REFUSED: Controversial planning application to turn former St Albans convent into retirement flats

Maryland Convent on Townsend Drive

Maryland Convent on Townsend Drive - Credit: Archant

A planning application to convert a former convent into retirement flats has been refused.

Maryland Convent on Townsend Drive

Maryland Convent on Townsend Drive - Credit: Archant

Last year, Beechcroft Development Ltd bought Maryland Convent in Townsend Drive, St Albans, and planned to knock it down to build blocks of one, two, and three-bedroom flats for the over 55s.

But the application came under fire from councillors and residents, who claimed there would be a substantial impact on the land and surrounding area.

As a result, the application was passed up to St Albans district council’s planning referral committee for determination where it was refused.

Beechcroft managing director, Chris Thompson, told the committee that the buildings would only be slightly bigger than the existing convent because of the roof designs, describing the roofs as less than half a metre higher.

He went on: “The buildings on the site are only very marginally bigger than the existing buildings, in fact less than half a metre higher. In terms of visual prominence, they won’t be any more prominent than the buildings that are already there.”

Urging the committee to support their officers’ recommendation to approve, he described the application as ‘fairly straightforward’ because there were no objections in terms of technical or policy grounds.

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But Cllr Roma Mills argued that it would be very difficult to enforce the age-restrictive requirement and that the parking would be insufficient, thus impacting on the surrounding area.

Referring to occupation figures at another Beechcroft development in St Albans where some homes were stipulated as being for over 55s, she questioned how the developers could say that enforcing the over-55 stipulation at Maryland was viable because at that scheme in King Harry Lane, homes were clearly under-occupied.

She went on: “You’re saying we have bedroom space here [Maryland] for three or four people and it’s occupied by 1.47 people on Beechcroft on King Harry Lane.

“Are you seriously, in a time when we have such a shortage of land, really going to be allowing this sort of under occupation on site? It’s quite clear in the officer’s comments, it is not possible to enforce a restriction of age 55 and over.”

She pointed out that given the make-up of families these days, she anticipated the three-bedroom flats “which not many of us would see as elderly dwellings” would end up with a number of families living in them who might all have cars.

Cllr Mills added: “And I think they will be needing to park their cars and I think if you pass this application you will be blighting the entire area because it will become a residential car park for this development.”

Cllr Mal Pakenham also spoke against the application and criticised the design of the roofs. He said: “It is true to say that you do get large, long, flat roofs with this type of design, and I say to him, directly and clearly, that it is a lazy design. It’s not a good design, it is a lazy design.”