What do you get if a cross a library, a police station and a council headquarters?
The answer is an ultra-modern, cross-functional development which gained planning approval at a meeting of Dacorum’s development control committee last night.
The futuristic structure will take the place of the existing town centre library and land formerly occupied by the Pavilion, with facades looking out to Combe Street and Marlowes and the current library due to be demolished under the plans.
The building - to be dubbed the Public Service Quarter - would combine police station and parking services on the lower ground floor, with the ground floor used for the library as well as a central reception area and cafe.
The other two storeys will incorporate council services - though this would only equate to 60% of the capacity allowed by the current Civic Centre further along the same road.
Councillors at the planning meeting confirmed new and flexible ways of working are already in place to combat the reduction in space - but many committee members raised concerns about the parking provision set out in the Public Service Quarter application.
Just 24 parking spaces are allocated in the sloping lower ground level, along with 66 slots for bicycles in an effort to promote green and sustainable travel.
During the debate, Cllr Hazel Bassadone said: “I am totally against this on parking. I think the proposals for parking are diabolical - are we all expected to walk down to the Water Gardens after evening meetings to pick up taxis?
“The building looks fine, but the parking is terrible.”
Assistant director for planning and regeneration James Doe, who was present at the meeting, said nearby parking provision is ample for the new building - including nearby Water Gardens, Bury and Gadebridge Park parking zones.
The officer did admit that improvements to anti-social behaviour and lighting - which would in part be achieved with the Water Gardens renovation - would be looked at to improve the parking situation at night.
In response Cllr Denise Rance said: “I am a little disappointed about the comments coming from my colleagues here about whether we can get to meetings.
“We have to get the idea that parking will be available for everybody, everywhere, at every time out of our heads.
“I can’t see that the lack of parking on the site is a reason not to grant this planning application.”
The ambitious build was eventually granted approval with nine votes for and one vote against, with two abstentions.
The plan is to be followed by further phases of regeneration work in the same zone, with applications for housing between the Public Service Quarter and West Herts College and a leisure site featuring cinema and restaurants both to be decided upon by councillors in the coming weeks.
Construction of the Public Service Quarter must commence within three years.
Once the development was granted, Cllr and committee chairman Graham Sutton said: “This building is smaller, it’s more environmentally friendly, it’s cheaper to run and will be more pleasant to work in.
“I have lived in Hemel for a long time and I think this is one of the most exciting periods for the town in last 60-odd years, with the regeneration of the town centre, Water Gardens and Public Service Quarter.
“I am excited to be a part of it.”