Housing bid by St Albans college is rejected

The proposed site of the Oaklands housing development

The proposed site of the Oaklands housing development - Credit: Archant

Green Belt supporters have cautiously welcomed a decision to throw out a contentious push to build about 350 homes on farmland in St Albans.

But while campaigners have won the first round of their fight against Oaklands College’s major scheme, the battle continues against a potential development of 1,000 homes at its Smallford campus.

On Monday, St Albans district council’s planning referrals committee rejected the college’s ambitious attempt to build 348 homes off Sandpit Lane, beyond the Verulam School playing fields.

The scheme was refused in line with a recommendation from planning officers, who said it was inappropriate, detrimental to the openness of the Green Belt and a loss of versatile agricultural land.

Oaklands, together with housebuilders Taylor Wimpey, had sought approval to build a mix of one and two bedroom flats, and homes with up to five bedrooms.

Their plan has been financially driven, as the scheme was devised to help pay for a major overhaul of dilapidated educational facilities at the campus, following the loss of a promised substantial grant by the Learning and Skills Council five years ago.

Commenting on the impact of the evaporation of that funding, Oaklands’ principal Zoe Hancock told councillors: “We have been stuck since that point.”

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She reminded them that the authority’s draft Strategic Local Plan, the planning blueprint for the district, pinpoints Oaklands’ fields as a potential site for 1,000 future homes.

But councillors disagreed, saying that to build there would result in a merging of land between St Albans and Hatfield particularly as the housing density, at 26.4 homes per hectare, would result in a “cramped development”.

While sympathising with the college’s plight, councillors said they feared neighbouring residents would suffer as a result of increased traffic.

After the meeting, Ms Hancock said: “We are of course very disappointed by the decision not to support the much needed development of the college.

“We will be reviewing our options but we remain absolutely committed to providing the very best facilities to current and future students.”

Local Green Belt campaigner Gaynor Clarke said while she cautiously welcomed the scheme’s rejection she was concerned about the outcome of the draft plan, recently under consultation.

She said: “The college is a necessary institution, but Green Belt land is something we should treasure.”

Cllr for Marshalswick North Geoff Churchard said the majority of residents would be “relieved” about the scheme’s rejection.

And Cllr for Ashley Anthony Rowlands hailed it as “a significant planning marker for the future.

“The Green Belt land owned by Oaklands is too important to be sacrificed for what is termed ‘enabling development’.”