St Albans School maths block wins council backing despite neighbours’ fury

New headmaster of St Albans School Jonathan Gillespie in front of the gateway

New headmaster of St Albans School Jonathan Gillespie in front of the gateway - Credit: Archant

A controversial three-storey teaching block has been approved for St Albans city centre, amid a backlash from neighbours.

St Albans district council (SADC) has given conditional planning permission for St Albans School’s new maths block - a timber structure currently on the site will be demolished to make way for maths classrooms and a shooting range.

It will be 55m away from Fishpool Street on a nearly 2,000sqm site. A similar application was rejected last August because it is on Green Belt land, several mature trees would have been cut down, and it was too big for the St Albans Conservation Area.

This new application is 1m shorter, sycamore and horse chestnut trees will block sightline from the street, and there is a total footprint reduction of 5.2 per cent.

At an SADC planning (development control) committee central meeting on August 7 a spokesperson for residents from Fishpool Street, St. Michael’s and the Abbey Precincts, and on behalf of St Albans Civic Society, addressed councillors.

Adrian Smith asked why it was recommended for approval when “nothing materially has changed”: “Is it because the school has used consultants and its network of pupils, past and present, most of whom don’t live in the area, to influence the decision?

“Some are as far away as New Zealand and they won’t have to suffer the consequences, unlike those of us who live here and pay our council tax.”

Most Read

They argued there will be disruption from construction, poor aesthetics, more cars, light or noise pollution, overlooking gardens, and pupil requirements “incorrectly analysed”.

Residents and the school have clashed before - in 2013 neighbours protested against school coaches driving along the narrow streets surrounding the site.

St Albans School’s headteacher, Jonathan Gillespie, spoke about the educational benefits of the build: “Given the relentless demand for mathematics and science A-levels, we are running out of space.

“This proposed development creates the necessary space for the teaching of maths, and also the sciences, which can expand into the area vacated by maths.”

He noted that approval would be in line with Herts county council (HCC) objectives, as the county relies more heavily on knowledge economy than Britain as a whole.

“This project will enable the continued provision of inspirational teaching for the next generation of doctors, engineers, and scientists.”

Mr Gillespie quoted alumnus and internationally-famous scientist Stephen Hawking: “The only mathematics I was ever taught was at St Albans School and it has served me well.”

Councillors in the meeting discussed aesthetics. Cllr Janet Churchard said she was “shocked” at the materials proposed: “I don’t know whether it refers to it or it’s my imagination but the design is actually quite brutalist.”

Adding: “Although I am very keen on modern buildings, I like modern buildings, this one seems out of keeping with its position.”

Cllr Malachy Pakenham added: “Design is very subjective, thing isn’t it really? I happen to quite like art deco buildings but there’s not too many of them built these days.”

He also commented on the legal definition of Green Belt, given there is already a wooden building on the site. It is “factually and legally” Green Belt but “no-one would say it is in reality”.

Cllr Tom Clegg said a new building may give better educational provision than the old one - which looks like “old army barracks they used to have in the 50s and 60s”.

The approval has now been referred to the Secretary of State.