Harpenden’s affordable housing needs are being ignored by district, says councillor

A HARPENDEN councillor has criticised a draft district council plan shortlisting future major residential development sites, saying it doesn’t provide for affordable housing in the town.

District and town councillor Mike Wakely has questioned St Albans council’s draft core strategy document which lists nine strategic areas in the district to contribute to the construction of 4,250 new homes over the next two decades.

The shortlist, which is still being finalised ahead of its official release for public comment, alludes to potential development sites, mainly within St Albans, but also in London Colney, Redbourn, Bricket Wood and the St Albans/Radlett border.

The consultation document includes a 40 per cent affordable housing target, to encourage the construction of about 1,700 homes for the social rented, key worker and shared-ownership market.

But Cllr Wakely said that the plan did not go far enough to provide for affordable housing in Harpenden.

He said: “There is a huge want by parents and kids for affordable housing in Harpenden and the present action by St Albans District Council is actually blocking that.”

He maintained that the council was primarily looking after St Albans’ housing needs and ignoring Harpenden’s future requirements, alluding to a recent surprise move by council’s cabinet to refuse a bid to build 20 affordable homes on the Westfield allotment site.

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He said: “We were hoping for support from the district council for the 100 per cent affordable homes at Westfield and the cabinet has blocked it. I think it [the decision] got political, which is totally wrong for residents.”

But he welcomed the core strategy’s proposal to lay the framework for any future extension of Rothamsted Research, improvement of food stores in Harpenden town centre and the extension of local supermarkets.

The consultation document also covers educational proposals, including expanding existing primary and secondary schools with any new schools in St Albans and Harpenden.

County and district councillor Teresa Heritage said the Conservative group “welcomed” the removal of six Green Belt sites in the district, including one to the north of the town at Cooters End Lane from the draft strategy.

She felt that much time and money has been wasted over the last four or five months on the so-called areas of search in the Green Belt.

She went on: “Over many months my group have questioned the use of Green Belt and the failure of the Lib Dem administration to actually exploit its own land sufficiently to deliver housing.

“My [Conservative] group has questioned why we have failed to seek to regenerate the council’s own housing stock and have a more robust approach to developing garage sites.

“I am pleased to say that the administration must have been listening and are now suggesting the acceleration of garage site and amenity land development, but they still have to tackle regeneration.”

Cllr Chris Brazier, portfolio holder for planning, stressed the draft consultation document was aimed at identifying strategic housing sites for major residential developments of 100 homes or more.

Harpenden’s affordable housing needs would still be catered for when council considered planning applications for smaller developments.

He said: “There will be affordable housing across the district and key housing for workers, young people and older couples. The strategic sites are a mixture of employment and housing sites.”

Provision was also made for the town in the strategy’s section setting out council’s “broad policy approach” which prioritises St Albans, Harpenden and London Colney as the “most sustainable locations” for development because of their wide range of services and facilities.

It could mean higher density development such as, Cllr Brazier explained, replacing a demolished house in Harpenden with flats.

He called on Harpenden residents to have their say on the draft plan and share ideas on potential local sites for future affordable housing, once it was released for public consultation.

He said: “If they agree or disagree, please let us know.”