St Albans’ Oaklands College gets go-ahead for sports centre

NEW facilities to help keep Oaklands College in the district have been unanimously backed by St Albans councillors.

Tuesday’s meeting of the district council planning referrals committee gave the go ahead to a scheme to build a new two/three-storey building incorporating a teaching block and sports hall on the Smallford campus in Hatfield Road.

It will also provide five grass and three synthetic sports pitches, the latter with floodlighting, and a car park with 70 spaces.

The new block will replace a large barn at the East Drive end of the site and although it will not be visible from the road, councillors voiced some concern about the impact of the lighting columns on nearby residential properties which resulted in a stipulation that they had to be turned off by 9.30pm instead of the proposed 10pm.

A number of objections to the scheme were received including from the local ramblers association and footpaths society concerned about the impact on rights of way.

St Albans Civic Society also objected on the grounds that it was an inappropriate development in the Green Belt, the impact of the new buildings on the openness of the site and the likelihood of light pollution and noise affecting some residents because of the use of the floodlights into the evening.

Committee chairman and planning portfolio holder, Cllr Chris Brazier, confirmed that the committee’s decision would have to be ratified by Secretary of State Eric Pickles as a Green Belt departure.

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But he said that members wanted to help keep Oaklands in the district and allow it to improve and offer new courses.

The committee had accepted the arguments put forward that very special circumstances applied to justify building it in the Green Belt including the fact that the existing teaching facilities were not fit for purpose, there would be significant sporting benefits and facilities would be open to the community.

Cllr Brazier admitted he was concerned that so many sports facilities were housed in that part of the district with Harvesters and St Albans Rugby Club next door to each other up the road from the college and another leisure area off Russet Drive.

But while some committee members shared his view, they were overwhelmingly in support of the scheme.