BENOY VS BEDNARSKI IN ST ALBANS
The Battle of Bricket Road is brewing up nicely. Over the last few days the furore surrounding a controversial cinema scheme in St Albans, Hertfordshire, has escalated from verbal handbags into an unlikely architectural showdown between commercial giant Benoy and Manser Medal-winning architect Cezary Bednarski.
The catalyst for the areup has been the St Albans Civic Society (SACS), which opposes Benoy's 12-storey proposals for the Bricket Road car park plot - a hugely contentious design which includes a seven-screen cinema, 170 ats and a fourstorey underground car park.
Backed by developer Henry Davidson, the project has already been withdrawn from planning once and the revised proposals have since been branded 'monstrous', 'grossly out of scale' and 'run of the mill' by SACS members.
In fact, SACS' trustees were so appalled by Benoy's multiplex-based designs for the St Albans City and District Council-owned plot they asked Bednarski to come up with an alternative scheme.
Bednarski has proposed a two-screen cinema extension on top of the existing threestorey car park - backed by James Hannaway, the brains behind the acclaimed Rex cinema in nearby Berkhamsted.
This would remove the need for both the subterranean car park, requested by the council, and the towering blocks of ats, which would have financed the massive Benoy scheme.
Civil engineer Alan McCartney who is a SACS trustee, thinks Benoy's current proposals, which are set to go before the council's planning committee next month, are simply too big for both the site and the town.
He said: 'Quite frankly the scheme is larger than something you'd find in central London, and they intend to build it in a small market town. The development will be the tallest in St Albans by a mile, on the highest point, smack in the centre of town.'
And McCartney is convinced the Bednarski alternative is workable. He said: 'I believe [ours] is the obvious answer. There is nothing inherently wrong with [the car park] building, other than it being dark and miserable.
But I can't believe for a second we couldn't add two oors to it.
Yet McCartney is not pointing the finger of blame entirely at Benoy. He thinks both the architect and the developer have been caught in a 'financially driven' catch-22 situation. 'There is nobody asking the council the basic questions - nobody has rethought the situation. The wrong questions were asked at the very beginning'.
Intriguingly, preferred developer Henry Davidson is happy to concede that its proposals have been 'devised in response to a brief for the site? which was itself based on consultation undertaken by the council.' A spokesman for the developer added: 'The proposals offered by the civic society do not comply with the council's requirements for the site.'
If this is the case, perhaps a review of these 'requirements' would solve these problems and draw the row to a close.