Residents' fears over the great Verulam estate land sell-off

Land in Antonine Gate which is up for auction.

Land in Antonine Gate which is up for auction. - Credit: Google Streetview

A huge swathe of green spaces, roads, amenity areas and grass verges in the heart of St Albans is on the market for potential development.

The freehold of land on the Verulam estate behind Waitrose supermarket has been put up for auction after the developer who originally developed the estates went into liquidation.

The first lot is land to the south west of King Harry Lane, covering 15.26 acres including highway, paths, verges and what are described as "parcels of land with development potential subject to planning".

The land is situated in and around Mayne Avenue, Samian Gate, Flavian Close, Icknield Close, Glenum Close, Hadrian Close, Lindum Place, Augustus Close, Claudian Place, Antonine Gate and Ermine Close.

The second lot is 4.11 acres in and around Windridge Close, Westfields, Deva Close, Dubrae Close, Rowlatt Drive, Mayne Avenue and Corinium Gate.

Sandy Walkington, county councillor for St Albans South, said: "We were all dumb-founded to discover this. But it seems that the highway authority does not need to own the freehold of land to assert the public highway status of roads going over it.

"Where it is deemed to be public highway, the highway authority has total control over what happens to the top two ‘spits’ of earth - that is two spades in depth - negating any development potential for the developer."

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A previous similar sale of the highway in Corinium Gate earlier this year did not cause problems because the county council declared almost all the land involved to be public highway.

But this time there are larger amenity space areas which could offer the potential for development if they are deemed to be surplus to highway needs.

Sandy added: "The council has always maintained all these areas, roads, pavements, footpaths, verges and amenity areas. They are the public realm of Verulam estate, which was designed all of a piece.

"It would be absurd if the county council suddenly deemed parts of this land to be no longer ‘public highway’ and therefore a magnet for inappropriate development.

"The auction is on July 8 and it is time for the council to do the right thing and stand by local residents.

"They need to assert that the public highway status of this new land including the crucial amenity areas is not going to change. I have challenged the county council’s senior officer team and the Conservative political leadership to do just that."

Timothy Beecroft, chairman of the Verulam Residents Association, said: “Residents are shocked and upset to discover that the green spaces, right down to verges, that contribute so much to the appeal and attractiveness of the Verulam estate are now up for sale, with development suggested as a possible option.

"The best solution would be for one or both of the councils, SADC or HCC, to buy the land. Whatever happens we urge them to do everything they can to ensure that these precious green spaces are preserved as open land, whether they own them or not."

Cllr Phil Bibby, executive member for highways and transport at Herts county council, said: “I and Hertfordshire County Council directors and officers, including our legal team, are fully aware of the local situation, and are confident that the existing highway status that is enjoyed by our residents will not be affected.”

Although there are guide prices listed for the pockets of land, these are not expected to be the final figure they sell for.  A similar, smaller sale of land on the estate went for £15K an acre in May, These two lots are nearly 20 acres so if they go pro rata, they will sell for something closer to £300K.

Similar lots from other towns across the south of England are also up for sale following the liquidation of the same developer.