Oaklands College pressing ahead with Smallford homes to pay for its future

OAKLANDS College has announced it is pursuing plans to have possibly hundreds of houses built at its Smallford campus to help pay for a �50 million redevelopment project.

Principal Zoe Hancock said that “after much thought” the college had decided to press ahead with a planning application.

This will strike a blow to local campaigners who have tried to put a halt to building on Green Belt land off Sandpit Lane, beyond Verulam School’s playing fields.

Oaklands decided to take immediate action after its hand was effectively forced by St Albans district council’s (SADC) decision to temporarily shelve its Strategic Local Plan (SLP), earmarking potential sites for future development, including up to 350 homes on the campus’s fields.

The local plan stalled after the council agreed to a review of Green Belt boundaries and potential housing locations throughout the district.

This followed a petition from the No Oaklands Housing Action Group (NOHAG), which fears urban sprawl and coalescence between St Albans and neighbouring Hatfield.

Councillors had been set to approve publication of the local plan for public comment, ahead of submitting the document to the Secretary of State for his perusal.

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Zoe said: “It is clear that the failure to have a local plan in place will lead to a number of developers putting in applications for development on Green Belt sites across the district.

“There is a very real danger that these may be successful on appeal as the presumption will be in favour of sustainable development.

“Oaklands College has decided it will also have to progress an application whilst the Green Belt review and local plan continues its course, as there is a real possibility that other developments secure planning and will meet the housing supply for the next five to ten years.”

Taylor Wimpey has been appointed to take the lead on the application.

Zoe went on: “As developers they are much better placed that the college to understand the planning and transport issues surrounding a proposed application.

“This is particularly necessary given that they will need to be competing with numerous other developers around the area.

“I am sorry that we have to take this route but the college has a responsibility to look after the interests of its students.”

The college was forced to seek alternative funding for its revamp after a major grant fell through several years ago.

Money raised from the sale of land for any housing would be reinvested in replacing dilapidated facilities at Smallford.

The application is expected to be submitted in March next year, but a figure has not yet been released for the number of homes.

A spokeswoman for NOHAG declined to comment on Oaklands’ announcement.

However St Albans district councillor for Colney Heath Chris Brazier said while the college offered an educational benefit, “we are not prepared to have 350 homes in one area”.

He warned: “That will lead to the coalescence between St Albans and Hatfield.”

He questioned the need to fund educational facilities on the back of housing, suggesting the college instead approach St Albans MP Anne Main to help access government funding.