Squabbling St Albans councillors told to get their act together over Strategic Local Plan

THE political fallout over a push to build homes on St Albans Green Belt has escalated as district councillors play the blame game over the stalling of their contentious planning blueprint.

At a recent full St Albans district council (SADC) meeting angry councillors argued over a proposal to begin an independent review of Green Belt boundaries and potential major housing locations.

Members voted 28 for and 28 against the proposal, which was narrowly carried after St Albans Mayor Cllr Eileen Harris used her casting vote in favour of the review.

While the survey is being conducted, the council’s long-awaited Strategic Local Plan (SLP), setting out future development until 2028, will have to be temporarily shelved.

This outcome has resulted in anger spilling out of council chambers, with members bickering over the impact on local development.

Cllr Dean Russell (Con) last week set up a website entitled “What Have You Done?!” which purports to hold councillors to account for “failing” to protect the district from developers by voting for the Green Belt survey.

He has named each councillor who voted for the review. The councillor also warned “opportunistic developers will use this opportunity to put in applications everywhere and anywhere they like”.

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He said it would result in “huge costs to local taxpayers and additional hours by council officers fighting housing development appeals”.

Cllr Russell added there was a risk that SADC would not be able to adopt its local plan by 2014, as required by the Government, and thus not introduce the community infrastructure levy, “potentially losing the district �1 million to provide much-needed improvements”.

Ironically he told the Herts Advertiser that he set up the website after being “flabbergasted” at the decision, yet he was “not trying to stir things up”.

Cllr Russell added: “I don’t want to be a scaremonger but after the meeting a developer was overheard saying, ‘thanks, that decision has just made me a million’.”

But the site brought a scathing response from a man who posted: “I’m amazed how politicians of many hues are blaming other parties but trying to explain to residents that it’s not their party’s fault.

“Please stop throwing rocks at each other like cavemen and start working with residents to develop a plan that works. Please get your act together.”

The website also hit a nerve with opposition councillors, with Cllr Malachy Pakenham (Lab) concerned that Cllr Russell used official photos of members from the SADC website, and that he was “fanning the flames of division”.

Cllr Martin Leach (Lab) labelled the website as “fake”. He added: “Countless councils around the country have either carried out a Green Belt review or been told by [planning] inspectors to do so in order to make their plans sound.”

He also hit out at planning portfolio holder, Cllr Teresa Heritage’s comments, posted on the website, that it was up to a “professional” to decide whether to approve the plan rather than district councillors who “have no planning qualifications”.

Cllr Leach asked her whether “because I’m a plumber I shouldn’t have a view?”