Campaigners say St Albans school is pawn in Green Belt development fight

PUBLISHED: 19:05 25 November 2010

Harpenden Road locals against building on green belt land.

Harpenden Road locals against building on green belt land.

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A NEW community opposition group formed to fight against a large proposed residential development has claimed that developers are using St Albans Girls School (STAGS) as a “tactical pawn to engineer a planning position.”

Local action group CLASH – Campaign by Locals Against Sewell Housing – has been formed to stop the Green Belt land east of Harpenden Road up to the Woollams playing fields from being allocated as a possible future strategic housing location by St Albans council.

It follows a proposal by Hunston Properties to develop Sewell Park, 125 detached and semi-detached homes behind homes at the rear of Harpenden Road. STAGS would benefit through the addition of sporting and other facilities should the proposal come to fruition.

A spokesperson for CLASH said the group had “hundreds of signed up supporters,” a working committee of local residents and a membership base of professional planners, planning lawyers and other experts. It has also started a website: www.clash1.com

The website said there were, “a number of significant material planning reasons why this site is not suitable” for housing, including the loss of Green Belt land, inadequate community infrastructure, the likelihood of road congestion on Harpenden Road and exacerbation of local safety issues for children travelling to STAGS.

The spokesperson said: “This emergence of a development proposal on this Green Belt land has created a swell of anger amongst the local and wider community and exposed the serious pressure that local community services and utilities would face should any additional housing be allowed on this site.

“It’s now clear that Hunston Properties, the promoter, is using STAGS as a tactical pawn to engineer a planning position. This community will not be bought out and will fight to see that this site is not allocated for housing.”

But Hunston Properties has hit back, describing the group’s concerns as “misplaced and unsubstantiated.”

A statement from the developers and their agents, DLA Town Planning, said: “We believe that the majority of the concerns expressed by CLASH in its press release and on its website are misplaced.

For despite the fact that CLASH claims to have had conversations with key stakeholders, the organisation has spoken with neither Hunston Properties Limited nor St Albans Girls’ School.

“There is a clear direct link between the proposal to develop Sewell Park and St Albans Girls School. That’s because part of the site will be donated to the school for new sports facilities. In addition, the delivery of a sixth form centre is guaranteed, independent of the planning gain monies due to Herts County Council.

“Further misunderstandings over traffic congestion, utilities and current council planning policy could all have been avoided too, if CLASH had bothered to contact us.”

Headteacher of STAGS, Margaret Chapman, added: “As head, my primary concern is for the welfare and education of students in my care.

“The developer came to us and offered the opportunity of additional facilities to enhance provision for our students and we would have been foolish not to have taken this option which we would have been unable to obtain through tax funding.”

The site has been mooted as a possible future strategic housing site on a draft council planning document, the core strategy, which is expected to go out soon for consultation.

The council’s portfolio holder for planning, Cllr Chris Brazier, said: “The points [CLASH] raise are what I hope comes out of the consultation because we want the thoughts of the general public.”

Future provision of school facilities must be taken into account, he said and added: “Do you allow the surrender of school playing fields for housing? We [council] are not saying this is going to happen – it’s a debate we are to have.”

Councillors are to discuss the draft core strategy further tonight.

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