St Albans planning and heritage

Tim Boatswain, President of St Albans Civic Society joins us with his monthly roundup of planning and heritage in the area. We cover the green belt implications of a recent government announcement, blue plaques for our area, the future of local tower block Telford Court, financial black holes and a re-enactment coming up of a scandalous event in the city.

This is a computer generated transcript of this audio item

tim boatswain (00:31.342)
We did indeed. Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Leveling Up, announced the new national planning policy framework, which is the guidelines essentially for planning. So you follow that and if you don’t follow that you’re stepping outside the government’s parameters, so to speak, and you’ll be in trouble. So it defines what you can do in planning.

tim boatswain (01:01.802)
Well, it was all a bit puzzling really, slightly ambiguous. On the one hand, what Michael Gove was saying was that the Green Belt is sacrosanct and councils don’t have to change boundaries and they don’t necessarily have to build on Green Belt. But on the other hand, of course, the government are still expecting local authorities to have plans which will engage with the national target of 300,000 houses per year.

and St. Aubens got a special mention.

tim boatswain (01:37.55)
I’m afraid not in a good way. Now St Albans was singled out amongst a few other authorities for not having a local plan, because our local plan is the oldest in the country, and it’s the local plan which defines the areas where you can build basically. That’s what it’s about, the most important part of it. So yes, St Albans got castigated and our leader of the council, Chris White, was able to give his robust response.

on BBC Radio. So St Albans in the news, but not for good reasons. But Chris White was able to say, look, the government do have the timetable for our local plan and we’re pushing ahead and we’ve finished off the compulsory consultation of Section 18 and we’re moving on to Section 19 and so on. So it’s probably not as bad as it appeared, but I guess what Michael Gove was trying to do was to just push things along a little bit faster. There

There are problems, of course, with the local plan and people have been hanging back waiting for the NPPF, hoping that he would change what’s called the standard method, which is the way the government calculate how many homes each council needs to build. But he’s not done that. So we’re…

tim boatswain (03:05.11)
That’s right. Because of the ambiguity it opens up the situation where I think there’s going to be a lot of protest and campaigning against any building on the Green Belt, yet at the same time the council here are in a dilemma because 80% of the land in the city and district council of St Albans is Green Belt. And how they meet the housing needs without going into the Green Belt, well, it’s not really feasible.

So this is going to open up a lot of debate, and confrontational debate, I’m afraid, about what you protect and what you don’t.

tim boatswain (03:53.93)
Well, Nick, yes, as you know I’m prejudiced here because I chair the Blue Plaques and Organs group, so I’m bound to say nice things about it. But, yes, we’ve got ten Blue Plaques up now. The last one went up to Arthur Melbourne Cooper, one of the founding fathers of cinema in the UK. In particular, he had a base of what is now the Odyssey, and that’s where his Blue Plaque went up. But we’ve got a new Blue Plaque coming up soon on the…

23rd of February, which is a Friday, and it’s to someone called Betty Entwistle. Now, I have to confess I had not heard about Betty Entwistle until we started the Blue Plaques searching for nominations. Betty was the first female town clerk in England, and then when the City and District Council was formed she became the first chief executive. So she’s a role model for female empowerment.

And what’s really good about the 23rd is that we’re having our local MP, Daisy Cooper, another role model for female empowerment, coming to be the guest of honour. So that’s on the 23rd at 1 o’clock. All the public are welcome to come along. I hope it’s a nice day. And the plaque will go up on what is now the Saint and Sinner, which was a house built for a mayor a long time ago, 18th century, called the Grange. Lovely building right in the centre of St Peter Street.

tim boatswain (05:27.273)
I would imagine MacMullan’s, who are very kindly sponsoring the plaque, would be delighted if people then adjourned through their hostlery.

tim boatswain (05:57.59)
Well, you may remember last year it got earmarked for demolition. And one of the first concerns was, of course, to be able to move the people who were living there, find them appropriate accommodation. And that’s been going on throughout the year. The plan will be that it will get demolished in 2024, this year. So, yes, well, as you say, iconic in a way that it interrupts the skyline there. And I’m not sure that many people like…

I remember when I first came to St Albans I was told that a lot of the television companies liked it because they filmed many of their crime series in the building, which is perhaps…

tim boatswain (06:43.306)
Yes, so perhaps not its best claim for fame. But anyway, yes, so it’s due to be demolished and it’s not clear what is going up in its place. And I think that will create a lively debate, because obviously at the moment, because of the need for housing and particularly wanting to protect the green belt, higher density in the city is the name of the game. Will they want to put a new building there the same height as Telford Court? I think many people will hope not.

because it is a bit of a blight on the skyline. So it will be interesting to see what plans are put forward for Telford Court. Oh, incidentally, just a little bit of incidental information about Telford Court. Telford Court was actually where Arthur Melbourne Cooper, remember I mentioned him earlier, the pioneer whose blue plaque is on the Odyssey now, that’s where he had his studios. And there is, as you go into Telford Court, on the right-hand side, a little plaque.

Not a blue plaque, but a little square plaque commemorating that he was his studio’s.

I know, because it was me.

tim boatswain (08:23.75)
Yes, as you say, it’s a really tough time for budgets. Some of you will have, listeners will have noticed that Nottingham issued just before Christmas a section 114, which means they’re basically, they’re bankrupt. They’re in trouble. And many other councils are saying that they just don’t have the money to do the stuff. So how is it going to affect us indeed? Yes, well, the Harz County Council put forward pretty shocking information just a couple of

looking at a shortfall of nearly 59 million over the next four years, and they’re actually thinking about making 400 redundancies. 400 jobs are going to be lost. That’s pretty scary. On the local level, we’re still battling with a budget deficit of just over 2.5 million. That’s the gap that the City and District Council have to close. You have to remember that…

Sometimes people forget this, that the bulk of our council tax goes to the County Council because they have the big issues to spend, education, roads and so on. So the City and District Council is not that large. So a deficit of 2.5 roughly on 30 odd million is a tough one to close. So we know that certain things have already happened last year, various things, the Abbeyview Golf Course.

of course was closed down, various buildings are being sold off. And I think recently Chris White, the leader of the council, said they’re still looking at selling off assets which are no longer of use to the council. So they’re trying to close the gap, balance the books.

tim boatswain (10:27.542)
Well again I have to put my hand up for a vested interest in this because it was something that started off with that group called the Conservation 50 which I chair. And we were looking at the historic alleyways and we’ve talked about this before, but they’re not in a very good state and we’re trying to revive them and also inform people as to why they’re historic, what’s the importance. Anyway this refers to Sovereign Way. Sovereign Way is a little alleyway.

and it got its name because of the 1851 election scandal in St Albans. The election scandal essentially was that the MP, who was a liberal at that time, standing for it, got paid to get people to vote for him as corruption. And Sovereign Way was because you went into the House, Sovereign Way, you went and voted for, well you went up and said, I’m going to vote for Jacob Bell, who was the

the candidate and you were given five sovereigns or in fact it was you weren’t given them you took them off the table while the agent turned his back to you. Anyway the conservative candidate Taurius he was then complained about this in the House of Commons and an inquiry was set up eventually. Initially it’s it amuses me because initially it was at Westminster and they couldn’t get any witnesses because

They’d all either gone on holiday or been bribed to stay away. So they came to St Albans and they sat in the courtroom, which of course is now in the Museum and Gallery. They sat in there and had the inquiry, called lots of witnesses, came to the conclusion that two-thirds of the electorate, and it was a very small electorate because you have to remember at that time only men of a certain income could vote.

They decided that two-thirds of the electorate had been bribed, and quite a few women had been bribed actually, bribed to persuade their husbands to vote. So they realised that, and we have to recognise also I think at that time, that there was pretty much corruption going on in a lot of places. So St Albans was going to be made an example, and they decided that St Albans would lose its MP for over 30 years. So we lost it.

tim boatswain (12:50.618)
lost our representation in parliament for this corruption but the mural

tim boatswain (12:59.442)
The mural depicts that with Jacob Bell’s there and his two agents and one of the witnesses on the left-hand side, the female witnesses, is there beautifully dressed up. Anyway, to get to the point, we’ve got an information panel that is going up, which will explain to people what went on, because you can walk down there without this and say, well, what’s all this mural about? What’s going on? So it’s going to explain that. But we thought, along with the St Albans Hertfordshire

Architectural and Archaeological Society and the Museum, we would do an event. And the event essentially is to re-enact the final parts of the inquiry. So we’ll hold it in the courtroom. It’ll be 7 to 8 o’clock on the 26th of March. Public will be welcome to come and they can see what actually happened. They’ll hear the words of the Chief Sitting Judge about what took place and they’ll

be witnesses and someone speaking for the prosecution and someone for the defence and so on. So it’ll just be a nice little bit of enactment. And everyone is welcome to come in appropriate 19th century costume. I’m hoping that I can go in a top hat. I really want to put a top hat on. See what happens.

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