Nursery housing scheme risks "over-development" of St Albans' Green Belt

PUBLISHED: 15:27 21 January 2014 | UPDATED: 15:27 21 January 2014

The entrance to Chester Nursery in Smallford

The entrance to Chester Nursery in Smallford

Archant

St Albans is to expand further towards Hatfield after the rejection of a scheme to allow construction of up to 22 homes in the Green Belt was overturned.

But the decision by the Planning Inspectorate, which includes the awarding of costs against St Albans district council, has been criticised by Colney Heath councillor Chris Brazier.

Planning inspector John Gray has approved the conversion of Chester Nursery, Oaklands Lane in Smallford, into a housing development, on appeal.

Cllr Brazier said: “The council had good reasons to refuse it, including that it is in the Green Belt and an over-development of the area.

“But the planning inspector said it was a brownfield site within the Green Belt.”

Describing the go-ahead as “a contentious decision”, he added: “I’m disappointed council officers weren’t more robust in their refusal.

“We opposed it initially because we thought it would change the character of the area.

“Twenty-two homes there is a major development, because it will result in 44 cars, and there is still the threat of nearly 350 homes possibly being built at Oaklands College [Smallford campus].”

Cllr Brazier warned: “If we keep building in this area it will lead to coalescence between Hatfield and St Albans.”

Mr Gray, in his decision, said the nursery was established in the 1930s and there was no planning permission to define precisely its lawful use.

It has been growing bedding plants and selling hanging baskets to commercial clients including landscape contractors.

Mr Gray said the existing nursery, “contributed to the impression that the appeal site is developed land, not countryside”.

He added: “Although one might argue that residential development would inevitably lead to an adjustment of the Green Belt boundary on a map and thus an encroachment into countryside, there would be no material visual encroachment compared to what exists.”

Mr Gray said the housing development would be a “visual improvement” on the nursery for those living from 44-52 Oaklands Lane, who would be able to see the new homes.

He awarded costs against the council, because, “it should have been obvious on a site inspection that the land proposed to be developed had substantial and permanent buildings, access ways and hard-standings upon it.”

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