The changing face of St Albans

PUBLISHED: 08:00 16 August 2016

After: Keystone House is almost unrecognisable since being converted into 24 flats

After: Keystone House is almost unrecognisable since being converted into 24 flats

Archant

Since planning regulations changed in 2013 it’s felt like every other office in St Albans has been turned into flats – and there are many more conversions still to come.

Saxon House, on the corner of Upper Marlborough Road and Victoria StreetSaxon House, on the corner of Upper Marlborough Road and Victoria Street

Hundreds of new homes have been created already, with Victoria Street experiencing the most obvious changes.

Saxon House, on the corner of Upper Marlborough Road, and City Gate, at 17 Victoria Street, are fully occupied, while the eight flats at Chaucer House, also on Upper Marlborough Road, are newly on the market.

Plans are afoot for the former police station and two nearby sites to be combined into 114 homes, an NHS Community Health Centre and various shops and restaurants and, further out of town, and the iconic glass-fronted Ziggurat building on Grosvenor road is awaiting an extensive residential makeover.

The government’s temporary permitted development policy was introduced in 2013, granting change of use from offices to residential without planning permission – a policy that was extended indefinitely earlier this year.

The old police station and memorial garden on Victoria StreetThe old police station and memorial garden on Victoria Street

The difference in the value of a property as offices compared to the completed residential levels is the simple reason for the excessive amount of redevelopment that’s since taken place, Matthew Bowen, Director, Aitchison Rafferty, confirms.

Matthew defends the original policy, saying that the commercial market in 2013/14 was very different to the one that exists now, with a lot of vacant buildings that, due to empty rates, were costing landlords a considerable amount of money.

He says: “Even where rents and prices had been reduced to historically low levels the amount of space disposed of only equalled the level of new space coming onto the market. During this period, residential prices and demand continued to increase and as there is a shortage of homes this made it a logical policy to bring in.”

Developers moved fast to maximise the opportunities offered, and the overall effect would have “generally been positive”, Matthew says – assuming the policy had remained a temporary one. But as it’s now been extended indefinitely, he fears it “could become a significant negative”.

City Gate on Victoria StreetCity Gate on Victoria Street

While many of the new flats have been snapped up, concerns have been raised about the pressure so many new properties place on the already overstretched infrastructure in the town centre, particularly with regard to school places.

Matthew adds: “As agents both commercially and residentially we do not agree with or defend the policy to extend the permitted development legislation.

“It is a central government policy and even local councils are powerless to overturn this. It has caused, and will continue to cause, problems with a lack of contribution to infrastructure or school places and there seems little solution to this. This is compounded by local councils having funding cut.”

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