The Civic Society is a membership organisation open to all who care about St Albans
- We campaign for the retention and enhancement of everything that gives St Albans its special character
- We encourage the highest standard of design in new developments and contest inappropriate development proposals
- We champion sustainability and positive environmental impact
- We stimulate interest and informed debate amongst residents, developers and the Council
Run by volunteers, through an elected committee and advisory groups, we are always keen to hear from people who want to join us, maybe to offer to help, or just to show you support our aims. We offer, above all, a chance to be involved and have a say in what our city looks like and how it functions. Founded in 1961, we are a registered charity, number 200330, a member of the national organisation Civic Voice, ready to welcome everyone who wants to help promote St Albans heritage and shape its future.
Changes to Planning Rules
Just before Christmas the Government issued a revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). What does this mean for St Albans? Michael Gove, in his Ministerial Statement, emphasised the importance of up to date Local Plans. As we know, St Albans’ Local Plan is the oldest in the country and St Albans was one of the Districts “named and shamed” by Michael Gove because of this. St Albans is in the process of developing a new Local Plan and the increased focus means that it is vitally important to complete this. League tables are also promised to monitor success in delivery against plans.
Does the revised NPPF provide requirements or opportunities to amend the draft plan to reduce the number of new houses required? There are two important changes that may do. Firstly the new guidance makes clear that the “standard method” for assessing local authority need is an advisory starting point and in exceptional circumstances a smaller number may be used. Secondly there is no longer a requirement for local authorities to review or alter Green Belt boundaries if this would be the only way to meet housing need.
The implementation arrangements say that these new policies will apply for the purpose of examining plans, where those plans reach Regulation 19 stage after 19 March 2024. St Albans draft plan has just gone through a Regulation 18 consultation and the plan is for the Regulation 19 consultation to take place in the summer of 2024. So it would seem that these new policies will definitely apply for the purpose of examining the St Albans District Plan.
80% of St Albans District is Green Belt which means that in practice, if the numbers produced by the Standard Method are to be planned for, then incursion upon the Green Belt is inevitable, as in the current Draft Plan. So is the extent of the Green Belt an exceptional circumstance that allows St Albans to reduce the number of new housing required? On its face it should be but in practice life is never simple. And is it going to be possible to retain all our Green Belt – where does that leave the generations struggling to find secure and affordable housing?
We also have to remember that there will be a General Election this year – before the Draft Plan is approved. if there is a change of Government then how will the planning world change yet again?
Local Plan Consultation
St Albans has the dubious distinction of having the oldest Local Plan in the country so it is good to know that the Council is preparing a new Plan. The current draft was out for Regulation 18 Consultation with a closing date for comments of 25th September 2023. Our main concerns relate to the lack of ambition, particularly in relation to the City Centre where, although the draft plan refers to a City Centre Vision, such a vision is absent. Why no reference to urban tree planting or provision of water fountains in the centre? Imprecise and subjective language will not provide clarity on what is expected of developers. Our full response is available here. There is a long way to go before the Plan is finalised. After considering all the responses to the consultation a revised draft will be subject to further consultation next summer and then there will be a public examination and, if all goes to plan, the new Local Plan will be adopted by December 2025. So there will be further opportunities to have our say, but there remains a concern about the period until then when we have to rely on the outdated 1994 Plan.
Blue Plaques St Albans
Over the last couple of years the Blue Plaques St Albans group have been working to establish a scheme to commemorate famous citizens who have lived and worked in St Albans, with the aim of placing ‘blue plaques’ on buildings associated with their lives. The initiative resembles the well-known blue plaque scheme run by English Heritage in London.
Plaques installed so far
- John Ball
- Nathaniel Cotton
- Elsie Toms
- Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough
- Percival Blow
- Ted Warner
- Stephen Hawking
- Frederick Sander
- ER Hughes
- Arthur Melbourne-Cooper
To find out more about these plaques, the people they commemorate click here
Our market acquired its Charter in 1553 but a market had been operating in the City since at least 860AD. It is an important part of our heritage. It brings people into the City and it is so sad to see it in its current poor state. Covid restrictions meant lower numbers and stall holders provided their own gazebos or stalls but why no progress since then? After an uncomfortable period in 2021, when a permanent move to gazebos was proposed, the Council decided in February 2022 to run a pilot with a mixture of gazebos and stalls, all in the City colours. A competition was announced to appoint an external provider to run the market. The disappointing outcome of that exercise is that no tenders were considered suitable, so back to Square One.
The Council then decided to run the market themselves and have about 35 gazebos in St Albans colours which they rolled out to existing stall holders with a review promised in June 2023 to consider whether funds are available to buy the promised stalls. There is no sign of that happening and the market continues to struggle with frequent gaps between the stalls and inconsistent and haphazard layout. This is so disappointing – not just the delays and the failures but also the absence of communication to let people know what is happening, especially when the news is not good. So much time has been lost. The hybrid market promised in February 2022 will not happen for a long time, if ever and in the meantime the market continues to decline. A huge effort will be needed to increase the number of stalls to anything like the pre-Covid numbers. There is little evidence that this is happening and the concern is that our Charter market continues to decline?
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Entries for next awards
We showcase projects large and small which have been completed within the city and seek out a new building, an extension, shop refit or restoration. In short, something that enhances St Albans and, for the next Awards, was completed in the two and a half years to 31 August 2023. The criteria we consider include: Quality of Concept, Quality of Design, Quality of Realisation or Finish, Fit with Context, and Overall Impact. The Award Categories will usually cover: Commercial, Domestic, Environment/Public Space and the Trevelyan Award for Conservation. The next awards ceremony date is to be confirmed but is expected to be Spring 2024. Nominations for the next awards have now closed.
If you would like to nominate for the subsequent presentation then let us have your nominations with a brief description and thoughts on why it should be considered. Send nominations to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Awards 2021 Results
Cathedral Welcome Centre which also won the Trevelyan Prize.
Residential Buildings joint winners: Beaumont Gardens & Barncroft Way
For its Awards, the Society looks for projects that contribute to the preservation and enhancement of the character of St Albans, and achieve the highest standards of architecture, planning, landscaping and civic design. The presentation in October 2021 recognised projects undertaken in 2019 or 2020. Previous years winners and more details here.
Clock Tower season ends
The Clock Tower is unique in the country and still serves as a popular informal meeting place in the heart of the city of St Albans. Volunteers from the Civic Society and the St Albans & Hertfordshire Architectural & Archaeological Society, open the Tower to visitors on weekends and bank holidays from Easter to the end of September. The season is now complete and we reopen Easter 2024. For more information about the Clock Tower, click here
We have a valued group of people (known as Clockateers) who help us open the Clock Tower to the public, and anyone who could give a couple of hours at weekends would be very welcome. Visitors come from around the world and it is very rewarding to meet the variety of people who come to climb the 93 spiral steps to the top. More volunteers are always welcome, please contact email@example.com
What else have we been doing?
Some of the areas where the Society has been active recently:
- 60th Anniversary Grants: making available some funds for local schools, Residents’ Associations and community groups to use for projects that will look after and enhance the St Albans environment Read More
- Arena and City Centre Opportunity Site North: Liaising with the Council on their redevelopment plans, asking them to consider how the Arena fits in and not simply demolish it as was initially proposed. Read More
- City Centre Opportunity Site South (CCOSS): For the full history of our involvement with CCOSS, click here
- Planning applications, every month we comment on a few applications, examples include: illuminated fascia signs on St Peters Street, UPVC replacement windows in the conservation area, quality of design for new buildings at top end of St Peters Street, over development of existing properties, applications that are contrary to the Local Plan or the National Planning Policy Framework
- Co-ordinating Tree Sponsorship in conjunction with the Council, find out more here
- Government Consultations: submitting responses to consultation documents. Please click on the headings below to read each response: