Go-ahead for Green Belt village between St Albans, Wheathamsptead and Hatfield pushed through

Symonshyde Farm

Symonshyde Farm - Credit: Archant

The death knell has been sounded for 140 acres of prime Green Belt after a neighbouring council steamrollered ahead with plans to build more than 1,130 homes on land between St Albans, Wheathampstead and Hatfield.

Welwyn Hatfield council’s draft Local Plan proposes concreting over 140 acres of Green Belt, as part of a drive to build more than 12,000 houses in the district over the next 15 years.

It includes controversial plans by Gascoyne Cecil Estates to develop a new satellite village and gipsy/traveller site at Symondshyde Farm.

The site is close to a strategic gap between St Albans and Hatfield, identified in a joint independent Green Belt review to help neighbouring local bodies plan where to build homes in future - and where not to.

Welwyn Hatfield council reviewed the last round of consultation feedback at a meeting of the cabinet housing and planning panel (CHPP) last Thursday, March 16.

Land off Symonshyde Farm

Land off Symonshyde Farm - Credit: Archant

Local campaign group Save Symondshyde group objected to the proposals, which were outlined in a public consultation and received more than 400 objections from residents and organisations, but their arguments were ignored.

Chairman John Gardner said: “The council’s response to the results of the public consultation last autumn shows that they have no intention of following the correct democratic planning process and listening to the wishes of residents.

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“Proposals for a stand-alone settlement at Symondshyde Farm were the sole idea of Gascoyne Cecil Estates, and were never suggested by local residents as an appropriate area for development. Yet we find that despite the hundreds of detailed and well-argued objections to the proposal, the council’s response was ‘no change’ on almost every issue.”

The campaign group is formed of residents and businesses, and includes representatives from both Wheathampstead and Sandridge Parish Councils.

Land off Symonshyde Farm

Land off Symonshyde Farm - Credit: Archant

Wheathampstead parish councillor Judy Shardlow said: “We have repeatedly pointed out to Welwyn Hatfield council that driving a large wedge of development into the heart of the Green Belt in this area will create urban sprawl in the long term, and that any settlement of this size is going to force thousands more cars onto already congested local roads.

“It’s a deeply unsustainable plan and Welwyn Hatfield council should remove it from their draft plan.”

Members of Save Symondshyde claim the council’s examination methods were flawed, as their pre-2015 consultation assessment discounted a large number of greenfield Green Belt sites on the grounds that they were not joined to an existing settlement. The Symondshyde site also fails to meet this criteria, and campaigners believe the council should have re-assessed all the original sites as a consequence.

Mr Gardner said: “This is not local planning, but is steamrollering by a council intent on delivering what they see as an easy site, because it is held by a single landowner.

“Once again we have evidence of the council failing to even acknowledge the concerns of local residents and councils and pushing ahead with their plans as if no consultation had taken place.”

Cllr Mandy Perkins, Welwyn Hatfield council’s executive member for planning, housing and community, said: “It’s not easy to find a balance between conflicting points of view, as is most often the case when reviewing comments, but I’m confident we have done our best for local people and the future of our borough.”

Welwyn Hatfield’s cabinet and full council will be asked to approve the plan for submission to a government-appointed inspector in early May. The public examination is expected to take place in summer, with the formal adoption of the plan projected for 2018.