Oaklands homes bid fails

A PROPERTY company has lost its bid to convert a former college assembly hall on the city centre’s Oaklands College site into a housing development.

Nicholas King Homes went to appeal against the district council’s retrospective decision not to give planning permission for the change the use of the hall, a listed building, on the St Albans City Campus in Hatfield Road into a total of 20 flats.

The decision has been greeted with delight by David Kaloczi, chairman of the Oaklands Action Campaign, which has been battling to prevent the assembly hall being converted into housing for a number of years.

He said this week that he hoped that in light of the outcome, Nicholas King Homes would now refurbish the building and give it back to the community.

The appeal by Nicholas King Homes followed the council’s failure to decide the application within the requisite eight weeks but the council said that had it been in a position to determine the proposal, it would have refused it on four grounds - loss of a community facility, the lack of affordable housing, the lack of contributions towards education, community services and leisure provision and harm to a listed building.

A public inquiry in July heard that the assembly hall, together with six related listed buildings, was one of the best examples of the work of the Herts County Council Architects Department (HCCAD) and the group of buildings had been awarded a RIBA Bronze Medal for quality in 1960.

In his ruling, planning inspector David Prentis, felt that sub-division to form flats would destroy the spatial quality of the building and the loss of features associated with its former use including the stage, the associated lighting gallery and the suspended projection box at the rear of the hall.

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He maintained that the scheme would have some benefits including making a positive contribution to sustainable communities if housing was allowed there.

But on balance he felt the best use would be something which would preserve the open nature of the hall and he did not accept that there were no such viable uses which would preserve the interior and the exterior of the building.

Mr Kaloczi’s Oaklands Action Group was set up over concern about the redevelopment of the Oaklands City Campus and he felt that Nicholas King Homes had not done enough to market the hall.

He went on: “It was one of the very few benefits which was promised from the site development. It is pretty awful what has been built on city campus and that is not just my thoughts.”

Mr Kaloczi felt that a number of potential uses could be explored - citing particularly whether it might be suitable for an educational establishment in wake of the concern about the future use of the former Faculty of Law buildings further along Hatfield Road as a new primary school.

He added: “We are supposed to be a big society and hopefully we could find a use for a large space without more housing going in.”