District vows to protect St Albans’ Bernards Heath from development

THE BATTLE for Bernards Heath may be over before it’s begun after St Albans District Council stepped in to reassure residents that any development of the land would have to go through them.

As the local planning authority, leader of the council Cllr Julian Daly has said they would stick to a statement made in the 2001 Planning Development Brief which said the public would have “unrestricted access” to the lower playing field in “perpetuity”.

The Herts Advertiser revealed last week that Herts County Council planned to sell off the lower field along with the former Ariston Site, prompting public outcry from residents who regard the popular piece of open space as a part of Bernards Heath.

Marshalwick South Cllr Salih Gaygusuz said: “The open land was to be kept from future development and that still stands and will remain.

“The council is very keen to meet with the incoming landowners to negotiate and ensure the right thing happens. We want to ensure that the youth facilities, such as the Pioneer Club, provided on this site either remain or will be provided somewhere that is suitable.”

Chairman of the Friends of Bernards Heath, Peter Cook, welcomed the positive step forward and said the focus was now on the district council. “It is very clear that the county council regard the land as a surplus asset and they will sell it, so we’d be wasting our time trying to convince them otherwise. They have no concern about the future use of the land.

“The district council have informed us that they regard their Development Brief as valid. This is not to say it will always remain so, but we’re are going to remind them of their promises and focus our attention at this level.”

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Earlier this week, the Friends were told that a previous management agreement made in 1944 was not enforceable. The agreement, between St Albans Council and the Ariston Company, specified that the land could only be developed for leisure use by the community.

The county council said the agreement was made by a previous owner of the land and was no longer valid.

Lawyer and committee member for the Friends of Bernards Heath, Jenny Burley, welcomed the release of a supplementary report this week which provided background information for councillors and potential purchasers of the land.

She said: “This is where the Friends will now take the fight. It’s really important when planning applications emerge for this site, we remind the council of their promises.”

Reaction to last week’s news flooded the Herts Advertiser this week. One dog walker, who uses the land twice a day, said she was disgusted by the county council’s approach. Sue Lawrence said: “How arrogant of them to think they can simply ignore a covenant on the field, and a promise recorded on transcript that it will remain accessible to local residents in perpetuity.

“The field is regularly used by dog walkers and young people as a place to picnic and play games. It’s a safe open space and once lost, there will be nothing to replace it, adding to the slow but steady encroachment of our green spaces. But for a technicality, the playing field, like all of Bernards Heath, is in effect common land and we must do everything in our power to preserve it.”

The future of the land will be discussed at a county council cabinet meeting on Monday, November 28, at 2pm. For more details visit www.hertsdirect.org/your-council/civic_calendar/cabinet/16952982/