Angry residents reject suggestions of building on Harpenden’s Green Belt

The field opposite the Old Bell pub in Harpenden

The field opposite the Old Bell pub in Harpenden - Credit: Archant

Fired-up residents at a public meeting on the possible expansion of Harpenden onto Green Belt land have warned against such a move, claiming the town is “bursting at the seams” already.

About 350 people packed out Harpenden Public Halls on Monday to hear a presentation on St Albans district council’s plans to pave the way to turn fields into hundreds of homes.

The authority’s executive leader, Harpenden West Cllr Julian Daly, outlined the possible future shape of the town as set out in the draft Strategic Local Plan (SLP), which has recently been released for consultation.

The plan – a framework naming potential sites for thousands of homes to be built throughout the district at a rate of 436 annually for 20 years until 2031 – suggests 500 should be built to the north west of Harpenden.

Residents are being asked whether they support homes being built in a strategic area on the northern outskirts, in the vicinity of Luton Road, Cooters End and Ambrose Lanes.

Lying within a landscape conservation area, the agricultural land is currently used to grow arable crops but is listed as a future housing site as consultants say it makes a “limited” contribution towards checking urban sprawl from Luton and Dunstable.

Five hundred homes on the proposed site would equate to a density of 40 homes per hectare.

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But its suggested release from the Green Belt has been met with scorn from two residents groups.

A spokesman for the Harpenden Green Belt Association said the town could not cope with hundreds of additional vehicles, asking: “Where will they park their cars?”

The group says the town is “already bursting at the seams with congested roads, crowded trains and oversubscribed schools”.

Members also fear the council may not “fit all the houses they want to build on a single plot to the north of Harpenden, so three further Green Belt sites, to the south, another to the north and in Batford are candidates to be built on”.

They said it was a “myth” that the council has “no choice but to build on the Green Belt” surrounding Harpenden as government policy makes it clear local councils should only do so in “exceptional circumstances”.

Ron Taylor, a member of Harpenden Society, described the meeting as a “lively affair which got quite heated.

“There was a lot of discourse on building on the Green Belt, with a lot of residents saying homes shouldn’t be built on such sites.

“To do so would put massive pressure on the town’s infrastructure.”

The draft SLP says that along with the settlements of St Albans and London Colney, prosperous Harpenden is considered one of the “most sustainable for development as the widest range of services and facilities are accessible”.

The draft plan suggests a housing target of about 9,000 new homes across the district.

While 5,000 houses can be built on brownfield sites and as infill in urban areas, a further 4,000 homes may need to be built on sites yet to be released from Green Belt zones.

Cllr Daly said that 4,000 homes in the Green Belt would use about 168 hectares. – around 1.3 times the size of Redbourn.

While welcoming residents’ feedback, he said that when locals respond to the consultation they need to give reasons and evidence for points made.

The six-week-long consultation on the draft Strategic Local Plan ends on November 22.