Fears for future of St Albans Green Belt sites

Green Belt review - land contributing least towards Green Belt purposes

Green Belt review - land contributing least towards Green Belt purposes - Credit: Image courtesy of SKM Enviros

Eight tracts of Green Belt land throughout St Albans, including at Oaklands College and north of Harpenden, may be earmarked for future housing following an independent review.

The sites contribute least towards the local green buffer, according to a report by Sinclair Knight Merz (SKM) for St Albans district council (SADC).

Those “strategic” areas will now be examined to see whether they are suitable for development – taking into account sustainability and infrastructure.

And a further eight smaller sites have also been identified as contributing least to the Green Belt, including land on the southwest of Redbourn enclosed by the M1, and north of How Wood.

Presenting the first part of their review to the planning policy committee on Monday, the consultants said: “These areas make limited or no contribution towards restricting sprawl or preserving the setting or separating settlements.”

However, they stressed that the first part of the study does not recommend the release of Green Belt land.

The review was commissioned jointly by the district, Dacorum and Welwyn Hatfield borough councils, to help SADC in its preparation of the Strategic Local Plan.

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Phase two of their study, expected to be completed before the end of the year, would suggest, “which of those areas is suitable for and can accommodate any form of potential change, and over what period of time”.

But the initial assessment prompted councillors to voice fears the findings will be used against them by developers.

Cllr Maxine Crawley asked whether the study could be used as evidence in planning appeals.

Chris Briggs, spatial planning manager, replied: “It is solely for the purposes of the planning process. It cannot be used in any other context. It has no bearing on planning applications.”

Councillors were told that SADC would next month receive independent advice on the number of houses it should aim to have built annually in the district.

Executive leader Cllr Julian Daly said: “I recommend members of the public don’t unnecessarily panic until we know what the housing need is.”

He said “crunch time” for the council’s emerging Local Plan would come when it received the housing figure along with the second, more detailed look at possible development of strategic sites on the Green Belt.

The review also recommends Green Belt boundary adjustments to Napsbury Park and the Highfield estate, which Cllr Martin Leach said “made sense” as residents had problems obtaining planning permission for extensions.