Exploiting Verulamium Park and how to find out about the local plan.

Mix Mornings with Nick Hazell

Tim Boatswain, President of St Albans Civic Society is with us and we’re talking about the local plan and how it will involve significant building on the Green Belt, plus plans to exploit Verulamium Park and your chance to have a portrait of your pooch hung in a St Albans alleyway!


Here’s a transcript of the discussion:

On Mix Mornings with us now is Tim Boatswain.. Tim is the President of St Albans Civic Society. Hello Tim.

Hi Nick.

Now we’ve had a local election since we last spoke, haven’t we?

Yes, Marshalswick East and Jersey Farm. And the election was won by the Lib Dem candidate, Rahana Ahmed. Congratulations to her. Not a very big turnout as you probably would expect for local government. There’s never a very big turnout, I think it was just over 28%. But anyway, congratulations to her.

Yes, and further cementing or retaining, I suppose, the Lib Dem grip on the District Council too there. Now the District Council’s got some good news on council houses, hasn’t it?

Yes, in terms of trying to insulate them and prepare them for, well make them more sustainable, they put in an application and they’ve received a grant and they’re going to, well they’ve just signed a contract with a company, £18 million worth of improvements to 900 houses. So a lot of people will be looking forward to having warmer houses and more sustainable and ecologically friendly houses which is good.

So presumably this is things like insulation and heat pumps that kind of thing is it?

That’s it, that’s it and double glazing, insulation and so on.

Excellent, well that has to be good news doesn’t it? Now the local plan, we’ve talked about this so many times haven’t we, but the local plan is open for public comment and input now isn’t it? And there’s some exhibitions going on, so tell us about those.

That’s right because we’ve got to sort of, not quite the end of this month, I think it’s the 25th of September, isn’t it? We get to be able to comment on this first stage consultation, what they call Regulation 18. It’s the first stage of consultation. And they’re doing exhibitions around the city and district. So if you, I think they started on Saturday at London Colony, but there’s still plenty to come. And if you want to look up where you should do it, go on the council site, just put in local plan and you’ll see the timetable come up where your nearest exhibition is going to be.

These exhibitions Tim, are they something that I could understand if I went along? Is it or is it just huge tomes of strategic planning documents?

Well, of course it is complex, the plan, but the explanations about it, of course, there’s a lot of focus inevitably on housing, because that’s at the crux of a local plan, the housing target, and that of course is a bit controversial, because the government haven’t really reformed the national policy yet, they’re talking about it, and you may remember we’ve talked about this before, the figures that the council are using, so-called standard method, which is requiring over 15,000 houses to be built, is demographically wrong, and that’s problematic. It doesn’t of course mean the government won’t require you to build more houses, because there is a dearth of and I think in terms of over the last decade or two we’ve slipped back in terms of provision so it’s it’s a controversial issue

And it has excited some comment from the Council for the Protection of Rural England hasn’t it?

Oh well yes because I’m aware almost the city and district is almost 81% surrounded by green belt so the lot of land is greenbelt and to hit the 15,000 target a lot of greenbelt is having to be used. In fact the CPRE are very concerned because they’re saying 1,957 acres are going to be lost to housing. And of course their remit is to protect the greenbelt, protect the rural countryside. so they’re very upset and those who are finding housing developments in their backyard of course are also upset so there’s going to be quite a lot of lobbying and quite a lot of concern and complaints about the local plan.

Putting to one side though whether we need that many houses in the demographic data assuming we do do you believe it’s impossible to do without using Greenbelt?

It would be impossible yes for our council not to go into the greenbelt. They’re obviously on the local plan if you have a look at it they are trying to utilize all the brownfield sites they can. It’s caused some consternation because they’re actually putting into the plan car parks, central car parks as opportunities for building and that I’m sure will cause also some consternation.

There’s already plenty of annoyance around at least alleged lack of parking. Interesting. Well so if you’ve got views now is the time to make them known and you can go along to your local plan exhibition that will be coming to a street near you very soon probably so just look on the council’s website and search for local plan as Tim says.

Tim, a planning application for Verulamium Park, what’s this all about?

Well yes, this is about events in Verulamiu Park. At the moment, the council can put on 28 days of events, which of course usually in the summer, Pub in the Park and this sort of thing, but they are applying now to extend that to 56 days. And that I think is going to cause some concern.

Is the concern that it will result in loss of the park for two months every year or are the concerns otherwise?

I think the concern is more likely to come from local residents about noise pollution. I think that will be the problem. You can see that the council want to put on more events and that’s of course important in terms of the economy of St Albans and they’re very popular and it’s a good space. But many of those events are accompanied with obviously with quite a lot of noise. It’s the audio systems that create difficulties, the PA systems and so on. So I think there will be quite a lot of resistance from local residents to this.

Interesting. Yes, I don’t suppose it’s great to have pub in the park at the bottom of your garden really. So well that’s the application from the council’s in now and I assume people are making comments.

Exactly yes you can go on the go on the planning website and you can see the comments that are being made.

Now Tim I’ve heard that you’ve been hanging around dark alleyways lately?

Ah yes, well we have we have some lovely alleyways except they’re not looking very lovely. It’s interesting, it’s a historical feature in the city centre that particularly down Market Place and towards Market Cross there was a flesh market in the medieval times and there were stalls with passageways between them. These got converted into buildings but the passageways remained and all those passageways can be used as shortcuts or whatever. Unfortunately they rather deteriorated and not very well looked after so I’ve been working with various organizations to try and improve their condition. One of the issues of course is that at the moment many of them like Lamb Alley, Pudding Lane, Boot Alley have a lot of wheelie bins in them and they’re partly for businesses, they obviously need to put their waste somewhere, but they’re also partly for residents there and the problem is they’re often overflowing which isn’t very nice, but also of course a health hazard because vermin can get access to them, and I’m really trying to work towards getting rid of the wheelie bins so that we could have perhaps some permanent containers there which people could put bags into and then they could be removed.

And that would free up a lot of space in the alleyways, which would make them quite nice, and then some information plaques to go up to explain the historical significance of some of the alleyways. And we’ve actually started with one alleyway which is Sovereign Way Sovereign Way is between what is now Jo Malone and Cafe Nero on the marketplace side and it was the entrance to a rather scandalous event that took place back in 1851 was, as I say, the parliamentary candidate, Jacob Bell, bribed the electorate. And you would walk down that alleyway and there’s a door, a black door now on the right, you’d go in there and they’d give you a cup of tea or some refreshment and then you would have your chance to go up the stairs to the agent’s office. Go in, the agent would be sat there and he’d, according to witnesses, he’d get up and look out the window and while he was doing that you helped yourself to some sovereigns. I think it was five of them you were allowed to take away and off you went.

And three hundred of the electorate were bribed in this way. And so a big inquiry was set up which took place in what is now the Museum and Gallery and witnesses were called interestingly enough, five women were called as witnesses I love this bit because they were bribed themselves to persuade their husbands to vote for Jacob

Because they couldn’t vote anyway, right?

Exactly, women couldn’t vote.

Gosh, they were really desperate to get in, weren’t they?

So anyway, this huge scandal, in the end the inquiry decided they were going to make an example of not just a candidate, but of St Albans generally, because everybody connived with this scandal. And so St Albans lost the right to have an MP for over 30 years.

It’s kind of a perverse sanction, isn’t it really? But there we are. There we are. That was the punishment, yeah. Okay, so that’s my sovereign way then and so some things have already started in sovereign way some of the sort of effects I don’t want to call it gentrification, but some of the improvement In alleys has already started that yeah?

And the main the main thing there was we commissioned the mural artist Ant Steel. some of you may remember he did the portrait of the Queen and then the one of the King which is in Christopher Place and also did that amazing falcon at the film festival a couple of years ago. So, we commissioned him to do that and he gave him some illustrations and we’ve got a nice portrait of Jacob Bell and the agent and we’ve even got one of the female witnesses. So, do have a look down Sovereign Way and have a look at this, I think, really excellent mural.

Oh, excellent. A mural in one of the alleyways

And then the the historical society have already started work on an information board so it’ll all be properly explained so you’ll be able to actually see and what what I’ve been telling you will be put in a proper format so visitors can find out why there’s a mural there and what took place.

Ah how fantastic and hopefully the beginning of some improvements of the alleyways in St Albans. Now, you’ve been talking to a man about a dog, haven’t you Tim?

Oh yes, yes, dogs, well some of you remember not this last Saturday but the Saturday before was International Dog Day and the BID, Business Improvement District, had a dog day for St Albans. It was very good and lots of frames where people have portraits of their dogs done, but we’ve gone one stage further and we are being given permission to put dog portraits up in what is a passageway leading off French Row, which is where the Dog Inn used to be and is now named Dog Cut. And dog portraits will go up there. The idea is, if you own a dog and you’d like a portrait of your dog done, you contact us and we put you in touch with a local artist, at the moment it’ll probably be Ant Steel again, and the portrait will go up. You obviously have to pay for the portrait depending on what size it is, but the portrait will go up in Dog Cut for a few months, and then it’ll come down and you take it away, and it’s obviously, you pay for it, it’s yours to keep at home.

The idea is to brighten up the alleyway, but also to have a nice picture of your own dog, a nice portrait.

What a great idea. Now if there’s a dog lover listening and thinks, oh I’d like that, how do they get in touch?

Well the best way to get in touch is actually to get in touch with me initially and my email is tjboatswayn@gmail.com.

Alright, that’s great. Well Tim, yeah, more power to your elbow with the dog portraits. It would be lovely to see those up. Thank you very much for joining us this morning on Mix Mornings. That’s Tim Boatswain. Tim is President of St Albans Civic Society. Tim, thank you.

Thanks very much, Nick.

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