Forest plans

SIR, — Your indefatigable correspondents John Stocker and Robert Hill made some interesting points about the Woodland Trust s Sandridge Forest scheme (Herts Advertiser, September 25). I can confirm as the chairman of St Albans District Council s Central A

SIR, - Your indefatigable correspondents John Stocker and Robert Hill made some interesting points about the Woodland Trust's Sandridge Forest scheme (Herts Advertiser, September 25). I can confirm as the chairman of St Albans District Council's Central Area Planning Committee that includes Sandridge, that the first I and other council members knew about this proposal was in your columns, but planting trees on agricultural land, or indeed in your or my garden, does not require planning permission, so they had no obligation to inform us. PPS2 on Green Belts states that they have a positive role in providing access to open countryside for the urban population, so we quickly welcomed the proposal in principle along with the parish councils and most local residents.

It so happens that last Wednesday my wife and I were out with the Countryside Management conservation volunteers at Aldenham Country Park, pollarding crack willows along the water's edge to open up the vista from the car park across the reservoir. This gave me the chance to look at the visitor facilities there in the light of our Policy 1(c) on Green Belt development which does allow small-scale facilities for participatory sport and recreation. The key point is what constitutes "small scale". We have been here before with the Woollams sports facilities which were originally refused after a debate at full council but subsequently allowed on appeal.

Hertsmere has allowed a refreshment kiosk, toilet block, small visitors' centre, offices and workshops and a car park of about 100 spaces with separate in-and-out access at Aldenham. These small buildings fit very well into the wooded landscape and cater for perhaps 300 visitors on a sunny day. It's proportionate and it works.

Mr Hill seems to exaggerate the potential visitor numbers. I well remember the fuss that was made in Rye Park, Hoddesdon, when the RSPB and Herts & Middlesex Wildlife Trust announced their new visitor centre at Rye Meads reserve. Thousands would be coming from all over north London! The single local road would be jammed! Rye Meads gets 100 visitors on a very good weekend sunny day - I know because I have been a Sunday volunteer there ever since it opened and we have to count them all.

When the Woodland Trust wants to provide visitor facilities, they will have to apply to us with an Environmental Impact Statement and satisfy Herts Highways about any new access onto local roads. There will be full consultation with Sandridge and Wheathampstead Parish Councils and local residents, followed by a public committee decision. The facilities will have to meet the "small-scale" test to gain approval. The record shows that this council does not lightly grant planning approvals in the Green Belt.

Mr Stocker is concerned about the recent planning consent 5/08/0893 for Hill End Farm. This is not in fact a new development but amends a previous decision over a year ago, to give approval for a new farmhouse, farm manager's house and barns, 5/07/1627, in itself a re-application for a refused scheme 5/06/1638. This all started back in 2003 in fact with an application (granted) for a new grain barn at Hill End. The latest approval is for an improved layout, with reduced accommodation in the roofspace and now falls within the council's Special Policy Guidance "Residential Extensions and Replacement Dwellings in the Green Belt" which allows no more than a 40 per cent increase in volume over the existing buildings. There was no reason to refuse this improved scheme, but it has the standard agricultural workers dwelling condition attached to it so that occupation is limited to persons solely or mainly working in the locality in agriculture (which includes forestry). If the land is sold off this condition cannot be satisfied except for forestry workers. I think we're covered!

Most Read

It is some indication of the planning department's care in deciding Green Belt applications that all these proposals and negotiations were handled personally by the Development and Control manager, and none were called in to committee by the local members.

The district council has no control over the price of the land. It may be that the Trust will have to answer to the Charity Commissioners if it is paying over the odds, but that is none of our business.

By the way, if any of your readers are interested in practical conservation work, they can find out what CM does on their website What's On, or phone 01727 848168.


Chair, Planning Committee Central,

St Albans District Council.