St Albans group call for redevelopment of Heathlands Drive fire station to reduce crime
PUBLISHED: 11:01 05 September 2017 | UPDATED: 11:01 05 September 2017
Danny Loo Photography 2017
A derelict fire station needs to be developed to stop it being a magnet for criminals, a residents group has insisted.
The Friends of Bernards Heath (FBH) say the old Heathlands Drive site is regularly being used by travellers to fly-tip rubbish.
There was also a break-in and a fire at the site last weekend, which Herts Police are treating as arson.
FBH representative, Peter Cook, said: “It’s a magnet for vandals.”
Travellers originally occupied the site in June, before being evicted by police a couple of weeks later, leaving hundreds of tonnes of rubbish in their wake.
Herts county council (HCC) cleared the waste, and improved security on the site by erecting concrete bollards and barriers at the gate.
But these failed to stop travellers moving back onto the site at the end of August.
Herts Police say they were informed on Friday, August 25 at 12.21am that travellers had moved onto the site.
The bollards had been cut from the ground, and the barriers had been shifted to the side.
HCC issued a court order directing the group to leave, but the police say they had to take additional action after discovering evidence of criminal activity.
Then on Saturday, September 2, St Albans firefighters extinguished a bonfire which had been started at the site.
The police has powers to evict travellers, Mr Cook says.
But instead Herts county council has to go through the courts, at great expense to the taxpayer.
Mr Cook said: “The whole thing takes a long time, and allows them more time to fill the site with more rubbish.
“And the bill for clearing it up always lands with the taxpayer in Hertfordshire.”
The Friends want the site to be redeveloped into housing, as has been planned by HCC, as a means of securing it.
They also want the police to prosecute offenders as a means of deterring others.
Herts Police said the camp did not initially require the use of police powers, as the site is private land.
Site owners Herts county council said: “The county council had a court hearing arranged for Thursday, August 31 at 9.30am and we had anticipated the court would provide an order for the removal of the travellers.
“However, the travellers moved off the site on Tuesday, August 29, and the site and building were re-secured on Wednesday, August 30.
“We would like to thank local residents for their patience during this process.”
The council does not know when the waste on the site will be cleared, as it may need to be examined by environmental health teams.
They say it typically takes a week to clear the site once a contractor has been found.
It plans to reinstall the barriers and bollards, on top of pre-existing alarms and CCTV systems.
But, the council added: “There are few sites that will remain completely secure in the face of concerted efforts from groups of individuals intent on breaking into a site using vehicles and power tools.”
The station neighbours the Pioneer Youth Club and Heathlands School, and could have become either a residential development, an open space, or a new community building.
Last December, Herts county council discussed selling the land and moving the youth club.
The possibility of using the playing field at the rear of the site for a two-form primary school was also raised at the council cabinet.