People power quashes scheme for Verulam meadow site
PUBLISHED: 17:00 22 September 2016
Delighted residents celebrating their latest victory over potential development of a meadow adjoining their homes are questioning why they had to come up with a reason to refuse it which the district council appeared not to know about.
Verulam Residents Association (VRA) chairman Timothy Beecroft said members were ‘happy and relieved’ that an application from Cala Homes to change the use of Bedmond Lane Field for the keeping of a horse together with two accesses and two stables was refused at a St Albans planning committee on Monday night.
Councillors were looking at the application again after it went before them in March and they took the view that they would vote against it - contrary to the officer’s recommendation - if they had a valid reason to turn it down.
A member of VRA came up with a justifiable reason why the proposed development constituted inappropriate development in the Green Belt which was forwarded to the council.
It was based on a virtually identical application for change of use and building of stables in the Green Belt in Somerset in 2014 which was shown to be inappropriate as the applicants had failed to demonstrate that there were any of the very special circumstances that would be required to allow the proposal to be accepted.
VRA has been in a long-running battle to prevent the grazing of horses and stables on the meadow which is rich in flora and fauna. Horse grazing is seen as a precursor to an application for house building and as well as seeing off two planning applications, one of which was lost on appeal, VRA has also succeeded in getting the the land listed as an Asset of Community Value which gives some protection should it be sold.
But VRA is concerned that the current application was largely refused thanks to information on the relevant parts of planning law that it had provided.
Mr Beecroft said: “We’re happy to help but it’s a bit of a worry to say the least that the professional planners at the council were not apparently aware of the current state of the law in this most important area of development in the Green Belt until we told them.
“It means that dealing with this application has taken much longer and cost the council much more than it should have done.”
He pointed out that had the council applied planning law correctly when the current Cala Homes application and its predecessor in 2014 were first submitted, they would have been ‘nipped in the bud and we would all have been spared a great deal of costly paper-shuffling bureaucracy’.
And he also voiced concern that other similar applications might have been approved wrongly by the council, highlighting the fact that the current application only escaped being approved in March this year by the narrowest of margins.
Mr Beecroft, added: “Nevertheless, we are glad that the right decision has, finally, been made.”
Tracy Harvey, the council’s head of planning and building control, said: “We welcome representations on planning applications and look carefully at all the views put forward.
“We then reach decisions after considering a number of factors, including the legal background, and after weighing up the various views.”