Work to start soon on new Harpenden sport and cultural centres

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News release: 16 January 2019

Ambitious plans to create new sport and cultural centres in Harpenden have been given the go ahead with work due to start in the spring.

Harpenden Cultural Centre
The planning application had been sent to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government for consideration because the site is on Green Belt land.

Now the developer, St Albans City and District Council, has been told he has no objections to the scheme and has not “called it in” for examination.

Simon Heydecker-Dent, Planning Casework Manager at the Ministry, explained in a letter: “The Government is committed to give more power to councils and communities to make their own decisions on planning issues, and believes planning decisions should be made at the local level wherever possible.”

Mr Heydecker-Dent added:  “The Secretary of State has decided not to call in this application. 

“He is content that it should be determined by the local planning authority. The reason for this decision is that, having regard to the policy on call in, the application does not involve issues of more than local importance justifying the Secretary of State’s intervention.”

The Council’s £18.8 million scheme involves extending and altering the swimming pool building in Rothamsted Park. There will be an improved main pool, a new 17-metre-long learner pool, a sports hall, dance studios and a larger gym as well as a steam room and sauna.

Additionally, the neighbouring sports centre will be transformed into an arts and cultural centre with a 511-seat theatre, named after comedy legend and former Harpenden resident Eric Morecambe.

The theatre will be able to host national touring productions as well as local ones. There will also be an exhibition space, bars on two floors and a café overlooking the park.

Conditional planning permission for the development was given last year by the Council’s Planning Referrals Committee.

The designs were shaped by extensive public consultations with representative groups and interested individuals who were able to contribute through a charrette, an intensive community engagement event.

Work on the project is due to begin in the spring.

Councillor Julian Daly, the Council’s Portfolio Holder for Commercial and Development, said: “In the past six years we have delivered three new sport and leisure centres -  Westminster Lodge and Batchwood, in St Albans, and Cotlandswick in London Colney.

“We promised to deliver a fourth in Harpenden to replace facilities, such as the Harpenden Public Halls entertainment venue, which are showing signs of age.

“We are now well on the road to achieving our goal.

“The new sport and cultural centres will be high-quality developments with the potential to enrich the lives of people in Harpenden of all ages and backgrounds.
They will be valuable community assets.”

Councillor Annie Brewster, Portfolio Holder for Sport and Culture, said: “I want to thank the community for contributing some wonderful ideas to help improve the designs for the proposed leisure and cultural facilities.

“There is palpable excitement to finally have the gym and swimming facilities under the same roof and modern, comfortable seating in the new Eric Morecambe Theatre. 

“The approved designs will offer the people of Harpenden, Redbourn and Wheathampstead fantastic amenities to enjoy for years to come.”

The Council is now considering how best to redevelop Harpenden Public Halls, a 0.7-acre site on Southdown Road on the edge of the town centre. The receipts from this redevelopment form a significant part of the finding of the new sports and cultural centres.

A design charrette was held last year to allow the public to help shape the plans.

For more information about the sport and cultural centres, please see:

Harpenden Sports Centre
Pictures: How they will look - cultural centre, top, and sports centre, bottom.

Councillor contact:
Cllr Julian Daly, Commercial and Development Portfolio Holder: 07775 657200,

Cllr Annie Brewster, Sports and Culture Portfolio Holder: 01438 832255, 

Contact for the media: 
John McJannet, Principal Communications Officer: 01727 296130,