Harpenden bids to reclaim assets from district

HARPENDEN wants to claw back ownership of Lydekker Park and four other key local assets that have been controlled by St Albans for nearly four decades.

Town Mayor, Cllr Michael Weaver, said that Harpenden was determined to once again own Batford Springs, Lydekker Park, Porters Hill play area, Westfield recreation ground and Park Hall, after “regretfully” losing ownership of the sites in a local government reshuffle in the early 1970s.

He said that despite Harpenden being treated “like Cinderella” by the city, the town had had aspirations for itself for many years and wanted to pursue, “a sensible transfer back of assets” from the new Conservative Party-led administration at St Albans district council.

Cllr Weaver went on: “For so many years Harpenden has felt there was a negative response to this issue from the old administration that was centred solely on St Albans city itself.

“I think we now have an opportunity not just to redress the balance, but to achieve something that will be fair to everyone in the whole district.”

Harpenden town council manages Park Hall on Leyton Road. Now used as a venue for wedding receptions, craft fairs, exhibitions and other functions, it was built in 1850 as a school and is regarded as being of being historically important to the local area.

But, Cllr Weaver said, although Harpenden manages the building, “we have no contribution from the district council for this at all, so I think it’s only fair the ownership should be ours, likewise Batford Springs, which we feel that if we had ownership of, we could add a huge amount of value for local residents.”

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Cllr Weaver said the Porters Hill play area, if transferred back to Harpenden ownership, could be managed with “more imagination and in the interest of all local residents.” With regard to Westfield recreation ground, he said: “we feel it has been ignored for too long. I would like the town council to invest in adding some real value to that area but first of all, listening to all of its neighbours and local residents and engage with them to hopefully help them realise their aspirations.”

Lydekker Park was formally part of the grounds of Harpenden Lodge, built in 1803 and bought by the Lydekkers, one of Harpenden’s oldest families, in 1857.

The last surviving member of the Harpenden branch of the Lydekker family, Miss Hilda Lydekker, lived in Harpenden Lodge until 1979, when she left at the age of 93 to move into a nursing home. She died in 1987.

In 1937, Hilda Lydekker entered into an agreement with the former Harpenden urban district council that the 11 acres of land attached to Harpenden Lodge should become private open space. It was her intention that part of it be preserved as a memorial to her loved ones lost in the First World War. With the demise of the urban council in 1974, this agreement passed to the newly created St Albans district council.

Following the death of Miss Lydekker in 1987, shortly before her 101st birthday, St Albans entered into an agreement with the executors of the will to retain a total of three acres as public open space with a car park.

These were to be completed by the developers and donated in a finished state to the council. As St Albans was the successor of the former Harpenden urban district council, it became the beneficiary of the gifted land.

The Harpenden town council of that time made strenuous efforts to have the public open space and car park retained in the ownership of the local council.

Following discussions with the district council, agreement was reached in 1998 that Harpenden would lease Lydekker Park and the new car park from St Albans at a peppercorn rent. Harpenden has been campaigning for the ownership to be returned to the town as originally intended.

St Albans council leader, Cllr Julian Daly, said he was looking forward to working with Harpenden. He added: “I think there will be a change of attitude towards all parishes and town councils in the district.

“I want the culture to change; I want the district council to work better with parish and town councils.”