Housing project vital for St Albans Oaklands College growth

OAKLANDS College needs to stump up �50 million for its large scale redevelopment project at its Smallford campus – which can now only be funded on the back of a major housing scheme – according to its principal.

Zoe Hancock spoke exclusively to the Herts Advertiser in response to concerns aired by residents attending a recent public meeting held to discuss St Albans district council’s (SADC) inclusion of Green Belt land off Sandpit Lane in its draft Strategic Local Plan to provide a site for hundreds of homes.

About 150 people attended the meeting organised by the recently formed No Oaklands Housing Action Group (NOHAG).

The draft plan is the district’s blueprint for future development until 2028, and is currently being fine-tuned by SADC before being submitted to the Secretary of State for approval.

The council has earmarked several locations for major residential developments to pave the way for 4,250 new homes, including up to 350 houses on Oaklands’ fields, beyond the Verulam School playing fields.

Money raised from the sale of land for housing at the college would be reinvested in replacing dilapidated facilities at Smallford.

In a statement the campaign group said while members were not against affordable housing or education facilities, the proposed development would result in loss of landscape and have an effect on infrastructure.

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Campaigners suggested Oaklands look to either Brussels or use levies imposed by the council on developers upon approving schemes, to contribute towards educational resources and other infrastructure requirements.

But Zoe said that money collected from infrastructure levies would not be sufficient to cover the �50 million needed to redevelop the campus. There was no likelihood of EU funding either as that is targeted more at deprived areas.

Oaklands had hoped to have completed construction of a new hub by now, but its plans fell through after the loss of a substantial grant in 2009.

Zoe said: “I fully understand why local residents wouldn’t want the fields opposite their houses developed.

“But it has been identified as a sustainable site and the great benefit is the money raised will be put right back into the community and invested in further education.”

She went on: “The objective is not to increase student numbers. This is a replacement project. It is to make the facilities fit for purpose, to give students the best possible opportunities to get into employment.

“We are not looking for growth here. We need to invest in the facilities. But there is no money from central government to do that so the only option is to sell land.”

Zoe added: “The college footprint will be exactly the same.”

If the development is included in the local plan, affordable housing would be provided.

She confirmed there was no plan for a road to go through the site, but Oaklands would require pedestrian and cycle access.

Zoe said that if �50 million could be secured it would be sufficient to make the campus, “fit for purpose for at least the next 30 years”.

She added: “Hopefully by that time there will be government funding available for any future capital investment required.”