Conservation group warns St Albans Council about Green Belt housing plans
- Credit: Archant
Green Belt champions have sent a letter to St Albans district and neighbouring councils warning that they are “ignoring” national guidelines by expanding into the countryside.
Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) Herts has called upon local authorities to read a letter from the Minister of State for Housing and Planning Brandon Lewis explaining national planning policy for the re-use of brownfield land, and protection for the Green Belt.
Mr Lewis says in the letter that the Department for Communities and Local Government has “received a large number of letters” about housing provision and the need to protect rural areas.
Clarifying the government’s stance on the issue, he said planning rules stipulated that “inappropriate development may be allowed only where very special circumstances exist”.
Mr Lewis added: “Green Belt boundaries should be adjusted only in exceptional circumstances, through the local plan process and with the support of local people.”
This last point could be a significant one in St Albans where 74 per cent of people responding to consultation upon the district council’s draft Strategic Plan in 2014 said that exceptional circumstances justifying changing our Green Belt boundaries “do not exist”.
The authority is attempting to pave the way for 4,000 homes to be built on fields in St Albans, Redbourn and Harpenden.
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But some respondents commented that housing ‘need’ could never be viewed as an exceptional circumstance.
This has been backed by Mr Lewis, who said: “We have been repeatedly clear that demand for housing alone will not change Green Belt boundaries.”
He said that while the department recognised local authorities were best placed to decide the most sustainable and suitable sites for new homes, “this government is committed to re-using brownfield sites for housing [and] we have introduced local brownfield registers.”
CPRE Herts’ honorary director Kevin FitzGerald said the group hoped councils in the county had prepared their plans in a way in which they were found sound by the planning inspector who examined them, “to avoid the situation where developers could succeed with speculative planning applications for development in harmful locations”.
He added: “Recently, Welwyn Hatfield council decided to include major sites of over 1,000 houses [including near St Albans district] in the Green Belt in its pre-submission draft local plan, despite all of the land in the borough outside the main settlement being within the Green Belt, and with the only stated factor justifying this action being the requirement to meet housing need.”