Is it the end of the line for Green Belt homes project behind St Albans Girls' School?

PUBLISHED: 21:00 12 August 2015

The proposed site of Sewell Park

The proposed site of Sewell Park

Archant

The four-year planning row over a controversial Green Belt housing development has been dealt a death blow by new Communities Secretary, Greg Clark.

Just one month after turning down another contentious Green Belt scheme - for a massive county incinerator near St Albans - Mr Clark has given the thumbs down to Sewell Park, to the rear of 112-156B Harpenden Road.

But while the district council is hailing the victory, a planning consultant engaged to promote development of the 12-acre site said it was not the end of the road for Sewell Park, planned to be built between Woollams playing field and St Albans Girls’ School.

Since 2011, Hunston Properties has been trying to win approval for a mixed development of family houses, a care home and tennis courts, through a variety of schemes.

It has so far cost the council over £200,000 to fight the schemes.

Mr Clark’s dismissal follows an inquiry held by his planning inspector, Frances Mahoney, in July last year in relation to two separate appeals submitted by Hunston.

One was for scheme for 116 houses, a 72-bed care home and two tennis courts, while the second proposal was for a reduced version, for 85 homes and two tennis courts.

The former scheme was initially dismissed at appeal in 2013 – a decision which was later quashed after being challenged in the High Court.

But the council appealed to the Court of Appeal, with a judgement concluding the scheme should be resubmitted to the Secretary of State for re-hearing and determination.

In a decision released on Monday (11), Mr Clark said that both proposals “would significantly reduce the openness of the Green Belt, to its considerable detriment and would amount to unrestricted sprawl”.

He said the 116-home bid was out of scale and character with the surroundings and that it would “unacceptably intrude into the open character of the countryside landscape”.

But Mr Clark warned that the council was unable to demonstrate a five-year supply of housing land, adding there was a “significant shortfall in the provision of affordable housing in the district”.

A spokesman for Campaign by Locals Against Sewell Housing (CLASH) welcomed the dismissal.

He said: “This is an outstanding result for the protection of green field Green Belt sites, the local community and the council’s planning team, whose resolute position on Green Belt development has been vindicated.

“This is also a major set-back for opportunistic developers especially in light of government policy which is slowly playing into their hands.”

St Albans council leader and planning portfolio holder, Cllr Julian Daly, said: “I’m pleased that the planning inspector has supported the council’s judgement.”

David Lane, a planning consultant who appeared at the inquiry for Hunston, said while the developer was “naturally disappointed” the rejection was not unexpected.

The firm will now pin its hopes on the possible inclusion of the site for future housing in the council’s draft Strategic Local Plan, which is still being finalised.

Hunston has six weeks to lodge a High Court challenge against the decision.

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