Nearly 350 homes approved for St Albans Green Belt

Oaklands College logo

Oaklands College logo - Credit: Archant

Nearly 350 homes will be built on 13 hectares of St Albans Green Belt land by a higher education college.

Developers Taylor Wimpey, on behalf of Oaklands College, submitted an application for 348 houses on the Smallford campus in 2013 - but it was rejected by St Albans district council (SADC) partly because it was labelled inappropriate building that would damage agricultural land and trees.

Dilapidated college buildings would be refurbished as new education facilities as part of the scheme.

Planning Inspector Phillip Ware has now approved the application on appeal because of the special educational benefit of the plans, which can only be enabled with the development.

Out of the houses built, 121 will be affordable - and 60 per cent of those rented. Main access to the development will be from Sandpit Lane.

The decision notice reads: “Firstly the delivery of significant improvements to the college weighs very heavily in favour of the proposal. There is no significant evidence to demonstrate that the much-needed improvements to the college could be delivered by any other means.”

Mr Ware noted that in the absence of an up-to-date Strategic Local Plan (SLP), there is an “agreed lack of a five year housing land supply” which this development might help to stop gap.

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Adding: “Overall, there are persuasive material considerations which warrant a decision other than in accordance with the development plan. The considerations summarised above clearly outweigh the harm to the Green Belt and the limited harm to the character and appearance of the area, thereby justifying the proposal on the basis of very special circumstances.”

Former SADC Cllr, Agnes Hill, lives near the site. She said: “I am absolutely horrified by the whole thing. The biggest shortfall of course is that the council is still working from the SLP in 1994 and so we have no leg to stand on - we haven’t done what we are supposed to do with housing, so housing is now being imposed.”

She asked who will pay for the infrastructure needed to support all the new homes, describing schools and GPs in the surrounding area as already “bursting at the seams”.

Adding: “The council has left us up the creek without a paddle. Until the council get their act together and get a SLP we will have no leg to stand on.”

SADC Planning Portfolio Holder, Mary Maynard, said: “I can understand the decision under the special circumstances, being a very important college in an area that needs to improve and without the housing they won’t be able to do it. It’s important to recognise that it is a one off and developers need not think ‘oh good, we can build in Green Belt’, because there was a special reason for this.

“I am looking into the infrastructure for these 350 houses - there will be a clear need - I will make sure that Herts county council understand and make provision for that.”

She added this decision highlights the need for an up-to-date SLP: “People are very resistant to development but the reality is they either chose where it goes and have the option to discuss, agree and comment, or this sort of development will happen.

“We need to be architects of our own future.”

Head of planning and building control for SADC, Tracy Harvey, said: “We are disappointed at the outcome of the planning appeal. However, we do recognise that there were particular reasons why the Secretary of State has upheld the appeal.

“These relate directly to the unique educational benefits for Oaklands College, including £51 million in investment in new or refurbished teaching and administration facilities as well as student accommodation.”

She said the decision should not be taken as a signal that other Green Belt applications will be accepted because “that is very far from the case”.

Oaklands Principal Zoe Hancock said : “We are delighted to get this great news and it will help us achieve our vision of improving the facilities for our college.

“Our students and staff continue to contribute so much to the local community and by offering exceptional and highly sustainable learning facilities we will create an asset the community can truly be proud of.”