Community design group 'ignored' over Alban Arena redevelopment

People arranged at the charrette organised by Look! St Albans about the regeneration of the civic ce

People at the design charrette organised by Look! St Albans about the regeneration of the civic centre - Credit: Look! St Albans

The founder of a community design group instrumental in shaping the look of the city centre says they have been ignored over the planned redevelopment of the Alban Arena site.

Vanessa Gregory devised Look! St Albans, a non-political group set up to ensure development within the city is respectful of its heritage and appearance.

The Oak Tree Gardens development on Hatfield Road, St Albans, that Look! St Albans was involved in.

The Oak Tree Gardens development on Hatfield Road, St Albans, that Look! St Albans was involved in. - Credit: Space Estates

They were heavily involved in the look of Oak Tree Gardens on the site of the former museum, and devised a design charrette for CCOS South, the Civic Centre Opportunity Site incorporating the old police station.

A design charrette is a relatively short focused collaborative planning method which brings the talents, energies and local knowledge of interested parties together, to tackle site specific design aspects of buildings and surrounding open spaces.

Vanessa Gregory, Angela Koch and Annie Brewster at the Look! St Albans charrette

Vanessa Gregory, Angela Koch and Annie Brewster at the Look! St Albans charrette - Credit: Look! St Albans

But despite hours of investment in time and resources, Look! St Albans' vision for the site was snubbed by the district council (SADC) in favour of a design contest for architectural firms.

Now the same thing is happening again with CCOS North - the area around the Alban Arena - with SADC proposing a competition to be run with the Royal Institute of British Architecture to find the best concept designs.

These designs will then be displayed at public exhibitions around the district and residents will be able to vote for their favourite. This is the same process undertaken for CCOS South.

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The winning design will be reported to the SADC regeneration and business committee along with a business case setting out the expected income and expenditure, the capital development budget and borrowing required.

Vanessa said: “Here we go again, another competition! When do residents, who will ultimately use and pay for whatever the council and what appears to be their ‘hand-picked’ contact group, heavily populated with the Civic Society, have their say? And yet another vote for the ‘least worst’ option as often said to me about CCOS South or a heavily biased online poll where you can’t interact to hear others' views to reach a consensus?

"Despite what the council papers said at last week’s regeneration and business committee, Look! St Albans respectfully declined to be on the group, as we arrange events to establish residents' views, we do not have a view as an organisation, therefore cannot sit on what appears to be an exclusive group.

"As already pointed out at the council committee meeting, sitting on someone’s hard drive in the council office is the outcome of the nationally-praised CCOS master-planning charrette which took place in 2016, paid for in part by the council.

"At that event Look! took great pains to ensure every resident who wanted to have their say, could. They listened to each other and reached a consensus.

"We leafletted, with financial help from the Chamber of Commerce and Kingston Smith over 36,500 premises, invited stakeholders by letter and email and asked all parish councils to help spread the word.

"The facilitators, all experts in their field including architects, urban designers, landscape designer and a highway engineer helped residents reach a consensus on a wide range of workable and viable ideas. Unfortunately neither the council, their advisers nor contractors knew what to do with it, so it sits there brimming with excellent workable ideas from the community continuing to be ignored.

"Fast forward to 2021 the council at cost to us again go through a similar, though tightly controlled process, only this time leaving out residents. We need a city centre that reflects our needs, if they don’t engage with residents how are they to know what residents think.

"It is a great pity to waste the large resource of local knowledge and expertise we have in St Albans residents. I have been privileged to see their passion and commitment and know their huge frustration that they are to be ignored once again.”