Is history repeating itself? St Albans Local Plan still plagued by cooperation issues
- Credit: Archant
History is repeating itself once again as cross-boundary cooperation issues could put St Albans Local Plan in jeopardy.
The former Strategic Local Plan (SLP) was thrown out at High Court in 2017 because a group of neighbouring councils, the South West Herts Group, lodged objections to the document.
Dacorum Borough Council (DBC), Hertsmere Borough Council, Three Rivers District Council, and Watford Borough Council together argued St Albans district council (SADC) had failed to properly cooperate with them when proposing thousands of new houses close to their infrastructure.
After a £35,000 failed legal battle SADC was forced to throw away more than a decade of work and start redrafting a new Local Plan.
A letter seen by this newspaper shows that these issues are still plaguing the process.
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Assistant director of planning at DBC, James Doe, asks that 5,000 proposed houses sitting on the border between Dacorum and St Albans be shared between both council allocations, as they will use infrastructure from both districts.
The letter reminds SADC to be “mindful of the clear advice of previous Inspector’s report”, arguing: “The allocation of such substantive development on the east and northern fringe of Hemel will have a significant impact on the local housing market for the town [Hemel Hempstead], and is likely to have a regressive impact upon the potential deliverability of the [DBC’s planned] sites in and around Hemel.”
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Those 5,000 houses contribute towards a Government quota of just under 15,000 new builds for St Albans district before 2036.
If SADC agree to share the east and north Hemel allocation, the Local Plan will fall short of this quota.
On the other hand, if SADC refuse to share, DBC may lodge another objection - undermining the document and throwing it off its target completion date in March 2019.
The Government has threatened to intervene with the Local Plan if that March deadline is missed. This would deprive local residents a say on important issues, such as the location of large developments.
Redbourn councillors have fought this draft Local Plan from the outset because lots of development is planned for the ward.
Chairman of Redbourn Parish Council, David Mitchell, said he saw this cooperation issue coming: “Dacorum want some of the allocation because the infrastructure will impact them - and I know where they are coming from.
“It seems to be that an awful lot of issues haven’t been resolved since last time, and if Dacorum lodge the Duty To Cooperate issue again all the work will be found unsound and then we are back to the beginning again.
“I will be disappointed if it fails on a Duty To Cooperate issue because I thought there are other areas to address, such as infrastructure.
“I would like to see some progress but it doesn’t seem to me that the whole thing sticks together or gels.”
He believes the “rushed” document lacks “enough detail or coherent argument”.
Adding: “All these things are huge issues and I don’t see how it is all going to resolve. The more things get delayed the longer it will take for housing to be built and I am the first person to say we need housing.”
James Doe, who penned the letter to SADC following a Duty To Cooperate meeting in August, said: “DBC continues to work constructively with St Albans district council on planning matters and duty to corporate discussions are on-going.
“The council will be considering its formal response to the draft St Albans Local Plan and will issue this by the October deadline.”
Cllr Mary Maynard, planning portfolio holder at SADC, said the DBC request for housing allocation to be shared at the proposed north and east Hemel Hempstead sites was expected.
She said: “Their refusal to give Duty To Cooperate for the [former] SLP was always assumed to be driven by their desire to have SADC housing allocated to them at the Hemel sites. During the SLP process, it was pointed out that Dacorum has large areas of non-Green Belt land that could be made available for building.
“SADC only has Green Belt land. This situation has not changed.
“In discussion, SADC has pointed out to Dacorum that it only has highly rated Green Belt land left and that Dacorum would have to present a very robust planning case why their non-Green Belt land should not be built on, as well as producing a detailed Green Belt review assessing all their land.”
She stressed that all reasoning needs to be based on planning law rather than politics.
Adding: “I understand that they would also have to demonstrate that they have discussed housing allocations with their other neighbours, some of whom have non-Green Belt land and Green Belt land which does not score so highly on meeting Green Belt objectives as SADC’s.
“If Dacorum meets all the criteria outlined above, SADC will initially look to meet the shortfall by asking adjoining neighbours to allocate housing to us. This is in line with the National Planning Policy Framework.
“Again, this would be on the basis of comparative availability of non-Green Belt land and best fit to Green Belt purposes. We would also look at Dacorum’s other reasoning and apply their arguments to our other neighbours’ Local Plans.”
Despite all this, Cllr Maynard is confident that a “sensible, planning led approach” is achievable.
On the looming threat of Government imposition, Cllr Maynard noted: “The Government has intervened in three other districts. SADC is now far ahead of what they have achieved in the Local Plan process.
“Planning for the future of an area is best left to the democratically elected representatives of that area, not Whitehall officials.”
The Local Plan is currently out for its second consultation, ending on October 17.
If needed, SADC say it will redraft the document before it is submitted to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government in March 2019.
View the Local Plan and comment at www.stalbans.gov.uk/planning/thelocalplan.aspx Through that link there is also an explanatory video available for anyone still unsure about the issues involved.
Information is also available at the Civic Centre on St Peter’s Street, at public libraries, and at town and parish council offices.