St Albans asked to help ‘capacity capped’ Luton with housing

Cllr Julian Daly has rejected calls for neighbouring councils to use St Albans for their housing

Cllr Julian Daly has rejected calls for neighbouring councils to use St Albans for their housing - Credit: Archant

A bold bid has been made to push St Albans into paving the way to help Luton meet its ‘substantial’ housing need, by accommodating its future population overflow.

St Albans' expansion is mooted in the council's draft Strategic Local Plan

St Albans' expansion is mooted in the council's draft Strategic Local Plan - Credit: Archant

Luton is apparently struggling to cope with expansion and may need neighbouring sites provided to help ease housing pressures, according to one of 325 submissions to St Albans district council’s (SADC) draft Strategic Local Plan.

Central Beds council, which shares a boundary with Luton, told SADC it was ‘surprised’ that this area’s planning blueprint proposing sites for future development until 2031 “does not acknowledge nor appear to consider the potential to accommodate an element of unmet need from other authorities in the area, in particular Luton.

“While St Albans is not within the Luton housing market area, it is geographically closer than, for example Bedford.

“As you are aware, Luton’s unmet housing need is likely to be substantial.”

Central Beds quoted an October 2015 report on Luton’s and Central Beds’ strategic housing need for 17,800 homes from 2011-31.

The authority added: “However, as Luton borough council’s estimate of its urban capacity is around 7,000 homes, the borough is considered to be ‘capacity capped’.”

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It warned that Luton’s unmet housing need over the next two decades is about 10,800 and that a “significant element” will need to be accommodated elsewhere.

Central Beds advised SADC that options to meet the outstanding shortfall “may include land in the St Albans and district authority area”.

In other submissions to the SLP, neighbouring authorities have slammed the district council’s draft expansion plans over the next two decades as ‘unsound’ and they also criticised it for failing to cooperate with them.

They particularly questioned the number of homes proposed to be built within this district - stated as 436 in the draft strategic plan. Welwyn Hatfield borough council alluded to an alternative housing report commissioned by four authorities based in south west Herts, which St Albans declined to join, suggesting between 650 and 700 homes should be built here each year.

St Albans’ housing figures are based on a 10-year migration scenario, but Dacorum, Hertsmere, Three Rivers and Watford councils dispute them, saying they “substantially underestimate” the local housing need, as the statistics are based on out-of-date data.

Welwyn Hatfield admitted that “there is no one correct methodology” in determining housing numbers, but it warned that it does not have capacity to accommodate any shortfall not met in St Albans.

It added: “The plan is not currently effective with regards to cross-boundary strategic matters or the duty to cooperate.”

Three Rivers said it had not been asked to participate in working out this district’s housing or employment need, nor the setting of “an appropriate target.

“The rationale for St Albans being a self-contained housing market area is not clear, nor is the selection of the housing target.”

Hertsmere borough said there was “significant under-provision of homes” and this and other ‘failings’ in SADC’s draft plan – recently the subject of a six-week-long public consultation – will “put pressure on all other south west Herts authorities to accommodate the unmet needs of St Albans council, in a situation where all the other authorities regard St Albans as being part of the same market area.”

SADC’s executive leader, and planning portfolio holder, Cllr Julian Daly, said he had yet to read through all 325 submissions on the SLP, but he rejected criticism of a lack of cooperation on cross-boundary issues as meetings have been held with neighbouring authorities.

However, he suggested that Luton should look to supplying housing within its own boundaries as this district “is already giving up more Green Belt land than anyone else has offered.”

He backed the findings of SADC’s reports provided by consultants for its draft plan to help it determine the appropriate number of homes to be built, adding that the SLP had been, and would continue to be, subject to “democratic scrutiny and if it appears to have something wrong, we will make some changes, but if we don’t think it’s wrong, we will put it in front of the planning inspector.”