Proposed demolition of Pemberton block at 7 Hatfield Road

A letter from our President to the Planning Officer of SADC

Planning application reference 5/2011/2980 seeks consent for the demolition of the Pemberton block at 7 Hatfield Road and its replacment by a hard play area for the proposed Alban City School.

The original Word.doc letter is here.

3 January 2012
Mrs Gillian Donald
Planning Officer
St Albans District Council

Dear Mrs Donald.

As President of the St Albans and Hertfordshire Architectural and Archaeological Society (SAHAAS) and on its behalf, I write to object to the above application and ask that it be rejected.  SAHAAS was founded in 1845 for the study of the archit-ecture, archaeology and other history of the area, and to prepare and publish books and articles on these subjects in the St Albans area.  We are opposed to the demolition of the Pemberton Block at 7 Hatfield Road as a development that would damage the holistic nature of the setting of a group of buildings, including the church itself, which are at the heart of the ancient town parish of St Peters.

Samuel Flint Clarkson, the distinguished architect responsible for designing the Pemberton block buildings, was a committee member of SAHAAS, taking an active part in its research and lecture activities; one such was a study of the Pemberton almshouses opposite St Peter's Church.  Clarkson's Hatfield Road Board School for Boys was built in1883, in what is now the Conservation Area setting of these almshouses and other listed buildings.  In the mid-20th century, this Victorian school building became the Pemberton Primary School, named after those same almshouses.  This illustrates very well the holistic nature of the setting of this group of buildings, which includes St Peter's church itself.

In its architectural heritage statement, the Applicant suggests that because the Pemberton school building was reduced in size by two-thirds it is now valueless. SAHAAS do not accept this view. The loss was due to demolition undertaken at the behest of Hertfordshire County Council when they built the poor quality concrete and glass structure in 1969-70, which replaced the Victorian School of Art. It is true that this building - which is now intended to be used for the Alban City Free School - conceals the remaining portion of the old Pemberton school building from Hatfield Road.

However, SAHAAS members firmly believe that so far from this detracting from its worth, as the Applicant asserts, that it still forms an integral and important part of the setting of the St Albans Conservation Area. It is clearly visible from the row of grade II listed cottages which abuts the school site as well as from the ancient footpaths which cross St Peters churchyard. It is one of a number of architectural features in St Albans which are not necessarily clearly visible from all viewpoints; this increases their value to the city as 'hidden gems'. This one is at the heart of the ancient town parish of St Peters.

The loss of the Pemberton school building would greatly outweigh the benefit to the community of the unnecessarily large concrete play area proposed for the new school. Concrete open space provides no compensatory enhancement against the loss of a historic and fully useable building. One primary school in the vicinity (Bernard's Heath) has recently decided to use its Victorian building in addition to its modern classrooms in preference to demolishing and rebuilding. Although existing school standards, including that of play space, are inapplicable for Free schools, in the event that further play space was required for Alban City School, it would make much more sense for some of the 1970 School of Art to be demolished to make that provision rather than this substantial and valuable structure of the remaining old school building.

As well as its presence as part of the setting for the buildings described above, the Pemberton school building is also part of the fine block of Victorian brick institutional buildings along Hatfield Road. Whilst it can no longer be seen from Hatfield Road alongside these other buildings, it nonetheless remains part of that fine group of buildings, and as such is of value to the community.

The Pemberton block should be retained and kept in use as a valuable part of the education provided at the new school. We would hope it could also be used as an asset by the local community as a whole, a place, for example, to hold meetings out of school hours. St Albans has a dearth of such venues, as SAHAAS learnt when looking for a new home for some of our own lectures earlier this year.

Members of our SAHAAS have undertaken research on many aspects of the area, including the architectural and social history of the parish of St Peter's in the Borough.  However, the Applicant clearly lacks the local knowledge to comprehend the social historical context of the Pemberton school building and indeed the site and its setting.  St Albans is a city with very many heritage assets, some of high profile and internationally known, others more modest but still inherently valuable and worth protecting for future generations.  The city thrives on this heritage and it is one reason why there so much demand from people wanting to live here and why this new city-centre school is required for the education of our younger citizens. Imaginative inclusion of this old school building as part of Alban City School would help these pupils to a fuller understanding of their, and our, heritage.

Once again we urge you to reject this Application for demolition, and to seek retention of Clarkson's Pemberton building in the development of the site.

Yours faithfully

Donald Munro

President, SAHAAS
St Albans & Hertfordshire Architectural & Archaeological Society

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