Anger as developer’s St Albans city plan is rejected

A DEVELOPER has slammed the district council’s planning system after years spent trying to get permission to regenerate a dilapidated city centre site.

Antringham Verulamium had an application to transform the Herts House site in Bricket Road, St Albans, turned down by councillors on the planning referrals committee for the second time last week.

Despite a number of amendments to the previous application including a reduced height, the councillors agreed that the scheme – comprising retail and office space, 47 apartments and a 58 bedroom hotel – constituted an overdevelopment and would prejudice building on the wider site, known as Civic Centre South (CCS).

During the meeting, head of planning and building control Heather Cheesbrough said Antringham failed to engage with work to formulate a planning brief for the entire CCS site or attend any meetings with the council before submitting the latest application which followed the refusal of a scheme in 2009 and the withdrawal of another.

But the Herts Advertiser has seen evidence showing Antringham – which purchased the site six years ago – made repeated requests for pre-application meetings only to be told that the council wouldn’t discuss the Herts House site in isolation.

When the council was approached on the matter this week, Ms Cheesbrough claimed that they were unable to discuss it as a stand-alone site because an appeal against the refusal of the original application was pending.

But the appeal was withdrawn in March and a number of emails sent following that date demonstrate that Antringham continued to make attempts to meet with the council’s planning department to discuss the design of the scheme.

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Furthermore, Antringham agreed to take part in a joint venture for the entire CCS site between all landowners, which also comprises the Crown Prosecution Service, the Primary Care Trust, Herts Police and the district council.

Consultants were appointed to produce a viability report on the site but it later emerged that it would form part of the District Vision within the council’s Local Development Framework (LDF), even though the landowners were asked to fund it.

Despite being a major stakeholder, Antringham managing director Tim Blairs said he was only afforded a five minute conversation with the consultants and claims he has since been told the report is private and confidential.

An update on the District Vision project was delivered at last week’s cabinet meeting and it suggested that the CCS site could be used as a ‘local services hub’ and set out plans to adopt a viable planning blueprint for the site.

But Mr Blairs pointed out that Antringham had already produced a masterplan for the development of the entire site to show how a phased approach would work.

He has also voiced disappointment that the council dismissed the application twice without providing any guidance as to how they would like the development to look.

Mr Blairs continued: “I’m extremely irritated that we were criticised for a failure to liaise with the local authority. In the previous applications we did indeed have a dialogue and following the refusal in August 2009 we have attempted on numerous occasions to have dialogue with the local authority to see what they want on the site and have been repeatedly rebuffed. And, indeed, prior to submission of the third application we were formally advised that the council did not want to discuss this site in isolation.

“Throughout the duration of the application process we have also tried to have dialogue to discuss individual aspects such as the trees and the Section 106 payments but it has been quite clear that because the council do not want to see this development happen these requests have also been rebuffed. It is not for us to design any scheme on somebody else’s land. They aren’t ready to bring forward the remainder of the site for development and there is nothing in the existing policy that states our site can’t be brought forward first. It should be the first development that should lead the way for the rest of the site.”

Mr Blairs added: ‘It is disappointing that I keep being told the council want to work with developers when I’ve never seen any evidence of that. It seems that the council have little regard for the blight that their District Vision, that cannot be implemented for another five years at least, is causing to other landholdings.”

In a statement, Ms Cheesbrough denied that Antringham had approached the planning department for a pre-application meeting after the appeal was withdrawn.

She insisted that the latest application was determined in accordance with the council’s current planning policy and added: “We are currently putting together a planning brief for the area to the south of the Civic Centre as part of our work on the LDF. We are keen to consult with all landowners in the area, including Antringham, to take forward the development of this important area in the city.”