Harpenden leisure development plans are condemned for lack of public consultation

Harpenden Leisure Centre

Harpenden Leisure Centre - Credit: Archant

Opposition is mounting to development proposals for the centre of Harpenden and Rothamsted Park which residents fear will exacerbate problems of congestion and traffic flow in the town.

St Albans council is proposing a new arts and leisure centre in Rothamsted Park, an ‘enabling’ development on the site of Harpenden Public Halls and the possibility of putting an extra deck on the Amenbury Lane car park.

Not only has the proposal angered surrounding residents but they are also concerned about the lack of consultation with them about the project.

One objector, Victor Lowry, who lives in Amenbury Lane, has even cancelled his subscription to the Harpenden Society in protest at its support for the development scheme.

He pointed out that the town centre was constantly clogged with traffic and the proposals showed no regard for residents living in the heart of Harpenden.

And while he accepted that new or improved facilities might be needed in Harpenden, he said that to suggest that it should be done at Rothamsted Park in the town centre ‘beggars belief and shows a total disregard by the society for town centre residents’.

He said this week: “Harpenden is becoming the Swiss cottage of Hertfordshire with so many restaurants and pubs. It can only get worse.

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“People along Amenbury Lane will be the losers because a multi-storey car park would look awful and introduce more and more cars.”

Mr Lowry said he and his neighbours were unhappy that what consultation there had been was largely with ‘stakeholders’, many of whom did not live in Harpenden, Although a public meeting had been held in November attended by around 80 people, there had been no opportunity to ask questions.

The Harpenden project follows the rebuilding of Westminster Lodge leisure centre in St Albans and Cotlandswick in London Colney but Mr Lowry pointed out that they were not in town centres.

He went on: “I find the whole thing very very stressful and we feel our way of life is constantly under threat.

The bottom line was that residents were sick and tired of continuing development and the debate over what facilities were needed. He added: “It is a shame that the views of residents are way, way down the line.”

Mr Lowry has had a response from Chris Marsden, chairman of the Harpenden Society, explaining that the town’s civic watchdogs took its decisions on what was best for the people of the town as a whole which they felt the proposed development was.

Tony Marmo, St Albans council’s leisure and heritage services manager, said that the existing swimming pool and sports centre on the edge of Rothamsted Park were the only major leisure facilities in the district left to be upgraded.

He went on: “They are also located in separate buildings making them difficult to manage and awkward for users to pass between the two. Both facilities are ageing, contributing to maintenance challenges. The arts and cultural facilities in Harpenden Public Halls are also in need of an upgrade and are located in a building that is no longer fit for purpose.”

He pointed out that the council did not own any other land in Harpenden that would be suitable for a leisure, arts and cultural development.

On the issue of parking he said that surveyors had been looking at the Amenbury Lane car park with possible options including putting a deck on it or creating additional parking to the side of the leisure centre. No decisions had yet been made.

Mr Marmo said the council had been consulting with the local community on the project and residents had been invited to all the sessions which had been held.

A set of concept designs for the scheme were being developed and would be published on the council website early next year with the public invited to comment on them.

He added: “So far the feedback on the leisure, arts and culture scheme as a whole has been overwhelmingly positive with respondents in general acknowledging that it is in the interests of the town.”