Traders angry at Harpenden store site sale

THE loss of a large, prominent store in Harpenden’s High Street following approval for it to be turned into a joint library and youth centre despite objections has angered retailers.

St Albans district council (SADC) has been blasted for inadequate consultation with residents and the business community over an application for change of use for the former Argos store at 27 High Street.

Herts county council (HCC) bought the vacant premises several months ago and recently gained approval from SADC for the change of use, under delegated authority.

In a report to the district council HCC said: “The town centre of Harpenden has a paucity of premises of the size required by a public library and a youth centre.”

It wants to use the ground floor of the former Argos store as a library, with the youth centre above it on the first floor, as a combined community facility.

Both the current library and youth centre in Vaughan Road /Victoria Road in Harpenden have been criticised for their poor layout. HCC said the youth centre would be costly to make compliant with disability legislation.

However, following a recent Harpenden Retail Partnership meeting, where the loss of primary shop frontage on the main road was lamented, local businessman Tony McFarland said: “It is probably the best A1 shopping unit in that part of town”.

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He added: “Everyone at the meeting was against a library going there. They want it kept as A1 (retail).”

Three letters of objection were lodged against HCC’s application, including one from Harpenden town council which said there was no parking provision and, “no evidence of public consultation to support a change of use at this location.

“There is also no evidence to confirm that extra footfall will be achieved.”

One objector commented: “For the centre of Harpenden to remain a thriving town centre [it] relies on a successful retail sector. “The premises at 27 High Street are one of the few substantial retail sites by floor area. It would be better for Harpenden if this could be kept as retail use.”

But an officer’s report to SADC said that while it was a prime site, the district local plan states that the loss of retail floor space would be acceptable if 90 per cent of the primary shopping frontage remains in retail use.

The officer admitted that a survey showed that 68 per cent of that primary frontage was in retail use, “which is significantly below the plan target”.

Approval for the change of use would result in a drop to 62 per cent, “however this is a small reduction in the overall proportion due to the narrow width of the frontage.

“Notwithstanding the above, the council accepts that there are special circumstances which support the proposal.

“The existing library and youth facilities on Vaughan Road are not considered suitable by the county council for use as a modern library premises. Number 27 has a better internal layout.”

The officer said the combined library and youth services would generate “significant footfall” and give wider community benefits.