Harpenden allotments site would allow ‘homes for all’, say councillors

FEARS that Harpenden will turn into a “millionaire’s row” and “enclave for the better off” has prompted councillors to ask cabinet to reconsider its decision to knock back plans for affordable housing on a former allotment site.

St Albans council’s overview and scrutiny (O&S) committee debated at length the future use of the controversial former Westfield Road allotment site on Tuesday.

At issue was whether the site should be retained as green space and returned to allotment use or developed to provide affordable and key worker housing.

The call-in to O&S was because the council cabinet decided to revoke an earlier agreement allowing Harpenden Town Council, which wants to building affordable housing on the site, right of access over district council land.

Cabinet had also asked the town council to reinstate the allotments following petitions and letters from residents worried about losing the green space to development.

Chair of O&S, Cllr Julian Daly, called in cabinet’s decision for further debate as there was concern about a lack of consultation with the town council and because cabinet’s decision had effectively snubbed an officers’ report stating that Harpenden suffered a shortage of affordable housing.

O&S members unanimously agreed to ask cabinet to discuss the future of the site with Harpenden Town Council, Harpenden Mencap and the Westfield Action Group to see if it would be possible to meet the need for affordable housing, and improvements to the green space at the Beeching Close garage site, the former and the current allotment sites, along with the adjoining playing field at Westfield Road.

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Harpenden town clerk, John Bagshaw, maintained that the cabinet view that there was a shortfall of allotments in the town was not substantiated by any evidence. He pointed out that neither of the town’s allotment societies had recognised Westfield as an appropriate location for allotments.

He reiterated the need for affordable housing in the district: “Only one affordable home has been identified for Harpenden in 2011/12. There is a desperate need in the town for shared ownership and social rented housing.

“Westfield provides an excellent location for affordable housing. There must be provision of a home for all.”

George Edkins, of the Hightown Praetorian and Churches Housing Association (HPCHA), warned that Harpenden was in danger of becoming an “exclusive community” and said HPCHA’s plans to build there would help first-time buyers and key workers.

Patrick Fisher, a trustee of Harpenden Mencap, offered an alternative solution for the land, explaining that the charity would like the site to be used for the reprovision of its Stairways accommodation for adults and children with learning disabilities and would be happy to share the site with the housing association for low-cost housing.

He said that given the plentiful green space in the area, “the question is not whether the residents want this site, but do they need it?”

“We think you can add landscaping, access for people in wheelchairs on to the Lea Valley walk, and there is room for accommodation for Harpenden Mencap, including those on the housing list.”

He added: “Harpenden is becoming an enclave for the better off, serviced by builders, teachers, domestics, nurses and others commuting in from places like Luton. What is the environmental cost of all this traffic? The cost is traffic congestion.

“Cabinet showed scant regard for housing needs of Harpenden people.”

Carol Hedges, of the Westfield Action Group, said her committee would prefer the area to remain as green space, preferably with growing space and a community orchard for families and schools.