Herts Ad Comment: Why transparency is essentual

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STOCK Generic office - Credit: Archant

As promised, this week we have cast a closer eye on the development sites proposed by Herts county council for possible inclusion in the new St Albans Local Plan, and as expected, the sheer scale of the mooted housing allocation is far beyond what might have initially seemed apparent in the county’s announcement.

Should all of these sites be developed, the south of the district will end up taking the lion’s share of new homes in the LP, something which has naturally alarmed local councillors, and not without reason.

It was therefore surprising to be accused of prejudicing any objective consideration of potential sites by Colney Heath parish council chairman Peter Cook.

He said any coverage could lead non-HCC landowners to feel they were being treated differently, and could call both the whole evaluation process and the Local Plan into question as a result.

Mr Cook suggested that because county councillor David Williams and the majority of the SADC Cabinet represented Harpenden, then the south of the district faced being used as a dumping ground for development in order to protect the north.

(In fact, Harpenden councillors have been warned they must take a share of homes in their wards, and the final Local Plan will reflect that accordingly.)

He added that by scrutinising the HCC sites in the Herts Advertiser then not only could we undermine the Local Plan, but we would not be representing residents’ views from across the whole district.

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It’s one thing to be accused of taking a particular angle before any article has been published, including a perceived bias against a section of our audience, but quite another to be blamed for the predicted collapse of the Local Plan as a result.

Mr Cook completely misinterprets what we are trying to achieve in our reporting of the highly contentious issue of new housing, and also suggests that the entire process could somehow be prejudiced by any degree of coverage, when all of this information is already in the public domain.

Had Mr Cook waited to see what approach we were taking to the HCC sites, he would surely have realised that we were actually providing a much more objective look at the proposals than he anticipated, albeit with the usual balance we strive to achieve in our news coverage.

Just as we looked in detail at the 1,000 homes scheme planned for near the River Ver last month, we will be investigating all of the land put forward in response to the Call for Sites, not just that owned by HCC.

This level of transparency is essential if our readers are to enjoy a full understanding of the different schemes proposed for inclusion in the Local Plan, and burying our heads in the sand and hoping they will go away is most certainly not the answer.

In fact, we firmly believe that providing as much information as possible at each stage of the process will ensure residents are aware of what developments might be proposed for their neighbourhoods, and they can then respond appropriately in the next round of consultation.