Look! St Albans City Centre Opportunity Site News Update

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I last wrote to you last in June and since then members of the representative group and officers have been very busy behind the scenes building up our new website and attending many online presentations. After one of these a Reps Group member mentioned that they had no idea how widespread co-design was across the country.

Well, that is unsurprising as every attempt has been made locally to make you believe to the contrary.

Look! continues to enhance our profile on the national stage and are regularly receives inquiries from professionals and communities outside the district who are very interested in what the community has achieved here and especially about our co-authored design codes.

However once again I cannot focus in this news update on the positive aspects of what we have collective achieved in St Albans, but focus once again on the City Centre Opportunity Site.  

A note to you from our Treasurer Chris Debenham

“The Council (SADC) has recently submitted a planning application, ref 5/2020/1773 October 2020, for the development of one of the most important sites in St Albans, the southern part of the Civic Centre Opportunity Site (CCOS). Other than the usual statutory notices, very little publicity has been given to the application and that the final date for representations is 6th November. As Look! St Albans’ role is to encourage community engagement in the design of buildings and open spaces in central St Albans, we urge St Albans residents to view the proposal on SADC’s website, and comment as they think appropriate.

Within the Herts Advertiser there have been occasional references to the work of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/861832/Living_with_beauty_BBBBC_report.pdf

The government has also produced recently the https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/907956/Planning_for_the_Future_web_accessible_version.pdf    White Paper. Positive comments regarding the former in particular have printed usually relate to the introduction of design codes to govern best design practice – a set of which already exists for central St Albans, having been agreed by the St Albans community with the support of SADC and its Head of Planning in 2012, working with The Prince’s Foundation for Building Community. However, no mention has been made of one of the most significant changes that is likely to be introduced, which is a requirement that councils and developers genuinely engage with and draw on the expertise of the local community at the design stage of a development.

It remains to be seen what the final form is of any new legislation but, by the time SADC addresses CCOS North, it may have had to agree with the local community the design codes that would determine the nature of future development in St Albans, and may also have to engage with the local community in co-creating the specific plans and designs for CCOS North alongside SADC, any other landowners and the professionals – a methodology already adopted voluntarily by a number of other planning authorities. If any of this transpires, the methods for developing CCOS could be:-

CCOS South – top down planning under which the community is consulted on someone else’s plans and design.

CCOS North – bottom up planning under which the local community co-creates the plans and design that are carried forward to a planning application.

The results within what is fundamentally a single development project could be very different. Nobody with local democracy genuinely at heart will object to the earliest possible involvement of the community in the planning and design process, and specifically in determining the governing design codes that will shape the buildings and open spaces of St Albans.”

From Mel Hilbrown Look! Vice Chair “The community gave over a 1,000 hours of input with the help of professional advisors to develop the original master plan for this site and CCOS North, and devised two viable concept plans. Unfortunately the council did not progress with this process down to the detail site planning stage. As a result we have gone from community engagement – which is becoming part of planning guidance and policy currently, to community consultation, which just enables the community to have a say on the work of others. We have since been through a Community Design Review, and that design was subsequently rejected, and a design competition. This is the outcome of that competition so this is the last chance for the community to have its say on what long-term residents will be living with in their city centre. Do make your feelings known to the council, whether you are in favour of this design or object to it. Look! St Albans only interest as a body is to support community engagement in design.” 

The all party council Overview and Scrutiny committee’s scrutinised what is now widely accepted as a fatally flawed competition process. The conclusions which was based on much of what you sent to them and can be found https://stalbans.moderngov.co.uk/documents/b50013766/ITEM%2010%20-%20City%20Centre%20Opportunity%20Site%20South%20Call-in%20-%20Presentations%20Look%20St%20Albans%20Open%20Letter%20an.pdf?T=9


For too many years we have put up with the reality of others 1950’s ‘vision’ for a ‘new city centre’.  That vision is now dust, and many would say good riddance. Is what has been decided by others to replace it worthy to be our collective legacy to future residents? That is for you to answer, your voice on design should be heard, put your views on record by writing them to planningcomments@stalbans.gov.uk quoting ref 5/2020/1773 by 6th November.

Our response to the planning application can be found here  https://lookstalbans.org/look-response-to-planning-application-5-2020-1773-for-the-city-centre-opportunity-site-october-2020/  Look St Albans response to CCOS planning application

I look very much forward to seeing hopefully many of you on Monday 9th November. It is online and will be our first interactive event.


Vanessa Gregory Chair Look! St Albans

Diary date: Monday 9th November, 7:15pm – 8:30pm Look! St Albans’ first online interactive event. Do join us, full details to follow………………

Posted in News.