St Albans development could become gated community after detail omitted from planning document

PUBLISHED: 09:41 11 October 2018

Gabriel Square in St Albans. Picture: Supplied by Martine Bridge. Insert picture: Submitted

Gabriel Square in St Albans. Picture: Supplied by Martine Bridge. Insert picture: Submitted

Supplied by Martine Bridge [mbridge@bridginglondon.com]

A luxury courtyard of new houses can now be cut off from the community after a detail was omitted from planning documents.

Gabriel Square in St AlbansGabriel Square in St Albans

Public access to Gabriel Square was specified in the development’s planning application, which was first approved in 2013.

It was sold as a “significant amenity which will benefit those living and working in the surrounding area”, similar to “classic examples of Georgian and Regency London,” adding: “Unlike many of the garden squares of London, the proposed new amenity space will be open to all, provided for the benefit of the city’s inhabitants and visitors.”

The square is bordered by London Road, Alma Road and Victoria Street.

However, when St Albans district council (SADC) officers drew up the Section 106 (S106) agreement, public access details were omitted - leaving developers Meyer Homes with the right to make the site private.

Gabriel Square in St AlbansGabriel Square in St Albans

A sign has already been erected stating: “Private property, residents only.”

Councillor of that ward, Jacqui Taylor, has lodged a complaint with SADC chief executive Amanda Foley.

Cllr Taylor said it is being investigated: “Taken at face value, it does sound like something should have happened that hasn’t.

“Firstly, with any planning development, developers are making a commitment, promises - they held an information session where residents could go along and they talked about it being like a London square, open to the public.

Gabriel Square in St AlbansGabriel Square in St Albans

“Promises were made and it is reasonable to expect that they are delivered on and that is really the most important thing.”

She wants to know why public access was left out of the S106, if anything can be done, and what can be learned for the future.

Adding: “It’s always nicer and safer to walk along routes which aren’t right along a main road. Alma Road and London Road are busy roads for traffic and if you are walking down with young children or anyone slightly less mobile it is nicer away from the main roads.

“Roads with higher levels of traffic also have more pollution.”

Gabriel Square in St AlbansGabriel Square in St Albans

Frustrated SADC councillor Chris White said he has been hearing from residents who fear it will become a gated region in the heart of the city, cut off from the rest of the community.

Cllr White said he believes it was an error on SADC’s part: “In the planning permission it was clear there would be public right of way because these things matter - but basically someone has forgotten and that’s rubbish.

“That means they can put up gates and if you have places of St Albans gated it’s not as much of a community. Having a public open space is really important to being a community.”

Gabriel Square is being represented by estate agents Collinson Hall.

An earlier planning application was rejected partially because it included a gated element at London Road. Both that refused application and the approved documents were submitted to SADC by Spen Hill Developments.

Meyer Homes took over the project in 2015 after construction of 80 homes on the former Eversheds Printing Works site had already started.

Head of planning at SADC, Tracy Harvey, said: “The developer of Gabriel Square has recently erected signs controlling public access to the central garden square.

“Investigations by the council’s Planning Enforcement Team have concluded that these signs do not result in a breach of planning control.”

She said that public access was deliberately not included in the S106: “For items to be included in a S106 planning legal agreement, they have to meet tests set in national planning law.

“The developer’s intentions in relation to the provision of public access were considered in the assessment of the planning application, but were not judged to be necessary to make the application acceptable.”

A spokesperson from Meyer Homes said residents had requested the sign: “The garden square is privately owned and maintained by service charge contributions from the residents. It remains as private and for use of the residents only. There has never been a public right of way through what are now the gardens, and the developer has never been asked to grant one.

“The developer has recently submitted a planning application to gate the entrances to Alma Road. This is in response to residents’ requests following access being misused by a small number of people since the development has been completed.”

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