Developers blast St Albans council over Herts House site

DEVELOPERS have been left aggrieved by the council s treatment of their multi-million pound plan to regenerate a run-down city centre site. Antringham Verulamium and Travelodge s proposal to build a �26 million complex on the Hertfordshire House site in B

DEVELOPERS have been left aggrieved by the council's treatment of their multi-million pound plan to regenerate a run-down city centre site.

Antringham Verulamium and Travelodge's proposal to build a �26 million complex on the Hertfordshire House site in Bricket Road was turned down by a district council planning committee last week.

Councillors were generally happy with the proposed use of the site but not the design.

However, the developers believe they were misrepresented by the planning officers' report which preceded the meeting about the application, which includes an 87-bedroom budget hotel, 46 residential apartments, leisure and retail facilities, and office space for the police.

In a rebuttal document, which was handed to the councillors on the panel before the meeting, the developers raised serious concerns about the officers' report.

They claim it was unbalanced to such an extent that they sought legal advice which concluded that there had been, "a concerted attempt to put obstacles in the way of the development of the site through misrepresentation of key facts and particularly the planning policy basis upon which officers have assessed the proposals."

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The alleged misrepresentations include the positive aspects being "trivialised" with the officers making "overly-negative" comments and a number of errors, such as incorrect measurements of the building and use of planning policies.

Antringham purchased the site more than two years ago and have been in talks with the council about ways to develop the site ever since.

Antringham director Tim Blairs said the company was disappointed and surprised that many of the issues considered important in the pre-application discussions with officers had not been treated as vital to the proposals as they were initially.

Councillors were very critical about the absence of affordable housing but Mr Blairs claimed they were not made aware of the full story.

He maintained an agreement was made with planning officers about what provision could be made but there was a lack of guidance and willingness to discuss it further.

So Antringham and Travelodge submitted a Section 106 document outlining plans to give the council money to channel into affordable housing instead of including it in the plans.

Mr Blairs said: "To be criticised for taking the initiative and ensuring something was put before members is disappointing."

He pointed out that any site had to be economically viable and that the company had already spent a large amount of money, time and effort on the proposal.

He continued: "We don't wish to be critical of officers but the report presented to members was not perhaps as balanced as it could be and suggested we had not acted in a responsible and constructive manner with officers when this was clearly not the case."

Mr Blairs believes councillors should be involved in the pre-application stages in future so that they can understand the whole picture and provide guidance on how they wish to see brownfield sites such as Hertfordshire House regenerated.

He continued: "Despite a specific policy desire for its development dating back to 1994, it has remained undeveloped to date and possibly for the foreseeable future."

Antringham have not decided what to do next, but one option they have as owners of the site is to refurbish the existing building.

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