Neighbours vie for extra housing land in St Albans district

MP for Hemel Hempstead Mike Penning in front of the Crown Estate land

MP for Hemel Hempstead Mike Penning in front of the Crown Estate land - Credit: Photo supplied

Neighbouring and other councils pushing for a piece of St Albans to call their own are merely ‘protecting’ their own interests, a report has warned.

St Albans district council (SADC) has formally responded to calls from authorities vying to expand their urban footprint onto this area’s Green Belt.

With the local council currently updating its planning blueprint, the Strategic Local Plan (SLP), some of its counterparts in nearby areas, including Central Beds and Dacorum, have been using the opportunity to plug their own future growth requirements.

Central Beds council, which shares a boundary with Luton, told SADC that it should prepare to partly accommodate unmet need from other authorities.

It said during a recent consultation on the draft plan: “As you are aware, Luton’s unmet housing need is likely to be substantial.”

Central Beds advised SADC that options to meet the outstanding shortfall “may include land in the St Albans and district authority area”.

Local planning officers, who have been sifting through 325 submissions to the draft plan following the consultation, conceded that SADC might “need to consider the future position for Luton’s housing need”.

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But officers pointed out that although Central Beds had suggested this area should prepare to come to the aid of Luton, “particularly potentially expand development at northwest Harpenden into Central Beds,” Luton borough council itself had not asked it to do so.

Before possibly paving the way for such help, SADC is awaiting the results of a housing market report for Luton, particularly “if solutions are not found within Luton”.

The officers’ report on the SLP consultation findings, discussed at a recent planning policy committee meeting, noted ‘dissatisfaction’ among neighbouring councils on SADC’s duty to cooperate process.

The local council has been criticised by Dacorum, Hertsmere, Three Rivers and Watford councils for “substantially underestimating” the local housing need, as the SLP’s statistics are based on out-of-date data.

But local officers disputed such statements, saying that government planning rules did not require joint determination of development need, nor setting of housing targets in the SLP, and that such an opinion was down to ‘different interpretation’ among authorities.

However, a further consultant’s study has been commissioned to look again at this area’s future housing needs, with a report due next month.

In regards to calls from the likes of Hemel Hempstead MP Mike Penning for the council to more than double the number of homes proposed to be built near Redbourn - to 6,000 - officers said it was ‘difficult’ to see how this could be achieved, particularly as SADC’s housing densities did not support having more than 40 homes per hectare for expansion east of Hemel.

Officers said authorities’ objections should be seen ‘in context’ as four neighbouring areas were under pressure to accommodate “greater levels of development including significant Green Belt release that [their] current adopted plans do not provide for.

“The neighbouring councils appear to see themselves as attempting to ‘protect their interests’ in that respect.”

SADC has rejected its counterparts’ calls to delay advancing its draft blueprint.