St Albans Civic Society and BID throw their weight behind BHS redevelopment plans
Multiple St Albans civic and business groups have spoken up in support of redeveloping the BHS building into a hotel and retail space.
St Albans Business Improvement District (BID), St Albans Civic Society and pub landlords have all gone public with their approval for Reef Estates’ application to demolish the existing site and build a 130-bed hotel and retail units.
BID manager Helen Burridge said: “St Albans BID has been anecdotally informed St Albans hotels regularly turn away business at peak times in the summer months and at weekends throughout the year with a subsequent economic loss.
“An additional 130 beds will provide much needed additional city centre rooms which will enable the visitor economy to focus on overnight stays, which are evidenced to facilitate higher spend per head than day visitors.
“The economic potential of overnight visitors is strong, and with the imminent launch of St Albans’ new tourism website at enjoystalbans.com, the ability to offer the appropriate number of rooms to city centre visitors will enhance the offer and give credence to our investment in overnight tourism.”
Members of conservation group St Albans Civic Society have also voiced their support for the plans after being consulted on the proposals by the council before they were made public.
The society said: “It is over two years since BHS collapsed and no other retailer has come forward.
“The notion that there can be a return to an old-style department store concept is well and truly dead. Retail in St Albans has moved on apace, especially since it is claimed residents here are among the highest online shoppers in the UK.”
The results of a survey on the new plans have been included in the documents attached to the planning application.
Guerney Court Road resident Jo Eden wrote: “I think the design of the building and the blending with the architecture of our historic city is key. We are losing too many beautiful old buildings and houses which are being replaced with buildings that shouldn’t get through planning.
“This new building looks like it will complement the conservation area and make a significant improvement to the high street.”
Matthew Delaney of Bedford Road wrote: “Really uninspiring part of the town centre with endless bookmakers and pound shops and Drovers Way is a mess.
“So I completely support the regeneration that encourages people to that part of town and makes Drovers Way more attractive so that visitors are met with a clean, attractive area rather than what it is now.
“I feel careful consideration needs to be given to the type of shop proposed that brings something different to the city. Not the usual coffee shop over-utilisation we have now.”
St Albans Chamber of Commerce director and owner of The Boot and Dylan’s Sean Hughes said: “St Albans must move quickly to ensure that we do not have a high street full of empty shops. These big shops are no longer fit for purpose and the fact that this proposal has multiple shops plus a hotel is great.
“I fully support this proposal and I hope that St Albans council do everything in their power to ensure this is supported with a quick turn around so we can see the benefits to our night time economy plus ever decreasing daytime economy.”
One of the district councillors for St Peter’s Street, Simon Grover, has called in the application to be examined by one of the council’s planning committees.
He said: “I certainly support the idea of it being examined in public. I think it’s an important, large proposal for the centre of town and, rather like the Premier Inn, it’s really important councillors get to study it carefully.
“I do think there are some positive aspects in bringing the site back to life as there is demand for hotel places in the town centre and it sounds like they have a plan to keep the ground floor commercially viable, which has got to be good.
“I would not say I’m a huge fan, but I am very pleased and I do want it to be discussed in public.”
The development is not universally popular however, as some residents have written in to the council to object to the fact the site will not be redeveloped into a cinema, another department store, or a dairy-free supermarket.