Dramatic St Albans City Station plans might threaten popular food vans

Charlie's Coffee and Company van is popular with commuters.

Charlie's Coffee and Company van is popular with commuters. - Credit: Archant

Well-loved independent businesses might be driven out of the train station if dramatic transformation plans are pushed through unaltered.

Charlie's Coffee and Company van is popular with commuters.

Charlie's Coffee and Company van is popular with commuters. - Credit: Archant

Network Rail want to “enhance the passenger experience” for the 7.5 million annual passengers using St Albans City Station, who currently experience constant issues relating to overcrowding.

A planning application proposes to extend the Station Way entrance over two floors, creating bigger retail spaces, one more ticket machine, and more accessible toilets.

There are also plans to replace the back Ridgmont Road entrance with a much larger structure containing two more ticket gates and three more machines, an ATM, a permanent café and shop, and toilets.

The project has been granted £5 million by the Station Commercial Project Facility, and is being proposed in conjunction with Govia Thameslink.

However, it has caused controversy by not specifying provision for two popular food vans which operate close to Platform 4 - both The Pudding Stop and Charlie’s Coffee and Company vans currently attract business in the rear car park.

The plans also mean there will be nine fewer car parking places, 78 fewer cycle rack spaces and a 25 per cent reduction in the available space for motorbikes.

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Charlie Powell has been serving customers from her coffee van in the car park for a decade.

She would like reassurances the plans will help her business flourish, rather than damage it: “The mobile street traders in St Albans are an asset to our city, and should be protected and supported.

“They give St Albans’ retail a diverseness and uniqueness that’s hard to achieve on a high street. I provide a friendly personal service and high quality products sourced considerately.”

She suggested the café space could instead be made into bike racks and charge points for electric cars.

“The proposed ‘sit down coffee shop’ is an antiquated idea, and one which is out of sync with the behaviour, needs and desires of St Albans commuters,” she added.

Toilets on Platforms 2 and 3 will be converted into a larger waiting area.

A concerned local man said: “Commenting in support of the proposal, but requesting that provisions are made to allow Charlie’s coffee cart to continue to operate throughout the period of works.

“It would be a great loss to the community if Charlie’s wasn’t able to provide their services.”

Another resident said: “How will you ensure that there are provisions made for the two small businesses that have been trading here for years in the space just outside Platform 4?

“Many commuters use these services and will be very unhappy if they haven’t been catered for (excuse the pun).”

A woman who lives in the centre said: “All that is needed is more working ticket machines at that back entrance.

“Refreshment needs are brilliantly provided by vans from fantastic local businesses - and I would hate to see that replaced by the over-priced, insipid, chain offerings that are present elsewhere on the station.”

Another man agreed: “Removing a space from an award-winning independent entrepreneur and creating a corporate retail space in the main building is ill-conceived, and shows a disregard for exactly the kind of community asset the plan should be finding ways to support, and exactly the kind of constituent the council should be protecting during the planning process.

“The plan should find a way of supporting the trading vans with power, shelter and seating.”

He also objected to losing cycle spaces, branding it a “retrograde environmental step”.

Rona Wightman from the St Albans Cycle Campaign also commented on the application: “Encouraging cycling and walking is very important to public health and to reducing congestion.

“We recognise and applaud Thameslink’s good record in providing for cycling and encourage them to maintain and surpass a high standard of provision for cycling.”

The Network Rail application said: “The proposed scheme will help to ease congestion and improve the customer experience.

“It will not alter the existing use of St Albans City Station, and will not introduce any noisy or intrusive operations to the station.”

It says it is “quite prepared to accept the imposition of reasonable conditions”.

A public consultation on the planning application ended on Tuesday.