Leisure centre plans

PUBLISHED: 12:07 24 September 2009 | UPDATED: 14:27 06 May 2010

SIR – The display of the proposed new leisure centre at the Civic Offices was reasonably presented so far as it went, but there have rightly been comments on the lack of prior information and consultation, particularly on choice of location. Both the chos

SIR - The display of the proposed new leisure centre at the Civic Offices was reasonably presented so far as it went, but there have rightly been comments on the lack of prior information and consultation, particularly on choice of location.

Both the chosen options are set in the midst of a key group of trees at the main vehicle/pedestrian entrance to the park.

Westminster Lodge is already notable for the dire condition of its tree-lined approach avenue and its acreage of "unlandscaped" car parks, and can ill afford to suffer this kind of loss.

Yet though we hear of landscape speciality in the new design team the site masterplan shows a blank in the large area entitled 'proposed car park zone' as though that has already been decided.

But is another acre or so of cars and coaches the best use of the extra space?

Shouldn't there by this stage be some evidence of thought given not just to the building but to its impact on the wonderful parkland setting praised by Cllr Donald in the council's "Have your say" leaflet?

After so many years' scheming are we to know nothing about the total effect of the project on Verulamium Park, and parkgoers before the programmed rush to 'design approval' in October. Why the sudden need for hurry?

An earlier feasibility report in 2001 had by this stage presented various site options in a graphic, clearly understandable format, together with proposals for possible use of the space left over, and remarking on the need to rationalise the piecemeal character of the whole area.

Traffic access, circulation and parking will bring major design problems, including redesign of the existing parking and entrance avenue.

But the whole programme so far seems to follow the all-too-familiar treatment of landscape (and public consultation too) as afterthoughts or optional extras rather than as integral parts of a process.

This is so like the recent 'whole park' heritage project, whose bid for lottery funds was launched before most people had seen, still less discussed, the completed masterplan.

In both cases the notion that people as a whole need to be kept fully informed seems to have escaped the council, who appear content to favour a select group of so-called stakeholders with private discussions and exclusive presentations given by the team of consultants.

In theory this may be fine but in practice it has become too one sided, creating an awareness gap between well-informed "haves" and ignorant "have-nots", who are relatively abandoned by the Council.

It is difficult to reconcile this with the council's one-time commitment to "innovative whole community consultation".

Hence people's discontent with the habit of cutting corners in terms of quality and amounts of available information - some levelling up seems indicated.

GEORGE SLATER

Albany Gate

St Albans

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