More plans to development former Harpenden allotment site and protected snail habitat submitted

Westfield allotments site, Harpenden

Westfield allotments site, Harpenden - Credit: Archant

Campaigners have riled against yet another attempt to build houses on a Harpenden wildlife habitat populated with protected animals.

Harpenden Town Council (HTC) has submitted its fourth planning application to St Albans district council (SADC) to build affordable houses on the former Westfield Road allotment site.

The authority wants to develop 24 homes on the 0.6 hectare space to the north east of Harpenden town centre, which was last used for allotments in 1999.

The site, and 2km around it, is home to breeding birds, toads, frogs, slow-worms, grass snakes and Roman snails - or helix pomatia, which are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

These snails forage, hibernate and find cover on the Westfield Road green.

An RSK Environment Ltd investigation in April and May 2016 and May 2017, made on behalf of HTC, found 66 snails living on the space. They stressed there were likely to be many more as the whole area could not be extensively searched by hand.

This particular housing scheme has been in the making since 2015, when two public exhibitions were held.

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The former allotment site has proved controversial for more than a decade - planning permission was sought by HTC in 2005 for 42 flats on the site but it was refused.

St Albans district council (SADC) again rejected an application to build 20 affordable homes on the land in 2010, because the access path crossed over part of a Sustrans cycle network.

In 2013 HTC wanted to build an access road next to the site, but that was withdrawn after backlash against plans to dump any excavated soil onto the wildlife habitat.

At that time HTC’s ruling Conservative administration said it had a 2007 mandate to dispose of the site at tender, as it was part of its election manifesto.

A four year Mencap scheme to build homes for people with learning disabilities on the site was dashed in 2014 when the charity decided the space was not big enough to provide the number of homes it needed.

When Mencap pulled out, HTC reverted back to its original plan to build affordable housing.

Local campaigner Carol Hedges said: “Benjamin Franklyn’s words that nothing in this world can be said to be certain, except death and taxes, must now also include HTC’s fourth attempt to develop the former allotment site at Westfield.

“I started campaigning to protect this little oasis of wildlife and calm and green breathing space over 18 years ago, and here we are again.”

She has also accused HTC of trying to “frighten, bully and intimidate a local campaigning nuisance, who had dared to speak out” after she was threatened with legal action after opposing the scheme in the Herts Advertiser - which also received a legal warning. However, court papers were never served.

Carol added: “The current stated policy of SADC is not to develop in closely-packed urban areas as it puts an incredible strain upon the already existing infrastructure.

“This proposal therefore goes against SADC stated policy, especially as several outlying developments are currently being proposed in the latest Local Plan.

“There are issues of overcrowding - two major developments have taken place in close proximity to this one [Ox Lane Industrial Estate, Westfield Road, and a large development along the Lower Luton Road].

“There are already problems with school places, doctors’ surgeries, dentists, and parking generally, both locally and in the station car park.”

One objector to the application said vehicle access to the site is too narrow for emergency services, and the site should be used as an orchard or ecological reserve: “The proposed mitigation strategy for the protected Roman snails and slow worms is unproven and open to only negative outcomes.

“The proposed scorched earth plan to destroy the protected species’ habitat to prevent recolonisation is unethical and probably illegal, especially since the collection process can never be 100 per cent. This is not the way to spend ratepayers’ money.”

A spokesperson from HTC said: “We will not be making any comment on the planning application other than to confirm the following: the scheme provides 100 per cent affordable housing in perpetuity.

“A minimum of 30 per cent of the dwellings will be for social rent with 100 per cent nomination rights afforded to St Albans district council. The remaining dwellings will comprise of other forms of affordable housing.”