Row continues over former Harpenden allotments

A DESPERATE need for a new care home for adults and children with learning or physical disabilities has prompted a Harpenden charity to plead for former allotment land to be freed up for its future accommodation needs.

But a campaigning group fighting to retain the natural status of the green space in Westfield Road has countered that suggestion with an alternative one – to provide recreational space for Girl Guides and others.

The opposing views were aired at this month’s St Albans council cabinet, with members agreeing to hold “round table” discussions with interested parties early next year on the controversial Harpenden Town Council-owned site.

Harpenden Mencap trustee Patrick Fisher told cabinet the charity’s 100-year-old care home Stairways in Douglas Road, was deemed “not fit for purpose.”

The organisation was “desperate” for new accommodation, he said, as while Stairways’ standard of care was “excellent” the current building didn’t have a lift, had narrow corridors, small rooms without en suites and was “too old and too small to modernise.”

While the former allotment land was currently a “no-go area if you are in a wheelchair,” with muddy paths and metal barriers blocking access, Mr Fisher suggested it provided an ideal location for future development.

He said there was “no reason” why the site could not support diverse uses, retaining some green space, and allowing for affordable housing and Harpenden Mencap accommodation.

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In a nod to an attempt by anti-development campaigners Westfield Action Group (WAG) to keep the space as greenfield, Mr Fisher said they could have a communal growing area and an orchard at the Westfield Road site too.

Mr Fisher called on the council to be “imaginative” and create a “comprehensive, inclusive scheme” for the site and said: “I think to provide affordable housing in St Albans doesn’t quite meet the needs for Harpenden. Over the last 30 years we have had transition as more and more private houses are built but that is not compensated with affordable homes.”

But in the latest twist to the ongoing saga over the future use of the 1.15 acre plot, WAG has resurrected a historic request to provide space for Harpenden and Redbourn Girl Guides.

That follows last month’s recommendation by an overview and scrutiny committee that cabinet investigates whether it is possible to use the ex-allotment site and adjacent district council-owned playing field and Beeching Close garage site for affordable housing and improved green space.

In a statement provided by WAG, read by Cabinet chair Robert Donald, the group said that if the adjoining garage site in Beeching Close – a brownfield site – could be used for development, this “now provides an ideal opportunity to revisit the [2008] proposal from the Girl Guides.” Last year the town council rejected a request from the Harpenden and Redbourn Girl Guides to build divisional headquarters at the site.

WAG suggested the garage site “could be used for a much-needed small multi-functional community building” which could be used by local groups, pensioners, parents with toddlers and Girl Guides.

In response cabinet reiterated its decision of September this year that the former allotment site “should provide allotments and or a community garden” although it acknowledged that the possibility of using the neighbouring garage site had shed “new light” on the area’s future use.

A meeting will be held early in the New Year to discuss whether a project using the adjoining sites could go ahead.