Bowmans Cross development shelved as Hertsmere pulls Local Plan
Matthew Smith, Local Democracy Reporter
- Credit: Colney Heath Parish Council
A controversial masterplan for 12,160 new homes in neighbouring Hertsmere has been shelved, after the council admitted residents had rejected their proposals.
The council made the unexpected announcement during a meeting of full council on Wednesday, and said the decision had been backed by local MP Oliver Dowden.
The plan included a garden village of 6,000 homes to the south-east of St Albans district at Bowmans Cross, which it was feared would “coalesce” with both Colney Heath and London Colney.
Leader Cllr Morris Bright warned shelving the plan would leave the council open to speculative planning applications, but said he believed it was a risk worth taking.
The draft plan involved controversial plans to build over 9,000 homes on the Green Belt across the borough in the next 15 years, and had drawn over 18,000 responses during the consultation period.
Late last year, the borough council refused to pause its public consultation with Cllr Bright saying it was important to be “armed with the very evidence of the public strength of feeling” when challenging housing targets.
The announcement to scrap the plan came without consultation with opposition groups, who accused the administration of making the decision for political reasons.
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Addressing councillors, Cllr Bright said the public’s response meant the council could no longer continue with the plan but defended holding the consultation.
He said: “It’s clear, even from early shifts of responses, that our residents have clearly rejected the local plan and now the council must reject it too.
“The draft local plan showed how the borough could grow over the next 15 years and beyond by providing homes, infrastructure and jobs for future generations. All councils must have up to date local plans, and the government expects local authorities to have new local plans in place during 2023.
Cllr Bright acknowledged the decision meant the council was unlikely to meet this deadline, but said, “this potential decimation of large swathes of the Green Belt has been too much for local people and local councillors to accept”.
The leader said he now expected speculative applications, but said he was satisfied with the decision to go back to the drawing board.
Cllr Bright said: “We have to alert residents to these risks, however the Conservative-run administration believes these risks should be taken if the ultimate aim is to construct a plan that will gain traction and the support of local residents and local businesses.”
Cllr Bright also said the Labour group should be “punished” after describing the engagement process as a failure.
In his response, Labour group leader Cllr Jeremy Newmark accused the Conservative group of “political opportunism” in delaying any decision on the plans.
Cllr Newmark said: “They have tried to stage a dramatic announcement, but they have told us nothing. They have built up huge costs over the past two years in terms of officer time, extra staff and so on and so forth.
“It’s clear to me, without any detail having been provided, that this creates huge risk – risk of opportunistic planning applications, that are detrimental to the area being granted on appeal. That’s why we need a proper debate on this, residents need full information.”
The group leader said opposition councillors signed a requisition for an extraordinary council to be called within seven days, as well as local briefings to be held for residents.
Cllr Newmark also asked what advice the executive had sought before making the decision, and whether a new plan will be brought before May 2023’s local elections.
He added: “Isn’t this really about the fact you haven’t got the fortitude to bring a plan to this council before the elections? You’ve got turmoil in your group because they all thought they were going to lose their seats and you’re trying to pull the wool over the eyes of local people.”
In response to the claims Labour should be punished, Cllr Newmark said: “You should be punished in this administration for wasting money, for failing local people, for failing to deliver and for failing to respect the democratic processes.”
Liberal Democrat group leader Cllr Jerry Evans also accused the Conservative group of making the decision for political reasons, and said it was important to fight the targets imposed by the Government.
Cllr Evans said: “We’re pleased you’ve finally listened to us, but unfortunately in the meantime you have put this borough through this ridiculous local plan and all the heartache it has caused to so many local groups and so many individuals.
“We said this shouldn’t go out to consultation at that time because it was ridiculous – we were right. So what’s going to happen now, are we going to start all over again with a sensible plan, is that what’s happening?
“Unfortunately the damage has been done and you’ll find out in May 2023 how much damage you’ve done. You won’t be getting very many councillors in Bushey I will tell you – they don’t trust you any more in Bushey and for good reason they don’t trust you any more.”
Hertsmere becomes the latest council in Hertfordshire to push back on targets set by the planning inspector and to delay publication on their plan.
This month, Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council has indicated they will return to the planning inspector with a previous version of their plan to avoid extra green belt building, while Dacorum Borough Council delayed work on their plan last summer after residents objected to the level of building on green space.
St Albans district council is also in the early stages of their planning process after withdrawing their most recent draft plan in November 2020, and have admitted it is unlikely a new plan will be adopted before 2025.
The decision to pull the Local Plan was backed by Hertsmere MP Oliver Dowden, who said: "I welcome the council’s decision not to proceed with the draft Local Plan, following an unprecedented response from Hertsmere residents.
"Throughout the Local Plan process, I have urged residents to engage with the council’s consultation and I have frequently raised with councillors the scale of concern about the number of houses in the plan, as well as my own fears about the impact of this on the green spaces in the borough.
"I am delighted that so many residents engaged with the consultation, and that the council has listened and made the decision not to proceed with the plan in its current form. I think it is right that councillors look again at how best to deliver new houses in the borough and draw up a new plan which places the protection of green spaces at its heart.
"Meanwhile, I will continue my campaign to get the Housing Department to reconsider its approach to Hertsmere, where it is hugely difficult to meet housing targets without damaging the beautiful green spaces which make our area such a wonderful place to live.”