Comment: St Albans city centre regeneration will be asymmetrical without BHS hotel development
PUBLISHED: 11:00 09 August 2018
St Albans will soon bid farewell to the old police station on Victoria Street as the council has announced it will be demolished in autumn to make way for flats and business space.
It has been vacant for years and ugly since it was built, so I for one am glad we will get to see the back of it.
It is representative of the changing face of the city centre into something which has an enhanced ability to draw in tourists and draw open their purse strings.
Already we have seen the new Museum + Gallery, which is worth it for the café alone! Every time I walk past the tables are full of people whiling away their time by watching the world go by.
Inside, I was amazed by the number of exhibits including that very dramatic lion’s head at the top of the stairs and the lovingly restored courtroom, with its Victorian furniture and staircase leading down to the cells. Although there are now diners and kids playing dress-up rather than petty thieves and miscreants, you can still appreciate the history and imagine what it must have been like.
Also, the Civic Centre Opportunity Site, which will be built on the site of the former police station (unless the archaeologists dig up any ancient Roman burial grounds), ought to open up the immediate area surrounding the Alban Arena and bring in more people to the wonderful range of activities that go on there, including the new garden and the new Okka restaurant.
The affordable housing included in the flats being built as part of CCOS will help make a small dint in the district’s housing problem, as will the new housing on the site of the old museum on Hatfield Road.
The council’s offices are themselves becoming a hub of activity: Herts Community Trust are moving out their facility across the way, to make way for CCOS, to the council’s offices.
They are following in the wake of Herts Police, who have a base there for uniformed officers and detectives, and the charity Community Central.
Having all of these services in one place must make it easier for people to use them, whether they be reporting a crime or getting healthcare, so the centralisation at the council’s offices is most welcome.
It’s not all good news in the city centre though. The plans to demolish the BHS shop at the other end of town in favour of a much-needed hotel are up in the air, thanks partly to a baffling observation by council officers that it would ruin the skyline.
Never mind what it looks like from a mile away, think about what it looks like from right outside! Much like the old cop shop, it’s an enormous concrete building casting a shadow over the hard work of so many local businesses to make themselves open to business.
Councillors are in the process of making field trips to check out how the hotel would intrude on the skyline. What ought to be happening is bulldozers moving in to flatten the site ready for the hotel.
Until then, the regeneration of St Albans city centre will be asymmetrical.