Civic Centre Opportunity Site

Early Days

The Civic Centre Opportunity Site is a once in a lifetime opportunity to improve the character of the City Centre. In the summer of 2016, LOOK! St Albans was delighted to be asked by ‘The Partnership’ to host an independently facilitated design charrette for the initial development site.

The Partnership consisted of:

  • St Albans City and District Council
  • Hertfordshire Constabulary
  • Hertfordshire Community NHS Trust
  • Boultbee LDN (owners of The Maltings shopping centre)

With the help of Angela Koch of ImaginePlaces Ltd and her expert team of independent expert facilitators, a  two day workshop interlinked before and after with evening sessions took place, designed to form a consensus on a beautiful, durable and feasible design concept for the site.

The complete facilitation team comprised Kevin Murray, John Dales, Jan Maciag, Charles Gardner and Richard Lavington.

Site Development Brief

There was plenty of preparation work to be completed and people likely to attend the design charrette were encouraged to read various documents in advance:

Although the Workshop Report was not a formally adopted policy of the Council, it did serve Section 6 – Development Form and Design of the Supplementary Planning Document, which stated:

“Further thinking and design analysis has been generated through the LOOK! St Albans project, which is a partnership with, amongst others, the Council and the St Albans Civic Society, to prepare design guidance for the City Centre. This initiative has generated huge community interest and support, with the outputs to set out the local community’s aspirations for new development in the City Centre, particularly for integrating contemporary development within St Albans’ unique historic context. It is anticipated that this information will provide developers with examples of built form, detailing and materials which exemplify St Albans’ character.”

Vanessa Gregory Chair of LOOK! St Albans commented: “The full power of the LOOK! St Albans Workshop Report comes from the fact the community initiated the work and endorsed the end product. It is a living document that has been used to inform the award winning MoSTA Design Charrette and will be used again this September”

LOOK! St Albans, as an independent community-led group, was delighted to be given financial support from St Albans Chamber of Commerce and Moore Kingston Smith to help publicise the event more widely. Invitations to participate in the Masterplanning Design Charrette were delivered to over 36,500 homes and businesses and Parish Councils were invited to publicise the event on their notice boards.

The Design Charrette

Angela Koch, lead facilitator of the design charrette, asked local historian Kate Morris to give a presentation at the opening session. Very kindly, Kate gave her permission to post both her text and presentation for everyone to enjoy!

Vanessa said: “This is probably the largest non-council led engagement on planning that St Albans has ever seen. Personally I am thrilled that the 166 different people of all ages who signed into one or more of the events helped to set the bar as to what is acceptable for the very heart of our City Centre. It is a complex site with multiple owners. Some buildings will be retained and the levels within the site give opportunities, but also some constraints”.

A picture of the facilitators at work
A picture of the community at work

“The two design concepts took hours of discussion, work, moments of pure inspiration and a healthy dose of reality checks.  The landscaping quality seems to be a golden thread throughout the two concepts creating a healthier identity to this part of our City Centre. I was inspired by others’ suggestions on how to improve The Alban Arena and delighted that the library will be coming out of hiding behind The Maltings and could be part of a new health and learning complex”.

Angela Koch, lead facilitator, took her inspiration for naming the two design concepts from Samuel Ryder’s seed growing revolution and his significance to St Albans.

Vanessa continued, “This event cannot be viewed as anything but a resounding success. In total more than 1,000 hours went into producing the two design concepts, which are not mutually exclusive, as elements from both can help shape the Masterplan.”

Two debriefing documents from the Design Charrette were published. Neither Look! St Albans nor ‘The Partnership’ could request alterations to the outcome:

In November 2016, Angela Koch then produced a report on the emerging concepts:

And where are we today…

Unfortunately, thereafter events didn’t progress as we had hoped.

When it became apparent during the summer of 2018 that the Council, now as site owners, wished to make enhancements to the plans already approved for the CCOS South site, Team LOOK! suggested that a Community Design Review be arranged. Although we were delighted that this initiative was accepted, it is important to realise a Design Review is not the same as a Design Charrette. The former critiques an established design whereas the latter is where the community co-authors it.

However, Team LOOK! felt that this would be in keeping with the commitment of ‘The Partnership’ made during the Masterplanning Design Charrette held in September 2016.

LOOK! St Albans had been assured that the architects working on the plans for CCOS South were referencing both our community co-authored Design Codes and the outcome of the Civic Centre Opportunity Site Masterplanning  Design Charrette, so was naturally disappointed when the planning application was submitted in the Autumn of 2019.

An open letter was written to the Herts Advertiser in early 2020, by Deputy Chair Mel Hilbrown.

The story continues.