Election 2015: Harpenden candidates answer questions on key issues affecting the town

Harpenden candidates left to right are Pauline Pearce (Lib Dem), John Stocker (UKIP), Rachel Burgin

Harpenden candidates left to right are Pauline Pearce (Lib Dem), John Stocker (UKIP), Rachel Burgin (Lab), Richard Wise (Green) and Peter Lilley (Con). - Credit: Archant

Ask Harpenden residents what the key issues are for the town and most will agree it comes down to affordable housing, development of the Green Belt and the need for more school places. With this in mind, we asked the parliamentary candidates for the area to offer their thoughts on three crucial questions

* There is an obvious need for more affordable housing in Harpenden - where should this be built?

Conservative candidate Peter Lilley said: “Any pretence that we can solve the housing shortage without building more homes (and restricting mass immigration) is simply dishonest.

“Moreover, only if we agree a Strategic Local Plan will our local council have powers to influence the housing mix on locations designated for housing to ensure that they include affordable homes. So affordable homes in Harpenden should be built on whatever sites are identified in the final Local Plan.”

Lib Dem Pauline Pearce said: “Of course I agree that there is a need for affordable housing, Harpenden is an expensive place to live and people need homes. But, on the other hand, Harpenden is already short of infrastructure such as school places, water and sewerage, and parking. We need to deal with these properly in a coordinated way and then we can think about where the housing can go.”

Labour’s Rachel Burgin said: “There have been successive failures to build affordable homes in Harpenden such as at Gleneagles Hotel and Harpenden House Hotel. The Lower Luton Road site also needs affordable homes.

“In general, affordable housing should be built close to town centres so that residents are able to walk to transport links and services. This would mitigate traffic and reduce household expenditure for those living in new homes.

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“I accept there is a shortage of such brownfield sites in central Harpenden, the only sensible suggestion being to build a multi-storey car park on one side of Harpenden station and construct a block of apartments on the other.

“There needs to be an independent report into brownfield sites across the district so that every conceivable site is considered.”

* Do you agree with the district council’s plans to expand onto the Green Belt in Harpenden?

UKIP’s John Stocker said: “Most of the Brown Field sites in the Harpenden area have been snapped up by developers for high value builds and the only proposals coming from community groups, such as The Harpenden Society, is to build ontop of the car parks at the station and the town centre which I consider impractical.

“The town centre and railway areas are congested already and there is no space to improve the infrastructure. Although there is a philosophy that town centre dwellers do not need cars this, unfortunately, is not the case and each dwelling will still average two cars.

“Reluctantly, as I am a strong supporter of the Green Belt, I think the only real option is to generate 500 affordable homes in the area highlighted in the SADC SLP north west of Harpenden. The loss of a very small area of the Green Belt will be more than outweighed by the generated benefits.”

Pauline: “It is very easy just to go for building on Green Belt land, isn’t it? Developers like it because it is a simple option for building. I think that we need to make imaginative use of Harpenden’s brownfield land rather than always expanding the boundaries of the town.”

Peter: “I have always defended the Green Belt to prevent our local towns and villages merging into each other. It is vital that we retain the core Green Belt for that purpose.

“But every year roughly 2,000 children are born in the St Albans district and 1,000 people die – we desperately need to build more homes over the next 20 years by which time children now in school will be in their 20s and 30s and I cannot honestly see how that can be achieved without sacrificing some Green Belt land – even if, as I and my Conservative Parliamentary neighbours have advocated, we build a new “Garden Town” in north Hertfordshire to take some of the strain.”

Rachel: “Labour’s national policy is “brownfield first” and I support that. Construction on Green Belt sites should only be considered when all brownfield sites have been exhausted.

“As I said in my previous answer, I accept that there is a shortage of brownfield sites in the district but I would support the commissioning of a report into all potential sites.

“But the need for affordable housing is absolutely desperate with 2,000 people on the council house waiting list.

“Failing to tackle this problem would cause social problems for generations to come with children growing up in inadequate and insecure homes.

“I do not currently see how this can be properly addressed without constructing at least some homes on Green Belt land but believe that everything should be done to mitigate it.”

* Do you support the plans to build a new secondary school on farmland in Batford, and if not where should it go and why?

Rachel: “It seems that mistakes were made in the planning process which are perhaps too late to rectify. The Vincent and Gorbing Report actually rated the Bloomfield Road site above the Batford site but because it had already been allocated for housing, it had a “hope value” that took it off the table. “Really, the local authority should have agreed the site for a new school before considering new housing.

“But the Bloomfield Road site is still on the wrong side of town for the students who are in need of school places, and no consideration has been given to constructing community schools in Redbourn and Wheathampstead. I don’t believe the barriers to building on a south Harpenden site would have been insurmountable.

“At this late stage, though, we just need to build a school. Any more delays are going to put the education of the town’s children at risk.”

Peter: “It is vital to move ahead with maximum speed in opening a new secondary school in Harpenden. it will have to be on green field site becuase there are no possible sites within Harpenden. The need to rerun the consultation about the site set us back a year.

“I and local councillors persuaded the Secretary of State to give approval, in record time before the election prevented further decision taking, for the Educational Funding Authority to go ahead with this project on whichever of the three short-listed sites it chooses.

“Objectors will have a right to have their views considered during the planning procedures. But I will not support any attempts to delay the process and will give every possible support to get the school up and running speedily whichever site is selected.”

Pauline: “As I’ve said, Harpenden desperately needs more school places. Herts County Council has dithered around over the site for a secondary school for far too long. People in Harpenden need action, not dithering so every child can have a good local place.

“I’m not fixed on precisely where the site should be, except that it needs to be somewhere that is easy for most of the pupils to get to.”

John: “The case for a new secondary school in Harpenden is overwhelming and the school is required by the end of 2017. There has been too much debate but not enough action and there must be serious headbanging to move this project forward.

“There are two alternative sites suggested, that I have heard of, Batford and Pipers Lane. In my view either site would be suitable.

“A small task force from SADC, Herts Council and Harpenden should be set up immediately to review the project within six weeks. They should make a recommendation on their findings which should be then fast tracked through the county council and the Department of Education without further debate. This form of decision making is the norm in industry and I despair local authorities cannot bite the bullet – make a decision – and act on it.”

Green Party candidate Richard Wise didn’t offer specific answers to questions, but said: “What happens locally is a direct result of what has been decided at national level, but as things stand now these decisions are in the hands of local politicians. As I understand it the council does not have “plans” to build on the Green Belt - the local planning process merely requires them to say where they would put housing if they were to meet fully the demand in the district.

“Were I to be elected to Parliament as a Green I would be promoting policies that do tackle housing and education at a national level.

“This would involve promoting a more environmental sustainable social housing policy according to local needs and wishes and returning control of education to local authorities acting in the interests of the local population.”