Bernard’s Heath land sale revealed to residents

A POPULAR piece of land used regularly by dog walkers and children is at the centre of a bitter dispute, after documents revealed Herts County Council are looking to sell it off.

The Friends of Bernard’s Heath have expressed their alarm at discovering the lower field or playing fields look set to be sold along with the old fire station site in Harpenden Road.

Known as the former Ariston Works, the redevelopment of or sale of the station has long been in the pipeline but documents published in advance of a county council cabinet panel meeting on November 28 reveal the full extent of the land the council is looking to “market” and “dispose” of.

Friends of Bernard’s Heath chairman, Peter Cook, says the documents suggest the deal has already been done. He said: “It all feels like a stitch up. It’s going to committee and then cabinet. There’s no sense of democracy, no public consultation and we have reason to believe there should be.”

The field in question has always been regarded locally as part of Bernard’s Heath and the Friends point to a management agreement that was made in 1944 between Ariston company and St Albans Council. It specified that the land could only be developed for leisure use by the community.

The validity of this agreement was accepted in 2000 when the Friends attempted to register the lower field as a Village Green, which would have protected the land from development forever. Although the application failed on a legal technicality, the district and county councils in their planning brief for the former Ariston Works in July 2001 said that the general public would be granted “unrestricted access to the site in perpetuity”.

Peter predicted uproar among residents whose families have used the site for years. He said: “It’s a contentious issue and they know it is. I can’t help feeling that they were hoping it would be sold off without anybody realising.

Most Read

“This is one of the reasons that the Friends stayed in existence; we felt that this might happen one day.”

The Friends have written to the leader of the county council, Robert Gordon and say they hope their representation will be considered. Peter added: “We hope there is enough information in our letter to get them to rethink and look at it again.”

Batchwood ward district councillor Martin Leach said the sale of the land had probably been on the council’s agenda for some time. He said: “People living close to the site have been treated appallingly. Just over a year ago, the county council dug up the land and closed off the site making it virtually inaccessible. It was only the Friends’ persistence that meant something was done about it then. It would not surprise me if that entire act was so they could then say that it was no longer being used as a playing field and could consider selling it.”

Cllr Leach said the whole process made a mockery of the Tories’ Localism Bill. He added: “The land is a community asset and people living close to it have been using it for a number of years. With the introduction of the Localism Bill, councils now have a duty to give local people a chance to have a say in planning issues. It doesn’t get more local than this, unless, of course, that Bill is just nonsense?”

David Lloyd, cabinet member for resources, explained that the land was no longer required for statutory service purposes, subject to replacement facilities being provided for those public service facilities currently at the site, and so they were looking to sell the land.

He added: “We need to make sure that we get the most from our assets for the benefit of taxpayers while also maintaining and, as is possible in this case, improving community facilities.”

The proposals will be considered by the policy, resources and performance cabinet panel next Wednesday, November 23. Any recommendations made will go to full cabinet on Monday, November 28. The meetings are open to the public.