Town bank building given green light to split into three

The Barclays branch in Harpenden High Street

The Barclays branch in Harpenden High Street - Credit: Google Streetview

The future of one of Harpenden’s last remaining banks is up in the air after planning permission was granted to split the building into three separate shop fronts.

The landlords of 16 High Street, which houses Barclays, will also be allowed to convert unused office space into five additional flats as part of the plans.

District councillors backed the scheme at a meeting on Monday, saying the changes would support the High Street, regardless of whether the bank decides to close.

The application did not address whether changes will see the bank vacate the building or if Barclays will take advantage of a smaller unit.

The potential changes come after Santander, Halifax and NatWest all closed their Harpenden branches in recent years, with Lloyds Bank also set to shut their branch on February 23.

Southdown Building Developments Ltd applied for permission to reconfigure the building in September, which they say will enhance Harpenden’s Conservation Area.

The new changes will include a new entrance fronting towards High Street where the existing cash machine is placed, and another shop on the side of the existing building.

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Planning permission will also allow the owners to change the use of part of the first and second floors to provide five additional flats, bringing the total number of flats to nine.

In a statement read at a meeting of SADC's planning committee, the applicant said they believed by improving the rear of the building, the plans would enhance Harpenden’s Conservation Area, and it would provide more diverse opportunities for retail units in the smaller spaces.

The statement added the total increase of the ground floor footprint is around 8sqm, and said rather than an overdevelopment the scheme was an “efficient scheme which uses the full potential of the floor space available”.

Cllr Roger Butterworth called-in the application to the committee to allow councillors to discuss whether the plans were an overdevelopment of the site and whether this was outweighed by the potential benefits to the high street.

Cllr Butterworth supported the plans, saying that it would help the town’s high street whether or not the bank remains open.

He said: “We have a problem with banks, we are losing them. There’s another one at the other side of the high street that’s been vacant for three years. It’s not easy to find tenants for former bank buildings because we don’t want them to change their appearance. 

“Therefore, irrespective of what precisely happens to the particular bank, this would seem to be supportive of Harpenden’s economy.”

The councillor said the changes to the front and side of the building would be relatively minor, while improving the rear of the building which he described as a “complete mess”.

Cllr Butterworth said: “This is an occasion where if we try to preserve our high street in aspic then we are doing the public of Harpenden a disservice.”

Harpenden Town Council had recommended refusal of the plans, arguing the proposal would create a “domineering impact” on one neighbouring property, and on the Conservation area.

During the planning committee meeting, councillors also raised concerns about not including any parking in the scheme, although the applicant said it was in a sustainable location for residents to use public transport.

Despite those concerns, the plans were unanimously backed by councillors on Monday evening.

Local banking campaigner Derek French said: "The planning decision in isolation is not surprising but residents should be concerned. Even if Barclays take on one of the small retail units it will be for a further diminished banking service to a town that is seeing bank losses continuing apace.

"It should be noted that the absence of full banking services is bad news for any town as it encourages residents and those from adjacent villages to go elsewhere taking their retail footfall and spend with them!

"Harpenden is on the verge of needing a Bank Hub, available to customers of all banks, and yet the industry and government are dragging their feet on this despite successful pilots."