King Offa development given green light to proceed

The former King Offa pub in St Albans - the site will now be used for social housing.

The former King Offa pub in St Albans - the site will now be used for social housing. - Credit: Archant

A £5.1 million pound social housing development is set to get underway on the site of a former St Albans pub, bringing much needed homes to families on the council's waiting list.

The project for the King Offa site in Abbots Avenue West is for 14 new properties consisting of two four-bedroom detached homes, four three-bed detached homes, two three-bed semi-detached homes, five three-bed terraced homes and one two-bed wheelchair accessible bungalow.

These homes will house applicants on the council’s Housing Register.

The site was cleared for building more than three years ago, but nothing has progressed since then until the redevelopment was given the green light at a recent meeting of the housing and inclusion committee.

Lib Dem Cllr Jacqui Taylor, chair of the committee, said: “We are progressing our commitment to deliver on more social housing. This project for the King Offa site prioritises three-bedroom, permanent family homes - as opposed to the Tory plan for cramped, temporary units that we had to cancel for this site.

"There are more than 150 families on the council’s waiting list for three-bedroomed accommodation, some of whom have been waiting in excess of five years. Many are living in difficult circumstances, for example, brothers and sisters over 10 years of age having to share bedrooms, some even into their teenage years. This is not acceptable and our plans are to address this urgent need.”

But because the project has been awarded to a contractor without tendering, it has prompted outrage from the Conservative group on the district council.

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The Lib Dem administration handed over the scheme to building firm Jarvis, claiming it is because of the urgency of getting social homes built and the difficulty of going through tenders, using a purchasing framework adopted by neighbouring Watford council.

Tory group leader Cllr Mary Maynard said "Normally, multi-million pound construction projects are let following a thorough and detailed tendering process which gives a searching analysis of value for money offered by a range of contractors. A process that aims to be open, fair and transparent. 

"Framework contracts can be set up and mean that most of the work is only done once, then individual contracts are let within this framework. However, extensive work is needed to assess these frameworks and whether they meet the council’s needs.

"Instead of tendering the contract or using a national framework, the council has taken a neighbouring authority’s process and is using a contractor that happened to come first in it.

"It’s not clear what criteria were being used by Watford and whether they bear any relation to St Albans district council's needs. It’s not even clear if this administration knows what the needs are. It’s not clear how much work has gone into assessing Watford’s framework's suitability for this project. In fact, the council explicitly wants to avoid putting work in at the front end, which is normally a great way to ensure a project fails.

"A tendering process forces the authority to consider their scope and requirements. Avoiding the process means this work has not necessarily been done, and there is likely to be consequential impact on cost and timescales."

Tony Marmo, head of commercial and development at St Albans district council said: “There are various ways in which public bodies like councils may procure services. One of them is the use of a purchasing framework which involves pre-qualified suppliers that have been though a rigorous competitive process for areas like value for money and quality.

“The use of purchasing frameworks by local authorities is common. Tender processes can be expensive to undertake and take a lot of time and project management capacity. The quality of the responses is often difficult to determine, and the full costs are not always clear.

“In the case of the former King Offa site, the council is using the Watford Community Housing framework. The decision to appoint Jarvis Contracting Ltd was based on the fact that Jarvis is ranked first in this.”