© 2017 The Harpenden Society

 Rothamsted Fowden Hall was filled to capacity when over 200 Harpenden residents invited by The Harpenden Society attended a meeting in early February, to learn more, and better understand, the implications of St Albans District Council’s Strategic Local Plan (SLP).

An introduction by planning expert David Churchill of Iceni Projects spelled out the statutory, but tortuous, consultation procedures involved in preparing the SLP for subsequent examination by central government inspectors. That vital examination, scheduled to take place in November of this year, will determine whether the plan is found to be ‘justified’ and/or whether it requires alteration.

County Councillor David Williams explained that, once approved, the SLP will be followed in due course by a more detailed local plan, with November 2017 as a target date for its publication. He added that all residential developments included in the SLP were required to include some ‘affordable housing’, though with no precise definition of the term.

Joanne Wicks QC, representing Harpenden Green Belt Association, expressed the view that the SLP in its updated draft form was, from a legal standpoint, not only a ‘mess’, but a ‘disgrace’.  She described it as a ‘political’ rather than a ‘strategic’ plan; its Harpenden-related provisions appeared to have been unduly influenced by councillors representing other parts of the district. They were seemingly bent on exercising their power by sacrificing Green Belt land for housing, especially in Harpenden.  In any case, she said, the need to build on open countryside in order to meet so-called ‘housing need’ was highly questionable.


 from our editor-in-waiting Alan Bunting

Ms Wicks was particularly critical of the proposal to build up to 500 homes on Green Belt land on the north side of Harpenden, designated S5 on the SLP. An independent report commissioned by the council  recommended that Green Belt development should be approved only under ‘exceptional circumstances’. The report’s findings had been disregarded, so that such 'circumstances' had not been established or declared.

She added that, from a sustainability aspect, no traffic modelling had been carried out in relation to the S5 development, despite the nearby rush-hour congestion. Nor had there been detailed discussions with Hertfordshire County Council or the Highways Agency on the traffic implications.

St Albans District Council could meet its obligations to build 8720 new homes, in the period 2011-2031, without needing to encroach on Green Belt land, declared Ms Wicks. New ‘brownfield’ sites were becoming available in the district, notably where numerous former offices were being converted into residential accommodation.

Cllr Teresa Heritage raised further practical infrastructure questions as to the viability of the SLP proposals for site S5 in north Harpenden.  There were already problems of sewer and surface water capacity, she said, which would be greatly exacerbated by a development on the scale proposed.


            'O Oysters' said the Carpenter,

              You've had a pleasant run.

              Should we be trotting home again?'

              But answer came there none.

It is with some active sense of relevance that one quotes Lewis Carroll's nonsense poem, when discussing the District Council's heavily criticised Strategic Local Plan. However, there is a more immediate appropriateness. When an invitation – sent twice - to attend the above reported meeting was made to all Harpenden's district councillors, there were two welcome acceptances, a few refusals and four who, astonishingly, made no reply at all. Which studied discourtesy might give pause for furious thought.

Green Light for the Red House

The Red House Forum has been informed that the Herts Community NHS Trust board has approved the Strategic Outline case for the development of the Stewarts building as a health and wellness hub, with the allied objective of using the surplus land for an associated communal purpose, using land sales to meet the ongoing costs of the new facility. There are possible constraints – 'best value' for the taxpayer must be demonstrated in any sales and the Secretary of State has powers to take up to 50% of any land values – but the NHS authorities are extremely optimistic of a positive outcome.

Welcome news indeed

I was honoured to have been asked by the Society to address the meeting on 4 February on the topic “Why the SLP is unsound”. However, some of my comments have not been accurately reported in the Society’s newsletter and I am glad to have the opportunity to correct them.

 Those who attended the meeting may recall that, because I did not have time to cover all the reasons why I consider the SLP to be unsound, I concentrated on just three:

I explained that in my view the essential reason why the SLP is not sound is because key decisions have been taken on political, rather than planning, grounds.

I am reported in the Newsletter as referring to an independent report recommending that Green Belt should only be developed in exceptional circumstances. There is no such report: in fact it is a national planning policy requirement that Green Belt boundaries should be kept where they are unless there are “exceptional circumstances”.

I am also reported as saying that St Albans District Council “could meet its obligations to build 8720 new homes, in the period 2011-2031, without needing to encroach on Green Belt land”. I did not say this and it would not be correct to do so. Although I was critical of the Council’s failure to prepare an up-to-date assessment of available non-Green Belt land, the evidence does not suggest that the Council could get anywhere close to building 8720 new homes without taking land out of the Green Belt. What I did say, in answer to a question, was that the Council is not obliged to release Green Belt to meet 100% of its housing “need”. In this respect, I took issue with Councillor Heritage, who said that she had been advised that the Council had no choice but to meet its housing “need” in full.

 If any member of the Society would like more detail on any of the issues addressed in my talk, they can find a summary of the Harpenden Green Belt Association’s response to the Council’s consultation on the HGBA website at www.harpendengreenbelt.org.uk

Joanne Wicks