Developer disputes total housing need for St Albans district

The proposed site of Sewell Park development

The proposed site of Sewell Park development - Credit: Archant

A recent planning appeal has exposed cracks in the district council’s efforts to meet the area’s future housing needs.

But the authority’s stance on protecting the Green Belt from over-development despite pressures to expand the urban footprint has been backed by a planning inspector.

St Albans’ draft Strategic Local Plan (SLP), which sets out future potential development sites including onto the Green Belt, was alluded to in a report by planning inspector Frances Mahoney.

The issue of future housing demand was central to the case put forward for the Sewell Park development proposed by Hunston Properties.

The firm appealed against the district council’s rejection of two schemes mooted for greenfield land to the rear of 112-156B Harpenden Road - one bid for 116 homes and a care home, and a second smaller plan, for 85 houses.

Ms Mahoney recommended both appeals be turned down – a dismissal that was last week echoed by Communities Secretary Greg Clark.

Her report shows that there was disagreement between Hunston and the council over the number of homes which should be built in the district.

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The council has been publicly touting the figure of 436 as the number of new homes it proposes to be built per year over the next two decades.

Although this was the figure used during public consultation on its draft SLP in October last year, at the inspector’s inquiry into Hunston’s schemes in July 2014, the council suggested 532 homes be built per annum, based on the Department for Communities and Local Government household projection statistics.

Hunston said that in its view, “some 622 dwellings per annum” was a more appropriate figure, in line with data from the Office for National Statistics, and that the council appeared to have no confidence in its promoted housing targets.

Ms Mahoney said the correct forum for determining which, if any, Green Belt land should be built upon was the local planning process, and that the government’s planning rules made it clear that boundaries should only be altered in exceptional circumstances.

After the appeals were dismissed, council leader and planning portfolio holder Cllr Julian Daly clarified the authority’s position on future housing numbers.

He said the council would continue to promote the building of 436 homes annually through its draft SLP, as this figure was based on up-to-date research into future demand and population projections, which were more targeted to St Albans than ‘generic’ statistics used at the time of the inquiry.