, before they were replaced with heritage panels. Photo courtesy of Sainsbury's

Planning inspector Michael Boniface allowed the appeal, and in granting retrospective consent for five years, said: “the area is clearly commercial in nature and the prevalence of advertisements in the town centre is notable”.

Noting the council’s preference for the previous windows to remain visible, instead of the new signage, he pointed out the pictures were “subdued in colour and provide visual interest”.

His overturning of the rejection was welcomed by The Harpenden Society, particularly as the civic group had earlier awarded the local store with a letter of commendation for the illustrations’ “superb graphic style and very interesting historic theme”.

Society chairman Chris Marsden had written to the planning inspectorate in mid-April, alerting it to the award, saying that “without knowing about the planning decision the awards committee decided early in March to give Sainsbury’s a letter of commendation. Such letters are given sparingly to small scale improvements which in the society’s opinion improve the amenity and/or look of the town.

“We have been asking for more attractive use of these panels for several years and were delighted by the new designs, which are both attractive and tell some of the story of the town.”

In light of the planning inspector’s subsequent decision, the society’s PR officer Ron Taylor said last week: “Thankfully common sense has prevailed following a visit to Harpenden by the inspector.

“It’s a shame a planning officer from St Albans didn’t assess the reality of the situation rather than follow the legal rules. The costs incurred by all parties and the time wasted on such a petty issue could surely have been spent on more pressing items from a planning department already short-staffed.”

Sainsbury’s head of property communications David Mills said the company was pleased with the decision “as it means we can make our store more visible to local shoppers”.

It was a case of third time lucky for Sainsbury’s, as the retailer had sought consent for similar signs to those refused in 2009 and 2014.

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