Underground car park bid for St Albans factory site condemned as ‘ludicrous’

Nationwide house on Lower Dagnall Street

Nationwide house on Lower Dagnall Street - Credit: Archant

RESIDENTS in St Albans have criticised a proposal to build a partially underground two-storey car parking system on a former hat factory site as “ludicrous” and irresponsible.

Developers WE Black have asked St Albans district council for the go-ahead to build a mechanical stacking car park system at 20 Lower Dagnall Street, a locally listed building.

The application comes shortly after the builders, based in Hawridge, Bucks, gained approval to convert offices at the former Nationwide House into 10 two-bedroom and four one-bedroom flats.

That initial planning application brought a raft of objections from residents and St Albans Civic Society, which said the office should be retained for future employment use.

In its initial change of use application, WE Black said that 10 car parking spaces were available for future residents.

But after gaining the go-ahead the firm lodged a scheme for the car parking system to increase the number of spaces.

Its application explained a pit would be excavated to allow the installation of the multi-stacking system, to allow cars on the lower platform to “disappear underground”.

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It added: “To respect the outlook of neighbouring properties, it is proposed to add a 1.2m high close-boarded fence to the top of the existing wall.”

But alarmed locals have lodged objections to the scheme, with College Street resident Robert Pankhurst labelling it as “ridiculous”.

He said the council seemed “unwilling or unable to control such irresponsible developments.

“The area around Lower Dagnall Street is historically important in the story of St Albans, being the 18th Century site of Nathaniel Cotton’s pioneering psychiatric hospital, whose buildings were subsequently used for the local industries of hat and boot manufacture.”

Robert explained the proposal was to install a two-layer mechanically operated parking system to allow 16 cars to park, where only nine bays exist at present – a tenth would be lost to build the system.

He and other residents are concerned about a deep excavation in such a small space, and potential damage to neighbouring properties.

Robert criticised WE Black for failing to set out in its scheme a technical description of the system, with no mention of where the power source would be located and how much noise it would make.

He also questioned the developer’s bid to “mask the visual blight on the houses in College Place backing directly onto the site is by putting a 1.2m fence on top of the already high wall.”

Another resident lodging an objection to the scheme said: “WE Black shouldn’t be trying to squeeze so many flats into office space and should have considered in its original submission adequate parking; there is absolutely no reason why residents should suffer.”

n On May 30 this year the government brought into force a series of new permitted development rights, which remove the need to seek planning permission in some circumstances.

Offices can be transformed into homes, subject to prior approval covering flooding, highways and transport issues and contamination.

Consultation on the car parking scheme ended last Wednesday.