Experts and politicians react to St Albans housing blueprint appeal failure

David Lane is principal and owner of DLA Town Planning Ltd, which he established in 1989

David Lane is principal and owner of DLA Town Planning Ltd, which he established in 1989 - Credit: supplied

Planning experts and politicians have reacted to news that the last-ditch effort to save St Albans’ crucial housing blueprint has failed.

Anne Main.

Anne Main. - Credit: Archant

The district council’s (SADC) Strategic Local Plan (SLP) outlines all major housing planned until 2031, including 4,000 Green Belt builds, but has been dogged with controversy since neighbouring authorities raised objections.

Four councils surrounding St Albans - Dacorum borough council, Hertsmere borough council, Three Rivers district council, and Watford borough council - under the name South West Herts Group (SWHG), argued SADC did not fully co-operate on settlement location issues which would use neighbouring infrastructure.

Other councils which were not part of SWHG but were “interested parties” included Herts county council, central Beds council, Welwyn and Hatfield district council and north Herts district council.

Consequently, planning inspector David Hogger recommended it was withdrawn and SADC took the case to the High Court in front of Sir Ross Cranston.

On July 12 Sir Ross upheld Mr Hogger’s decision and it is now likely SADC will have to re-do the SLP, which is more than 10 years of work.

St Albans MP Anne Main urged the district council to move forward and find a workable solution: “I am disappointed in this result, but it was not wholly unexpected. Whether or not we agree with the decision, the council must pull together to put a plan in place.

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“I’ve been saying for some time that we have to deliver the housing and infrastructure that meets the needs of the district and protects St Albans.

“The council will hopefully now grasp this nettle and find a workable way forward.”

Sir Ross’s judgement was in an 18 page document of more than 8,000 words.

An associate planner at Property consultancy business Bidwells, Richard Butler, said it will be a “difficult matter to resolve”.

“One matter that could greatly assist is the much-awaited consultation on the proposed simpler methodology for calculating objectively assessed need that is expected to be published by the government imminently. This will standardise the method for calculating full objectively assessed need and will hopefully assist in resolving duty to cooperate matters such as in this case.”

But he said it is not likely to be adopted until April 2018.

David Lane, the chairman of DLA, a development and town planning business based in St Albans, said he was expecting this to happen: “We are not surprised.

“The court decision was expected as we had always asked questions of the planning committee about the duty to co-operate.” He said red flags were noticed when SADC could not provide a “proper paper trail” to prove they had co-operated sufficiently,

“It was very frustrating. Our thought that the plan would not succeed has been vindicated, we always thought it would fail.”

A director of St Albans Chamber of Commerce, Mark Bunting, described the situation as a “policy vacuum” which is “not beneficial”: “The current local plan dates from 1994 and the policies therein are increasingly out of date.

“The practical implications of this are that these policies are in increasingly danger of challenge by land owners and developers. This will potentially lead to more planning applications and appeals being lodged at a greater cost to the council.” This may result in development “undesirable to SADC or residents and over which they have reducing control”, he said.

He hopes the SLP can be re-submitted as quickly as possible.