Herts Ad Comment: No SLP, what do you expect?

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STOCK Generic office - Credit: Archant

There were confusing responses to the news that 348 homes have been given approval for Green Belt land at Oaklands College.

St Albans district council (SADC) reacted with a mix of horror and indignation, vowing it was an absolute one-off and expressing ‘disappointment’ at the decision.

Yet this was the same council that had included a proposal for 1,000 new homes on the same site as part of the consultation for their (failed) Strategic Local Plan, in a bid to meet overall government housing targets.

Green Belt areas earmarked to be turned into strategic housing sites as part of the SLP included two plots of land east of Hemel Hempstead( for up to 2,500 homes), north west Harpenden, (500 homes), and at Oaklands College (1,000 houses). Surely senior figures within the council were aware of this?

There is still every likelihood that these additional homes will be included in the revised SLP, whenever that finally appears.

So why kick up a stink over the fact that just 348 homes have been given approval on appeal, unless it’s more a case of indignation about SADC losing control over decisions of this magnitude?

In fact, there was a degree of inevitability about this particular scheme winning approval, especially when you take into account the fact that it will pretty much secure the future of Oaklands College for generations.

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This decision means the redevelopment of the college’s facilities can finally go ahead, a project which has struggled to secure necessary funding after it lost a substantial grant in 2009.

Unfortunately Brexit means there is no longer any money coming from Brussels, and the district council would never be able to raise an equal amount through levies imposed on other developments.

In fact, the sale of this land was really the only option left on the table for Oaklands, and was a decision made reluctantly and only after a great deal of consideration.

Even the No Oaklands Housing Development Action Group, formed when the plans were first announced back in 2012, seems to have accepted the scheme, after disappearing without trace some years ago.

This £51 million windfall is sufficient to make the campus fit for purpose for the next 30 years, and you can only imagine how many students will benefit from these enhanced facilities over that time.

No, the real issue with regards to this appeal is the gaping hole in the council’s future plans where an SLP ought to be.

As we approach the 24th anniversary of the last local plan, there is no doubting that the responsibility for developments of this nature lie firmly on the shoulders of our elected representatives over this period, and until they finally get round to securing a feasible SLP for the next 20 odd years, we are likely to see even more landmark planning decisions made at appeal.