Back to the drawing board for former St Albans convent

Maryland Convent on Townsend Drive

Maryland Convent on Townsend Drive - Credit: Archant

A controversial application to demolish a former convent and build blocks of retirement flats is still without resolution.

Maryland Convent on Townsend Drive

Maryland Convent on Townsend Drive - Credit: Archant

Maryland Convent on Townsend Drive in St Albans was bought by Beechcroft Developments Ltd and plans to build retirement flats were submitted in November.

But the proposals to build four blocks of flats have come under fire from the surrounding community and two residents argued against them at a planning committee on Monday (23).

The two speakers were supported by a number of local residents, who filled the council chamber, with local councillor Roma Mills also voicing her concern.

The committee was faced with the ‘unusual’ scenario of two speakers against the plans and an extended argument for them from MD of Beechcroft Ltd, Chris Thompson.

Crispin Kent, who has lived next door to the convent since 1962, warned that the flats would be ‘overbearing and intrusive’ and contradicted original planning conditions about privacy when his home was built.

He said that building blocks of flats might create a precedent for the road which was currently all houses.

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Another local resident, Colin Hassel, said opposition to the development was not a ‘knee-jerk, NIMBY response’ and that the development would have a ‘major visual impact on the area’.

He added: “This is an issue that has united the community.” His comments were greeted with a long round of applause.

Cllr Mills issued a statement on behalf of the Townsend Private Road Association made up of 37 households on the road.

She said: “There is overwhelming local opposition to the development as planned but not to any development.”

Among concerns was the volume of traffic because many schoolchildren walked along Townsend Drive.

Cllr Mills continued: “There has been no assessment of the impact on pedestrians and construction traffic.

“The lighting is poor at the entrance to the site and works will start in October and last over 18 months. How confident would any of us feel sending our children walking along the lane to the school in this sort of situation?

“I genuinely believe that if you were to pass this, the impact in terms of blighting the local area, the parking, the traffic movement would be enormous. Not only for residents now, but for new residents of the proposed one.”

Questions were also raised about why the age 55-plus was considered “retirement age” by Beechcroft.

There were concerns that families could still occupy the premises and more cars would result.

Chris Thompson, MD of Beechcroft, attempted to reassure the committee that there was no reason for the company to sell the flats to anyone other than the retired.

He said: “It’s our business, it’s what we do.”

Chris added that if the convent was not developed for people of retirement age, then the traffic could be considerably higher and there had been no highways objection.

He mentioned that the height of the blocks would not be four storey but only two-and-a-half storey - a statement that was greeted with laughter from local residents.

Despite a heated discussion, a lot of questions were posed by councillors which resulted in a decision to pass the application on to the council’s planning referrals committee for determination.