Wednesday, 15 October 2014

New Generation Oaklands

The name Oaklands first became a location on the east side of St Albans in the early 19th century.  Before that the buildings, no longer extant, had been known as Three Houses at least as early as the 14th century.  William Knight purchased the land and that part of Oak Farm on the south-east side of Sandpit Lane, on which to built his mansion and establish a farm.  It is possibly the Oak Farm stub that gave Mr Knight the idea for the name of his mansion.

The mansion ceased to be purely residential at the outbreak of WW1, when Italian POWs were based here, as well as troops in training.  After the war the entire site came into the ownership of Hertfordshire County Council as an agricultural institute, later college.

Since WW2 there have been countless re-organisations of tertiary education and the current version is an amalgamation of several former colleges under the unfortunate name of Oaklands.  I only say unfortunate, because a multi-campus institution with the umbrella name of one of its, then, non-central locations, has inevitably confused large numbers of potential students and visitors, requiring the Oaklands site of Oaklands College to have the subordinate title of Smallford Campus, even though it is not in Smallford.

Detail of part of the south elevation at Oaklands Mansion.
The college's move from central St Albans to its new hub at "Smallford Campus"  involved a substantial upgrade of existing buildings, and  the construction of new ones too.  The plans had been agreed, and funding prepared, by the previous government, but the present government removed funding support as part of the austerity plans, which rather left the college searching for solutions.

Although the answer was seen in the development of part of its estate for housing, in fact housing had always been part of the mix, although not quite as extensive as now intended.

The residential proposals are controversial for three reasons: firstly because most of the estate is within the metropolitan green belt; secondly, because it has been recognised as a site for future housing in the new draft District Plan, now out for consultation.  Finally, it is controversial because there are residents in modern houses nearby who thought they would always look out onto green pastures, and now find that they may not.

The new District Plan does identify the proportion of the entire estate to be used for housing, and identifies a need for a two-form-entry primary school.  This in itself is interesting because the residential proposals would not, by themselves, require a 2FE school.  The cushion, presumably, is being provided because there is little flexibility within the remaining schools to the east of the city; will provide places for Smallford children, who currently have no nearby school; and possibly the council is looking towards the two other substantial housing proposals: Coopers Green Lane and Little Nast Hyde.

The rather neglected East Drive and lodge.
What possibly exercises the minds of many people already living nearby is the capacity of Hatfield Road and Sandpit Lane to cater for the number of new homes and their occupants' cars.  The District Plan does raise this issue, and the need to make improvements, but the only specific reference is to intersections.  The is no detail on the need to increase the capacity of these key arteries.

It is clear that with the current university population, the planned student/tutor increase at Oaklands College, the new homes destined for Beaumont's south field, and the three residential developments mentioned, it is not just higher-capacity roads and improved junctions which will be required.  These roads lead to other places, especially the centre of St Albans.  What will be required is a sustainable transport policy; a different approach to travelling.  Otherwise travelling is the last thing we will be doing in our cars.

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