£5.3m youth facility unveiled as part of housing development scheme

The Pioneer Club in Harpenden Road.

The Pioneer Club in Harpenden Road. - Credit: Archant

Plans are being drawn-up for a £5.3 million new youth facility in St Albans – enabling the surrounding areas of the site to be developed for housing.

The new facility – on the Harpenden Road site – would include an activity hall and a skate park, accommodation for YC Hertfordshire and a touchdown facility.

And it would replace the existing facility – used by groups such as YC Hertfordshire and the Pioneer Club – which is reported to be reaching the end of its operational life.

Meanwhile, say council officers, the repositioning of the new building away from the centre of the site would benefit plans for residential development – increasing values and saleability.

The plans were outlined to a meeting of the county council’s performance and resources cabinet panel on Friday  by assistant director for property Sass Pledger.

“We are seeking to use our ‘Spend to Achieve’ budget of up to £5.3m to construct a purpose built facility to re-provide the current services that are available on site at the land on Harpenden Road – and this will enable us to redevelop the remainder of the site,” she said.

“[…] The current youth facilitates are located in the centre of the development site which makes the redevelopment of the remainder of the site very challenging.

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“The building itself is at the end of its operational life so we need to re-provide this. This development offers us the opportunity to do that and to relocate it to the edge to the site – thus freeing up the remainder of the site for a residential development.”

The site – formerly the site of Ariston Works – was reported to have some ‘unique ground conditions’, relating to chalk mining and clay pits.

But Sass Pledger said that following a survey they were confident of ‘hotspots’ locations within the site.

It was backed by the meeting of the performance and resources cabinet panel. But the final decision will be taken by a meeting of the cabinet.

However at the meeting Liberal Democrat Paul Zukowskyj did ask for assurance that the re-provision of all existing services would be on the existing site, rather than being provided elsewhere.

And he also asked for reassurance with regard to the ground conditions, particular with regard to ground cavities left by chalk mining.

He suggested that ‘grouting’ to fill in these cavities could cost tens of millions of pounds and he asked what the council’s financial exposure to that may be.

But Sass Pledger said the survey of the site had identified spots where there was a risk of sink holes appearing.

And she said they were counteracting that with with mixture of suitable foundation designs and the layout, which would skirt around ‘hotspot’ areas.

“We are reassured through specialist consultancy works that we have got this matter fully under control – and that we can tackle any problems at source so we don’t have resulting problems later down the line.

“They are being fully costed now, ahead of committing any significant expenditure.

“And we are working with Chalkdene, who are looking to redevelop the remainder of the site, to make sure that we have a  collaborative approach to site development.”

Chalkdene Developments is a public-private joint venture partnership, with links to the county council.

Plans for developing the site date back to 2013, when the county council held an exhibition for residents focusing on a new use for the Ariston Works site. Potential avenues mooted at the time included residential development, open space and to relocate the existing community uses to a new building on the site.

The brief proposed a mixed residential and community use as well as provision for the preservation of the adjoining Lower Field and alternative facilities for the Pioneer Club and skate park.