St Albans Cathedral visitor centre given planning green light
PUBLISHED: 15:00 14 July 2016
Millions of pounds in promised funding is no longer in jeopardy after St Albans Cathedral gained approval for its proposed Welcome Centre, despite its threatened rejection.
Planning officers at St Albans district council had recommended refusal of the scheme for the new visitor centre, planned to boost knowledge of Britain’s first martyr Alban.
But councillors at Monday’s planning referrals committee meeting spurned that recommendation and approved the bid.
The decision has brought relief to the cathedral community and supporters of the centre, as the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) had promised £4 million towards the project, alongside the church’s match-funding of £3 million, which a thousand people in St Albans had contributed to.
The Dean of St Albans, the Very Rev Jeffrey John, told the committee that the HLF’s final decision on the Alban Project would be made on July 26, “and it cannot be deferred. Without your permission tonight the whole scheme could be lost.
“For years we have been working on this project with the city council itself, and our HLF bid was made in tandem with your own museum bid. These are interlocking parts of a joint strategy – to raise St Albans’ profile, bring new visitors, new employment and volunteering opportunities, and enormous community benefit.”
He was backed by leisure portfolio holder Cllr Annie Brewster who is responsible for delivering the new museum and art gallery at the old Town Hall in the city centre.
Describing the Cathedral as “the jewel in our crown”, Cllr Brewster said that it had low visitor numbers, of about 160,000 per year, compared to the close to a million visits to Canterbury Cathedral.
She said: “The great news is, this is exactly why the HLF is pledging to give £6.8 million in grant funding as a major flagship fund project spread over the two sites.”
The go-ahead was given in front of a packed chamber as 150 supporters of the scheme applauded those speaking in favour of the centre.
Councillors decided that although the cathedral was in the conservation area, benefits to the public, particularly given the church’s national significance, outweighed the potential harm to the zone.
The Dean said afterwards: “I am relieved and grateful that a serious threat to the Alban Project has been removed, and delighted the committee approved the plans.
“I was moved to hear so many people, of all faiths and none, declare their love for the cathedral and their goodwill for its future.
“St Albans is crucial to the history and soul of this country, and this project will help make it so much better known.”
It is hoped that preparatory work will start in the autumn, subject to the funds being awarded by the HLF.