St Albans councillor blasts London Colney pastoral centre sell-off

Estate agents hope for offers in excess of �6.5 million for pastoral centre

THE MULTI-million-pound sell–off of a Catholic pastoral centre in London Colney has been blasted by a councillor as a “retrograde step.”

After announcing that it was closing All Saints Pastoral Centre earlier this year, the Diocese of Westminster has recently put the 23.7ha site on the market, including Grade II listed buildings, a bell tower and the moated site of a chapel thought to date back to Norman times.

Estate agents Smiths Gore are hoping for offers in excess of �6.5 million with the property being marketed as having the potential to be used as a hotel/spa, nursing home, training centre or for conversion to mixed residential and office use.

But county councillor for The Colneys, Chris Brazier, said: “I feel it’s a retrograde step. The Catholic church is one of the richest in the country. They are selling an iconic building in London Colney because they apparently can’t fund it.

“I think their excuse is not realistic because they could fund it if they wanted to keep it open. I’m concerned it is being sold piecemeal.”

He also fears that should government attempts to revamp planning laws by allowing a presumption in favour of sustainable development come to fruition, there could be a push for a major development at the site.

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Cllr Brazier went on: “There is a burial ground at the back of the pastoral centre, from when a nunnery was there.”

He said he didn’t think people in the St Albans district were aware the site was for sale.

The pastoral centre’s main buildings were designed by notable architect Leonard Stokes and built in 1901 as a convent for the All Saints sisters. Since being acquired by the diocese in 1973 it has been used for conferences, retreats and there is also a residential centre for children and young people.

The main buildings and chapel are Grade II listed.

A spokesman for the diocese said the conference centre would wind down on December 4 but the children’s services would remain available for most of next year.

The organisation spent five years considering upgrading or developing the property as an educational centre but the plans did not materialise because to revamp the building would have cost millions of pounds.

The property is offered either in its entirety or in up to five lots, the smallest being 0.23 acres and the largest, including the Comper Chapel, bell tower, main building and cottages, 50.17 acres.

One lot includes an oval shaped wood in which lies an ancient monument – the moated site of a former chapel.

Harry St John, partner of Smiths Gore’s agency team, said the Oxford based firm had been surprised by the level of interest from potential buyers.