Opportunity knocks for prime St Albans city centre site

Hertfordshire House, Civic Close

Hertfordshire House, Civic Close - Credit: Archant

A multi million pound bid to buy a derelict building on a city centre site earmarked for new shops, restaurants, offices and housing has been made by St Albans council.

After an unsuccessful first offer, the council has submitted a second bid to buy Hertfordshire House in Bricket Road, St Albans, which has had its ground floor boarded up for many years since it was vacated by the county council.

If the purchase is successful, it would open the doors to the the council pushing ahead with the development of what it calls the Civic Centre Opportunity Site (CCOS) taking in the now-empty police station, the Bricket Road car park and, potentially, the Principal Health Clinic.

It may even include the Civic Centre itself which the council admits is energy inefficient, does not fully meet its requirements and will require significant maintenance expenditure in the next few years.

Redevelopment of the CCOS has been in the council’s sights for many years even though it would mean the loss of its own staff car park in Bricket Road.

But it has had to wait for the police station in Victoria Street to be vacated which was completed this month when the police moved into new offices in the Civic Centre.

Hertfordshire House is owned by West Register (Realisations) Ltd., the property arm of the Royal Bank of Scotland, and the first offer made by the council to purchase it was rejected.

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A second bid has been submitted which is currently under consideration by the landowners but is expected to be successful.

Should that be the case, the council could push ahead with a comprehensive redevelopment of the south side of the Civic Centre which it is considering undertaking in partnership with a developer.

By such a direct involvement, the council would have more control over what is built on the site and could ensure greater public benefit.

Hertfordshire House is one of a number of former office buildings in the district which have been given what is known as ‘prior approval’ for change of use into 18 homes.

But converting it into flats is not a legal requirement and the council intends to incorporate affordable housing into any redevelopment scheme on the Civic Centre site.

The council’s deputy chief executive and head of finance, Colm O’Callaghan, said: “The council has previously published detailed information about its interest in facilitating the delivery of an inspirational development in the civic heart of St Albans city centre. “The council is working to meet these aspirations on this key site through the various routes open to us. These routes include through the planning process, working with landowners and other public sector organisations, and acquiring land that becomes available on the open market.”

He added: “The council’s principal interest is in promoting a comprehensive city centre development including high quality civic realm, new retail and office space and attractive and affordable housing.”