Developers win fight for homes on St Albans playing fields

PUBLISHED: 09:14 08 April 2010 | UPDATED: 15:02 06 May 2010

St Albans MP Anne Main with campaigners

St Albans MP Anne Main with campaigners

DEVELOPERS have got the go-ahead to build 150 homes on former playing fields despite huge concerns about the impact on traffic at an already heavily congested junction nearby. Only three weeks after a public inquiry, Government planning inspector Robert B

DEVELOPERS have got the go-ahead to build 150 homes on former playing fields despite huge concerns about the impact on traffic at an already heavily congested junction nearby.

Only three weeks after a public inquiry, Government planning inspector Robert Barker has granted permission for the scheme in King Harry Lane to Hallam Land Management Ltd on appeal and ordered the council to pay the developers' costs.

The decision has come under fire from local politicians and the Verulam Residents Association both for its speed and the implications for the road network.

The district council had turned down an outline planning application from Hallam on the basis that the additional traffic created by the scheme would cause even more problems at the bottle-necked King Harry junction.

Ahead of last month's two-day public inquiry, Hallam worked with Herts County Council to come up with mitigating measures for the traffic problems and offered £1.7million to be paid in full when the 90th property was occupied.

Their preferred option - and the one which was costed - is to create a new link road running behind St Stephen's Church between Watling Street, which would be closed to through traffic, and St Stephen's Hill.

A similar proposal was first developed at the time of the Griffiths Way retail development and was quietly dropped even though £1.3 million in Section 106 money had been received.

Alternatives included sustainable transport measures to encourage people to stop using cars and building a bypass between the A4147 and the former M10.

Other proposals involved the demolition of the King Harry pub to make way for a signalled junction but that was not considered to be a serious option.

During the inquiry, chairman of the Verulam Residents' Association, Barrie Mort, argued that the extra traffic caused by the scheme was the worst of a range of infrastructure problems.

The district council said that no planning permission should be given for the site - where a retirement complex has already got the green light - until detailed plans for traffic improvements were presented.

In his ruling, Mr Barker acknowledged that the scheme would cause increases in traffic during peak times - estimated at between five and six per cent - and said it was reasonable to seek appropriate mitigation.

But he said it was "unduly harsh" for the council to argue that the increase in queuing at the King Harry Junction as a result of the scheme would be unacceptable. He maintained that the link road proposal would mitigate the traffic impact.

Ordering the council to pay Hallam's legal costs because they had behaved unreasonably, Mr Barker also labelled the council's demand for Hallam to pay the entirety of the Section 106 funds from the outset of the scheme as "perverse."

MP for St Albans Anne Main said: "This is extremely disappointing. Once again the wishes of local people have been leapfrogged over by the Government's Planning Inspectorate Quango."

She said she was "disgusted" that the views of local people and their elected representatives had been ignored.

Planning portfolio holder Chris Brazier also voiced deep disappointment at the decision and raised concerns that Herts Highways hadn't objected to the scheme. But he vowed to keep pressure on them to spend the £1.7 million "for the benefit of St Albans."

Ward councillor Martin Frearson strongly criticised the inspector's acceptance of the link road scheme and said: "He dismissed all of the arguments we put forward about the setting of this magnificent church local church, it's part of our heritage. These philistines come here for three days - and Mr Barker told me it was his first time in St Albans - and this is what happens. He doesn't live in the real world."

A disappointed Mr Mort said he felt "utter fury and frustration," pointing out that the highways improvements that the inspector has ordered before the 90th house was occupied could merely consist of laying on an extra bus service as it was at the sole discretion of the county council.

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