Protesters celebrate after St Albans convent conversion into retirement homes is rejected

Maryland Convent on Townsend Drive

Maryland Convent on Townsend Drive - Credit: Archant

The site of a former convent in St Albans, whose elderly residents were controversially booted out three years ago, will not be turned into a ‘blight’ upon Batchwood.

For the second time in five months, St Albans district council has rejected a scheme to demolish buildings at Maryland Convent in Townsend Drive, to make way for four residential blocks.

At a planning referrals committee meeting last Tuesday (3), residents opposing Beechcroft Developments’ bid applauded those speaking against the plan for 45 ‘retirement’ units, geared at those aged 55 and over.

At one stage, committee chairman Cllr Teresa Heritage warned locals: “This is a meeting, not a theatre, so please refrain from clapping!”

They had been showing support for Paul Robertson who, speaking on behalf of Townsend Drive residents, said that when Beechcroft submitted a revised plan, he and others had assumed it would comprise a smaller footprint.

He said the developer had ‘declined to consult with local residents who were dismayed to see the revised version is practically identical to the one that was rejected.”

Beechcroft bought the site in 2015, one year after 29 elderly people, and sisters living there were forced to move from their Christian care home. Three vulnerable residents died around the time of their relocation.

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The developers are currently awaiting a decision from the planning inspectorate after it appealed against the council’s rejection of its scheme last year, which sought approval for 48 units.

This was raised during discussion at last week’s committee meeting, with councillors unsure whether a decision upon the revised scheme should be deferred until the inspectorate had considered the appeal.

However council officers said the revised plan should be voted upon, otherwise the authority could be subject to a further appeal, against non-determination.

Ward councillor Roma Mills described the scheme, which included 24 three-bedroom and two four-bedroom units, as being “out of character with the immediate area”.

She pleaded: “Please do not blight this area of Batchwood.”

Fellow Batchwood councillor Mal Pakenham labelled the scheme as “still a lazy design [with] big blocks. Something will be built there - the residents know that - I just don’t think this application is the right application.”

He said that “wealthy people who are fund managers and the like who retire at 55, they go and live in Kensington and Chelsea. Not St Albans. Not in Batchwood as well, no disrespect to my constituents. If you pass this … you’ll effectively be turning St Albans into a retirement city of north London.”

Giles Brockbank, speaking for Beechcroft, said: “There are no technical reasons for the rejection of this application.”

He assured councillors that restricting the age of residents buying the units would be enforceable.

But councillors voted against the scheme because of concerns about parking and because the development could not effectively be restricted to residents aged 55 and over.