Harpenden’s Westfield site could still be respite unit

THE door has been left open for a charity to develop a new children’s respite unit on a site in Harpenden which is the subject of a dispute between the town council and local residents.

Mencap’s existing hostel Stairways in Douglas Road, Harpenden, has been judged unsuitable to continue providing adult residential and child respite care and the charity has met with the district council about the possibility of opening a new children’s unit on the former Westfield Road allotment site.

That is the land which the town council wanted to develop as affordable housing for residents of Harpenden but St Albans council backed the Westfield Action Group last year when residents called for it to be restored to allotment use.

At Tuesday’s meeting of St Albans cabinet, portfolio holders reaffirmed their decision of last September that the site was not suitable for housing and it would not allow right of access from land it owns to the site without which the housing scheme could not go ahead.

But cabinet agreed that while it would go no further forward with Mencap’s interest in the site at the moment because there was insufficient financial information about the scheme, the door would not be closed completely in case the situation become clearer in the future.

The council is also reviewing garage sites across the district, including Beeching Close which adjoins the Westfield site, and believes there may be an opportunity for Mencap to build on one of those.

Portfolio holder for community engagement and support, Cllr Chris Oxley, commented: “We recognise that Mencap is an extremely important charity and does very good work for the community and I have two residents in my ward who feel very close to the facilities that Mencap provides.”

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But council leader Robert Donald said that without knowing if the county council would support Mencap financially to provide children’s respite care, the cabinet was not in a position to give its blessing to the suggestion.

He went on: “We still wish to work with Mencap very closely and the Beeching Close site may be suitable for them.”

Cllr Donald said the cabinet was standing by its original decision to call on the town council to return the site to allotment use.

He added: “We are serious about building 100 units of affordable housing each year but we don’t have to use every blade of grass to do it and we don’t have to build it there.”