BHS proposal faces refusal despite support of St Albans businesses

The St Peter's Street view of the 130-bed hotel Reef Estates wants to build on the British Home Stor

The St Peter's Street view of the 130-bed hotel Reef Estates wants to build on the British Home Stores site. Picture: Reef Estates. - Credit: Archant

The proposal to redevelop the British Homes Stores site in St Albans has again been recommended for refusal.

St Albans district council officers have recommended the authority’s planning referrals committee refuse permission for Reef Estates to build a 130-bed, five-storey hotel at the St Peter’s Street site.

A council officer report written ahead of next Monday’s committee meeting says this is because: “Of the excessive height, massing and form of the proposed fifth storey.

“The proposed building would appear incongruous in long range views when viewed from the west and south west, and close views from Drovers Way, and would break the skyline within a Building Height Control Area.

“The addition of the fifth storey would be detrimental to the character and form of the historic skyline. The proposal would therefore result in demonstrable harm to the skyline and Conservation Area and that harm would not be outweighed by public benefits.”

The council report also recommends refusing the hotel application as it would lead to: “The loss of a large amount of retail floorspace and retail frontage located in a prominent site in a designated Primary Shopping Frontage would detract from the vitality and viability of the city centre.

“It has not been demonstrated the site is not suitable for retail use.”

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The British Home Stores site is between The Works and an alley to Drovers Way. The store has lain vacant since September 2016.

The committee previously considered the application in July, when officers also recommended refusing permission, but the decision was deferred.

The council has been inundated with 92 expressions of support for the proposal, including from St Albans Business Improvement District (BID), St Albans Civic Society and a former director of the Chamber of Commerce.

Reef Estates development director Will Rohleder said: “The redevelopment of the former BHS will support tourism in the city and regenerate a site that has sat vacant for over two years, increase vibrancy to a part of the high street that is struggling, especially given the recent closure of Poundworld, and provide around 60 jobs.

“We have made significant changes to deal with the objections from council planners and hope councillors will listen to their voters and local groups and support in excess of £25m of investment into St Albans.”

Chair of St Albans Civic Society Tim Boatswain has written to all of the planning referrals committee’s members, urging them to support the application.

In the society’s representation to the council regarding the application, Prof Boatswain wrote: “The community needs to be attracted by diverse social and economic activities located in appropriate spaces, surrounded by good quality architecture.

“With the opening of the Town Hall Museum + Gallery, alongside the city’s avowed tourist policy, there is an anticipated increase in visitors, which makes the construction of an hotel on the BHS site wholly appropriate.

“In the society’s view it is entirely unrealistic and short-sighted to believe that any retailer could successfully occupy the whole site.”

BID manager Helen Burridge has also written a representation to the council, saying: “Drovers Way is a common exit point for shoplifters from St Peter’s Street. Great visibility by a glass-fronted business with access to the BID Business Crime Partnership will enable those individuals to be tracked more effectively by CCTV and police, in the longer term providing a deterrent to would-be criminals.

“Given the number of BHS buildings currently standing empty and unwanted across the country, the advocacy for and investment in St Albans future economic growth is most welcome.”

The landlord of The Boot Sean Hughes, a former Chamber of Commerce director, has also given his support for the proposal, saying: “St Albans must move quickly to ensure we do not have a high street full of empty shops.

“These big shops are no longer fit for purpose and the fact this proposal has [multiple] plus a hotel is great. The design from the front of the building will hugely improve that part of the street which currently looks dreadful. We need more hotels and we need a quality building in this part of town.”

To see the application, visit St Albans district council’s website and search for planning application reference 5/2018/0631.