St Albans Council accused of dragging feet over Oaklands campus

The old Oaklands College building on Hatfield Road

The old Oaklands College building on Hatfield Road - Credit: Archant

THE future of a large residential development mooted for St Albans city centre now rests with the Planning Inspectorate after the district council took too long to make a decision on the scheme.

Hightown Praetorian and Churches Housing Association lodged its planning bid to construct three, five-storey buildings, to provide 25 one-bedroom and 60 two-bedroom flats at the Oaklands College city campus, Hatfield Road, in April last year.

Although public consultation ended in June, St Albans district council (SADC) did not make a decision within the statutory period.

So the association has appealed to the Secretary of State for Local Government Eric Pickles, because SADC failed to give notice of its decision within the required time frame – normally about eight weeks after being registered.

The appeal site is located in the St Albans conservation area and has listed buildings close by.

According to documents issued by the Planning Inspectorate, had the scheme been considered by SADC, planning officers had recommended its refusal because of its size, height and position.

The officers said it would be “over-large,” visually obtrusive and detrimental to the character and appearance of the wider Oaklands College city campus redevelopment and the Conservation Area.

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But the housing association, in its appeal, said the site was the “balance of a scheme for 329 dwellings given planning permission on appeal in 2006 following a public inquiry into the residential redevelopment of the former campus of Oaklands.”

In 1999, the college decided to relocate to the Smallford campus site, with a view to disposing of its city centre campus for residential redevelopment.

The association added: “The external appearance continues the contemporary style of the adjoining redeveloped campus.”

However its scheme attracted objections during public consultation including from the St Albans Civic Society, which said that five-storey-high blocks were too high.

One resident suggested that as additional traffic generated by the redevelopment would further overload the city centre’s roads, the units should instead be built away from the heart of St Albans.

A St Peter’s Road resident warned that increased traffic would also pose a risk to local schoolchildren.

Simon Rowberry, interim head of planning at SADC, defended the length of time taken to decide the project.

He said: “Applications of a significant scale on sensitive sites, such as this, can take time to be considered.”

Simon said that despite discussions with Hightown, they chose to submit an appeal on the grounds of non-determination.

Although it has recently lodged its appeal, the association has also submitted a new application to the council.

The planning inspectorate’s hearing is scheduled for July 9, when SADC will defend the appeal.