© 2017 The Harpenden Society
At a Planning Policy Committee (PPC) meeting of St Albans District Council (SADC) on July 12, the council’s draft Strategic Local Plan (SLP), which includes a significant sacrifice of Green Belt land in Harpenden, was approved, essentially without change, and has now been submitted to central government’s Planning Inspectorate.
In coming to their decision, the ten District Councillors on the Committee had to consider whether they had all the ‘factual evidence’ they needed. Crucially, as Harpenden Green Belt Association (HGBA) chairman David Rankin points out, procedural practice requires that an SLP ‘must not contain assertions of fact that are not supported by the evidence’. Furthermore, ‘the evidence should not be collected retrospectively in an attempt to justify the plan’.
The meeting on July 12 had to consider the way in which the council, in July 2014, selected Green Belt sites for development, on a ‘score out of ten’ basis. But that scoring has, says HGBA, been one long exercise in deciding what result is politically required, regardless of the evidence; and where agreed methodologies have failed to reach the ‘right’ conclusion, they have been abandoned in favour of an alternative method.
Evidence which points towards a different answer has, says HGBA, been ignored or misrepresented; and assertions are made for which there is no evidential basis at all. In specific relation to the District Council’s plans to allow building on major Green Belt sites – under ‘traffic and access’ criteria – a score of 8/10 has been assigned to site S5, adjacent to the A1081 on the north side of Harpenden (where up to 500 houses could be built). This contrasts with the lowly 3/10 score – for a corresponding site north of St Albans. This stark difference in scoring, says HGBA, provides a vivid snapshot of the way in which SADC is prepared to achieve its desired ends. It adds that, if S5 development went ahead, traffic on the A1081 in morning rush hours ‘would bring Harpenden to a grinding halt’. Adding to the concerns of those wanting to keep Harpenden ‘green’ are Central Bedfordshire Council planners, who are known to have hungry eyes on land they control across the county boundary, on the east side of the A1081 beyond Thrales End Lane, where some 900 dwellings could be built. The PPC’s intention to submit SADC draft plan to the Inspectorate without major change can, in one sense be interpreted positively, says HGBA, inasmuch that the HM Inspector will be obliged to look in detail at the evidence provided by the Association and by the many hundred Harpenden residents who registered individual objections to those parts of the SLP involving Green Belt desecration.
Site S5 from above
This glorious field of wheat, designated ‘S5’ by SADC planners would, under SLP proposals, be transformed into a swathe of up to 500 houses.
In celebrating its tenth anniversary, the Friends of the Nickey Line (FONL) volunteer group has welcomed the publication this summer of the Greenspace Action Plan (GAP) for the 8 mile foot- and cycle-path between Harpenden and Hemel Hempstead. Details of the plan can be found at www.hertslink.org/cms/content/features/gapnickeyline.
It is hoped, says FONL membership secretary Geoff Bunce, that the GAP will help consolidate the group’s efforts over the last decade to ensure the former Midland Railway line route (extensively covered in ‘Branch Line to Hemel Hempstead’, the book by erstwhile local authors Sue and Geoff Woodward, published in 2006 by Middleton Press in 2006) remains open and well maintained into the future.
Thanks to the work undertaken by FONL, it is widely enjoyed by pedestrians, cyclists, dog-walkers and bird watchers. The whole of the line between Harpenden and Redbourn Lane, as well as Knott Wood – noted for its springtime bluebells among the beech trees – are designated Local Wildlife Sites.
The GAP has been compiled, on behalf of St Albans District Council (SADC) by Hertfordshire’s Countryside Management Service (CMS), a body sponsored by eight local authorities.
The plan covers only the section of the line within St Albans District, but SADC and Dacorum – whose boundary is approximately 100m to the south-west of Cherry Tree Lane bridge – have said they will collaborate to ensure their respective Nickey Line plans are complementary.
It is intended that ‘stations’ – simulating the flavour of the railway stations of yesteryear – will be sited, with appropriate signage along the route, including the junction with today’s Thameslink and Midland Mainline at Hollybush Lane bridge, where the former line (eastbound) historically split to go north to Luton or south to London. At Roundwood Halt, the platform is due to be cleared of accumulated scrubby vegetation, helping it to be restored, as far as possible, to its previous appearance.
For that part of the line running through Harpenden it is suggested that some £18,200 needs to be sourced over a four-year period up to 2020. However, that figure does not include the heavy expenditure said to be required for hard surfacing along the route, which is estimated at £50,000.
Photos Top: Roundwood Halt semaphore signal and platform. Newly-surfaced Park Hill level access for the disabled or elderly; Right: More signage and interpretation boards are envisaged.