Bid to reprieve historic St Albans building

A NEW government planning unit will decide whether or not a locally listed city-centre building can be demolished to make way for a new school playground.

St Albans councillors agreed to refer their recommendation that conservation area consent should be refused for the demolition of the locally-listed Victorian Pemberton building to the new national planning casework unit which replaced regional planning centres.

As first reported by the Herts Advertiser last year, the county council wants to demolish the Pemberton building, a former school which was built in 1883, to provide more playground space for the new Alban City Free School which is due to open in September on the site of the University of Herts law faculty in Hatfield Road, St Albans.

Supporters and objectors to the proposal went along to Monday’s planning central committee which heard that if the Pemberton building was not demolished, the outside space currently available would be insufficient to allow 420 children of different ages to play together outside at one time.

It would also create additional problems including the school being responsible for its maintenance and heating, its location close to the new school and its impact on light.

Linda Crawley, chair of governors at Alban City Free School, said the demolition, should it go ahead, would not result in a large expanse of concrete or tarmac but would be zoned to provide defined areas for different sports as well as a quiet area and a growing/planting area.

Among a number of objections to the proposal were concerns expressed by St Albans Civic Society, which argued that the Pemberton building contributed to the character of the conservation area.

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The St Albans and Herts Architectural and Archaeological Society argued that although the building was not clearly visible from all viewpoints, it was one of the hidden gems of the city.

The committee agreed to support the view of their planning officers that on the basis of the information in front of them, the benefits which would arise for the community from the demolition of the Pemberton building would not decisively outweigh the harm that would result from its demolition.

The national planning casework unit will now ask the county council for its views before reaching a decision.