Plans to create new sport and cultural centres on green belt land have been given approval.

An application to build the centres in Harpenden had been sent to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government for consideration.

James Brokenshire MP told developer St Albans City Council he had no issue with the scheme, and work is set to begin in the spring.

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 have 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.

Councillor Julian Daly, responsible for commercial and development at the council, said: “In the past six years we have delivered three new sport and leisure centres with Westminster Lodge and Batchwood, in St Albans, and at 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.”

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.