Pleas to ‘think again’ over Harpenden allotments site
A CALL to the district council to reconsider its decision to reject a bid to build 20 affordable homes on an allotment site has come from Harpenden town councillors.
In a surprise move, St Albans council’s cabinet decided last week that it would not be prepared to give permission for land it owns to be used for an access road to cross into the Westfields allotment site which the town council wanted to see developed for housing.
That was despite two previous bids to use Hyde Close as an access to the site which had been approved by the district council.
In a statement this week, town councillors hit out at the cabinet for ignoring their responsibility to the community and ignoring the need for much-needed affordable housing by blocking the development of the Westfield site.
The town council maintains that such housing is desperately needed in Harpenden where only one affordable house is planned and that is in 2011-2012.
They point out that many have been lost by right to buy and the last affordable homes built in Harpenden were in 2008 and totalled 14 - all of which were taken immediately.
The town council also expressed its surprise that despite the clear support of the officers, the portfolio holders in the council’s cabinet changed their recommendation just before the meeting. And they do not accept that a perceived lack of allotments and green spaces should have thwarted the development, arguing that there are sufficient in the area.
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They point out that the site was designed to relieve the pressure to build on Green Belt land on the outskirts of the town and expressed their collective “deep disappointment at the lack of any social conscience” displayed by the cabinet.
Town and district councillor Mike Wakeley, who chairs the Westfield allotments land working party, said the decision by cabinet had come, “totally out of the blue” after protracted delays in making a decision about the access.
He said that the town council had accepted that Hyde Close might not now be the best access to the site but would have been happy with Beeching Close or Willoughby Road as suitable entrances to the site - both involving strips of land owned by the district council.
Cllr Wakeley, who said that the working party met on Monday to discuss four tenders they received to develop the site despite the district council decision, said: “We are really really disappointed.”
They have asked the cabinet to reconsider the decision, which was taken in the wake of strong local opposition to the scheme, and are also asking for it to be called in by a district council overview and scrutiny committee in the hope it can be referred back to cabinet.
Patrick Fisher, a local resident and trustee of Harpenden Mencap, has also hit out at the cabinet decision, describing it as compounding the view that only the wealthy can afford to live in Harpenden.
He said: “This decision by the district council excludes those on low incomes at the expense of the better off in Harpenden. The councillors have completely ignored their housing policy in favour of people with houses and gardens who want more but don’t need more.
“It is very, very sad and totally irresponsible of councillors who don’t seem to realise the issues this raises. It is very nice to have green spaces around homes but these are people who have houses and gardens already.”