150 homes plan for Green Belt land in north St Albans is approved
Matthew Smith, Local Democracy Reporter
- Credit: Google Earth
Developers have been given the green light to build up to 150 new homes on Green Belt land in north St Albans, despite more than 1,500 people signing a petition against the plans.
The new development on Harpenden Road will see dozens of new houses built on ex-agricultural land near to Heartwood Forest, after outline planning permission was granted at the district council’s planning referrals committee on Monday night.
The plans had been submitted on behalf of developers Hunston Properties and the Sewell Trust, and will see up to 150 homes built on the former farming land.
Residents raised concerns about the impact so many new homes could have on traffic between St Albans and Harpenden, as well as damage to the Green Belt between the two areas.
As a major Green Belt development, the proposals will now be sent to the Secretary of State who has the power to veto the plans within three weeks of receipt.
The current proposals set out plans for a total of 132 homes – including 24 two-bedroom flats, 52 three-bedroom houses, 54 four-bedroom houses and two five-bedroom houses – but the make-up of any development could be subject to change.
The developers have committed to making 40 per cent of the units affordable homes, across a mix of the sizes.
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The Harpenden Road site had previously been included in SADC’s Draft Local Plan, which earmarked a number of sites to be taken off the Green Belt and to open them up for developments.
After the Local Plan was withdrawn last year, the developers argued that the significant number of homes and provision of affordable housing would constitute the ‘very special circumstances’ needed to build on the Green Belt.
The applicants said the benefits of their plan – including the commitment to affordable housing, new infrastructure and being able to deliver housing more quickly than waiting until the publication of a new Local Plan – “would comprise very special circumstances to sufficient outweigh the identified harm in accordance with the NPPF [National Planning Policy Framework],” and council officers recommended the plan was approved.
However, residents have criticised the proposals and warned building work could affect the ecological corridor with Heartwood Forest and Beach Bottom Dykes, as well as lead to congestion for residents.
Campaign by Locals Against Sewell Housing (CLASH) said any plan to implement ‘Dutch-style’ sustainable transport for the site is “hopelessly optimistic and entirely unrealistic”, and said approval would “allow the developer to wreak irreversible harm to the wildlife value of the site”.
Vice-chair Cllr Geoff Harrison argued that Herts county council said they did not foresee any major traffic problems in their report, and that could make it difficult to defend at appeal if the application was rejected.
Cllr Harrison added: ”We’ve got to look at the application on its merits as it’s in front of us. I’ve seen a number of applications for this site and I think this is about the best one we’ve had all the way along, so let’s move forward.”
Councillors voted to approve the outline plan 5-4, with one abstention.
However, Gee Smedley from CLASH criticised the councillor’s comments following the decision: “Our reaction is that we find it very, very difficult to understand how with flawed traffic data and flawed ecological data this could be passed quite frankly, and the vice-chair’s comments related to ‘we must take the HCC documents and we can’t question it', is just false – that is not part of local government procedure not to question documents at this level.”
The group questioned the county council’s reports on traffic in the area, and commissioned their own professional review which was submitted to the committee, as well as their concerns about the impact on wildlife in the area.
Ms Smedley added: “It’s absolutely astonishing that they haven’t taken this and seen the flaws in it, and allowed this to go through on Green Belt.”
The outline permission green lights the site for development and allows more planning work to begin on the site, subject to the Secretary of State's approval and officers and the developer being able to agree on an appropriate S106 agreement.
Developers will need to submit more detailed plans, such as the number of dwellings and parking provision, before any building work can begin, although this will be decided by council officers, rather than councillors.
The outline permission is granted subject to a number of conditions, including 40 per cent affordable housing permission, a contribution to ensure a biodiversity net gain of 10 per cent, as well as a financial contribution towards the William Bird Pavilion sports ground.
History of the scheme