© 2017 The Harpenden Society

‘We devote almost all of the Summer issue of the newsletter to a SPECIAL EDITION  on the house building crisis, beginning with a succinct summation of the current perilous position from Society chairman Chris Marsden:

The current situation is not encouraging. Despite strong arguments that there are no ‘exceptional circumstances’ allowing building on the green belt and persistent submissions that the Green Belt Review made significant errors which seriously affected the grading of site S5 (the NW Harpenden field below) in the Evaluation Matrix, these have been brushed aside. ‘Exceptional circumstances’ are being defined as the Government’s need to build more houses in the area – a clear case of ‘Catch 22’. Our evidence over distance measurements and traffic congestion implications have simply been ignored. It seems that the planning officers are convinced that redrawing of the green belt boundaries is necessary in order to get the new strategic plan agreed by the government’s inspectors and are not prepared to be diverted.



Autumn 2014 Newsletter

 There is also a suspicion that they are pursuing a ‘divide and rule’ policy by choosing just four sites in different parts of the District as ‘strategic’, so that people in areas not initially affected will breathe a huge sigh of relief and accept the plan, not realising that they will be affected as more sites are designated ‘strategic’ down the line.


Harpenden Society News is privileged to feature this edited extract from the contribution made by Society member Joanne Whitehead (below)at the recent meeting to discuss the threat of excess housing development. Her concise and clear-cut talk was received with prolonged applause.

The single most important decision which local politicians will shortly take is whether and where to use Green Belt land for housing. This would affect all of us.. It’s not just about the permanent loss of open countryside. It is also about the number of cars on our roads, the number of seats on our trains and the number of school places for our children.

There are three inevitable consequences of a Green Belt policy.

  1. There will always be pressure - you don’t have Green Belts around places like Taunton or Norwich where there isn’t such pressure for development.  
  2. We have to think imaginatively how to accommodate more people on brown field sites within the Green Belt ring..
  3. We have to accommodate people beyond the Green Belt. I would say this should be in a sustainable way, in new towns, or urban extensions to existing towns, or by making villages grow to support the pubs and shops that make communities work.

The coalition government made radical changes in planning law, and completely rewrote planning policy. It could have chosen to abolish Green Belt policy altogether. But it didn’t. Instead it firmly decided to retain Green Belt policy as it had been, saying, importantly, 'Green Belt boundaries should only be altered in exceptional circumstances'

The current legal framework means that critical decisions are now made on our behalf by local politicians. Don’t listen if they try to fob you off by saying that these things are imposed upon them from above – they can and must make real choices.


 Under current law and policy, there are three key questions for them.

  1. Can we use our brownfield land more effectively?
  2. Are there exceptional circumstances which make it necessary to change Green Belt boundaries?
  3. Where, beyond Green Belt, should we seek to accommodate people?  

 This last is very important but is often overlooked. Councils with Green Belts now have a statutory 'duty to co-operate' together to solve these problems..

But the question they are actually asking themselves is: 'which bits of the Green Belt shall we build on?' - and even commissioned an inadequate Green Belt Review accordingly.

It means that the decision as to how much Green Belt to release is not controlled by the concept of 'exceptional circumstances.'

It leads to the worst kind of cabbage patch politics, where the politicians get together and agree to build a bit in the south and a bit in the north, because that’s so much “fairer” and we all get to “share the pain”. But the result is that we end up losing more Green Belt than we need to.

We must hold our local politicians to account. It’s not nimbyism to expect them to make decisions for planning rather than political reasons, to tell us what the 'exceptional circumstances' are which make Green Belt release necessary and to require them to ensure that infrastructure is available.

I would say that we owe it to future generations not to allow politicians to do backroom deals or take the easy option.

Only then can we hold our heads up, and say that we are doing our best to hand to our children and grandchildren a world which is at least as good as the one we have enjoyed.