Herts County Council marketing controversial St Albans site

Peter Cook. Bernards Heath housing development.

Peter Cook. Bernards Heath housing development. - Credit: Archant

DESPITE a pledge that a piece of land used by dog walkers and children would keep unrestricted access in perpetuity, the county council is marketing a large part of it.

It is inviting expressions of interest for the former Ariston Works in Harpenden Road, St Albans, a redevelopment scheme which has long been in the pipeline.

But the site also includes around two-thirds of the Lower Field, which is popular as a recreational area and which the district endeavoured to protect in its 2001 Planning Development Brief and has since vowed to continue defending.

The 8.9-acre site is being marketed as a quality residential or retail opportunity but is expected to be sold for housing.

It is the inclusion of the Lower Field which is of most concern to local councillor Roma Mills and Peter Cook, chairman of The Friends of Bernards Heath.

Cllr Mills said this week: “I have been waiting for this to happen since we started discussing it in 2000.”

She is concerned that the access pledge might not be enough to prevent developers attempting to build on the Lower Field, particularly if any planning application was to go to appeal.

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Cllr Mills went on: “I am very concerned about it. I have always felt that the county council is quite a distant body and you get decisions made at Hertford with no dialogue with local people.”

She added: “To have what is a significant and very sensitive site changed as such is going to be contentious and controversial. I think it is very poor.”

Mr Cook said the county council had resisted efforts to exclude the Lower Field from the remainder of the Ariston Works site for redevelopment. An application by the residents association to get Village Green status had been unsuccessful and other suggestions to safeguard it had not been taken up by the county.

He is puzzled about why two-thirds of the Lower Field is up for sale and said there had been discussions at one time about retaining it for use as a playing field by the new Alban City School in Hatfield Road.

Mr Cook pointed out that it was unlikely that a developer would purchase the Lower Field with the rest of the site if they could not build on it because they would be left with the maintenance costs.

And he is concerned that a developer could claim that a Section 106 planning agreement, which would require a percentage of social housing as well as a replacement Pioneer Youth Club and ambulance station to obtain planning permission, would not be feasible unless the whole site was developed.

He said: “There is deep suspicion that at some point, someone is going to pull a rabbit out of the hat and say that to make the whole scheme viable, there will need to be redevelopment of the Lower Field. We are very much on our guard that this might happen.”

Prospective developers have been told that around 3.8 acres of the site is capable of redevelopment and they have until February 8 to submit expressions of interest.