Harpenden could get a bigger swimming pool as part of Rothamsted Park cultural centre proposals

Harpenden swimming pool. Picture: Krishan Bhungar.

Harpenden swimming pool. Picture: Krishan Bhungar. - Credit: Archant

St Albans council has referred an application for Harpenden’s new sports centre to the Secretary of State.

Last night, the council’s planning referrals committee unanimously backed an application to extend the swimming pool in Rothamsted Park to provide a new learner pool and additional sports and fitness facilities, conditional on whether or not the Communities Secretary decides to call it in.

The council is also applying to add a new 92-space car park at the swimming pool, a two-storey extension to the sports centre for a lift and stairs and a replacement depot building to the west of the football pitch.

The application is part of plans to turn the sports centre into a cultural centre and hand the dry sports activities to the swimming centre.

Spokesperson for the application, Michael Fearn, told the meeting: “There is a clear need for better facilities for sports and culture with many problems within the existing building: overuse of gym equipment, shortage of changing facilities, inadequate access for the disabled and limited space for those learning to swim.”

According to the council’s portfolio holder for sport and culture, Annie Brewster, who also addressed the meeting, Harpenden and the surrounding villages have been consulted for 24 months on the proposals and their suggestions of a larger sports hall to fit five badminton courts, a larger learner pool and an orchestra pit with retractable seating have been incorporated.

The cultural centre would replace the Harpenden Public Halls, a suggestion which has sparked concern from the Theatres Trust: “Our primary concern relates to the possible loss of the existing smaller space (around 70 seats or 100 standing) as a performance venue.

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“Such a space would have a very different offer and purpose to the main auditorium, likely catering more to small community and amateur groups. The new facility will provide three function rooms which we welcome, and will help enhance the overall sustainability of the cultural centre by bringing in people and income at different times of day.

“We would recommend at least one of those spaces is fitted out to be utilised as an additional performance or studio space.”

The Campaign to Protect Rural England has expressed concern about the new car park and thinks the changes to the buildings will harm the Green Belt.