Housing scheme approved for former St Albans Museum site in city centre

Former Museum of St Albans housing design perspective, courtesy of Kirby Cove Architects

Former Museum of St Albans housing design perspective, courtesy of Kirby Cove Architects - Credit: Archant

St Albans’ former museum – a key site in the city centre – will be turned into homes following a unanimous decision hailed as a “major step forward” in the creation of a new cultural hub.

Former Museum of St Albans site housing design perspective, courtesy of Kirby Cove Architects

Former Museum of St Albans site housing design perspective, courtesy of Kirby Cove Architects - Credit: Archant

The district council’s housing scheme for the Hatfield Road plot was approved at a planning referrals committee meeting on Monday (11), which means more money in the pot for the £7.75 million museum and gallery project at the old Town Hall in Market Place.

Ten homes will be constructed, with the existing museum building to be altered and extended to create four, four-bedroom and two three-bedroom units.

A bungalow on the site will be demolished and replaced with four, four-bedroom terraced homes.

But planning officials had to overcome a number of hurdles to win approval for the scheme, as councillors had raised numerous concerns when initially considering it at a meeting last month.

A decision was deferred until Monday, to allow time to make changes to vehicular access, tenure, amenity space and parking provision.

As a result, the proposed plans were altered slightly with the ground floors of four units in the former museum building becoming open plan with sliding doors between the living rooms and kitchens removed.

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Following a request from highways, the vehicular access from Hatfield Road was widened to 4.1m – up from 3.7m previously.

There was concern, too, about the proposed room sizes, but councillors were told on Monday that all bedrooms were “fully compliant”.

While the standard requires each four-bedroom unit to have a minimum 130 square metres internal floor area, and each three-bedroom unit from 99 sq ms, the museum housing scheme provides at least 139 sq ms and 111 sq ms respectively.

The height of the houses in the original plans was reduced to ensure they fit into the street scene, that already has numerous three storey or tall two-storey buildings nearby.

The building footprint will be expanded from 477 sq m to 606 sq m.

Eleven car parking spaces are provided, with visitors expected to use nearby city centre car parks.

The parking permit scheme stipulates that those living in new developments in the city centre are not eligible for resident permits.

When asked who was likely to buy the homes, the meeting was told that Rumball Sedgwick estate agents’ research indicated they would appeal to professional young couples, young families and retired couples looking to downsize, and move into the city centre.

Cllr Annie Brewster, portfolio holder for sports, leisure and heritage, said the museum site was “too small for the ambitious 21st century historic and art exhibitions we would like to hold”.

She urged fellow councillors to accept the museum housing scheme, as “all receipts from its development will serve as an enabling contribution to the new Town Hall project. It makes perfect sense to base a magnificent new museum and art gallery in this location that already has an annual footfall of over four million.”

Cllr Julie Bell said while she “disagreed that it is great for retirees and families with young children, I’m sure they will be snapped up straight away.”

Cllr Rob Prowse said he was still concerned about the development being ‘cramped’, but was aware it meant “capital for the new museum”.

After the meeting, Cllr Brewster and the council’s portfolio holder for planning, Cllr Julian Daly, said of the unanimous approval: “It’s great news, and a major step forward to enable us to deliver the cultural hub in the middle of the city centre, that St Albans deserves.

“This was a vital bit of the jigsaw.”

Hoarding boards will be placed around the Town Hall in July, which will mark the start of works.

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