Paying the price for St Albans Green Belt Review

A JOINT review of St Albans’ Green Belt boundary, future housing need and potential housing sites could cost up to �120,000 according to a district council report.

The combined study of locations for new housing developments, housing need and a Green Belt boundary review will take up to nine months to complete, St Albans district council’s (SADC) cabinet was recently told.

The boundary review was triggered by a petition presented by No Oaklands Housing Action Group (NOHAG), which has been campaigning against the building of up to 350 homes at Oaklands College.

Councillors at an earlier full council meeting had narrowly agreed to the review, resulting in the temporary shelving of the controversial Strategic Local Plan (SLP), which maps out future development in the area for the next two decades.

However this has caused consternation among the Tories. They fear that as a result there will effectively be development by appeal until the plan is finalised and officially approved by the Secretary of State.

Cabinet agreed to commission the independent review of Green Belt boundaries, housing need and locations, and discussed the implications of stalling the SLP. Cllr Daniel Chichester-Miles said: “We are spending a lot of money on eroding our defence of the Green Belt.”

But the council’s interim head of planning Simon Rowberry said while the council was “clearly not in the best of positions in terms of having stalled the SLP” it was hoped the final cost of the joint study would be closer to �75,000.

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A report to the district council’s cabinet said that despite NOHAG’s wishes to keep Oaklands’ fields out of the Green Belt review, thus protecting it from development, the independent study would have to include it.

To leave out Oaklands would potentially expose the council to a legal challenge that it had pre-determined the outcome, and a local plan based on the findings of the study which excluded a site would thus also be open to challenge.

Council planning officers told cabinet they would have further discussions with their counterparts in neighbouring areas about their housing plans, including Welwyn Hatfield borough council, which hopes to pave the way for a gypsy and travellers’ site and thousands of new homes near this district.

Cabinet was told the Planning Inspectorate has recently examined Dacorum borough council’s core strategy for Hemel Hempstead, and criticised its “shortcomings”.

Planning inspector David Hogger said he was concerned about a lack of a Green Belt review and the “limited emphasis” on the role neighbouring local authorities could play in accommodating some of Dacorum’s housing needs, including land east of Hemel in St Albans district.

Cllr Martin Leach said the district council’s strategic local plan would be “more robust” following the three-pronged survey.

But portfolio holder for planning Cllr Teresa Heritage said the council would be without an adopted plan until at least May 2015: “In the meantime, there are significant risks that could affect the council’s ability to protect the district from inappropriate development.”