St Albans Mad Squirrel granted permission to be ‘drinking establishment’

Mad Squirrel overlooks St Albans Cathedral.

Mad Squirrel overlooks St Albans Cathedral. - Credit: Archant

One of St Albans newest bars has been granted permission to trade as a ‘drinking establishment’ – nine months after it opened.

The Mad Squirrel Taproom, on Heritage Close, boasts a range of 25 beers on tap – as well as two double fridges of bottles and cans.

And with a beer garden that overlooks the Abbey grounds, it reckons it has one of the best beer gardens around.

Until now it has been classed in planning terms as a ‘restaurant’ and a ‘retail’ outlet.

But on Monday March 16 members of St Albans Council’s Planning (Development Control) Committee Central granted ‘change of use’ to the venue – allowing it to trade as a ‘drinking establishment’, as well as a restaurant and a retail outlet.

The Civic Society, The Abbey Precincts Residents’ Association and the Heritage Close Residents’ Association had all raised concerns about the application, as well as a number of individual residents.

Those concerns included the potential for noise, music and foot traffic, including the disruption caused by deliveries and the collection of empties.

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There were also concerns raised about the use of the outside space late at night – and that the ‘intensification’ could impact on the ‘setting’ of the cathedral.

The officers’ report to the committee did acknowledge residents living in the floors above the venue may experience some noise and disturbance from the Mad Squirrel Tap.

But they stressed their assessment focussed on the difference between this application and the site’s previous use as a ‘restaurant’ and ‘retail’ outlet.

And they said: “... it is not considered that the proposed change of use would be harmful to the setting of the cathedral or neighbouring residents in comparison with the existing use.”

At the meeting of the committee councillors agreed to the change of use, in line with officers’ recommendations.

During the debate Conservative Cllr Frances Leonard pointed to the number of businesses that had been based at the site.

She said the conditions were in place to protect the neighbours and concluded that she did not have a problem with the application.

Liberal Democrat Cllr Danny Clare said the business – which would attract ‘ale enthusiasts’ – would add value to St Albans.

And he said they should be helping it to thrive, especially on a site that hasn’t been able to do so in the past.

Liberal Democrat Cllr Helen Campbell – who expressed concern that the application was ‘retrospective’ – said she recognised the challenges businesses were facing.

And before voting in favour, she stressed the need for balance between establishments that keep the city vibrant and the responsibility of businesses to exist side by side with residents.

Liberal Democrat Cllr Stephen Barrett – who ultimately abstained from the vote – stressed there was a “delicate equilibrium” needed between the businesses and the residents in the area.

Following the debate a majority of the committee agreed to the change of use.

Conditions agreed to by the committee will dictate that the outside seating area will be cleared by 10.30pm – and that there will be no exit through Heritage Close after 11pm.