St Albans Council accused of “woolly thinking” on housing
ACCUSATIONS of “woolly thinking” have been levelled at the district council over its promise to ease traffic congestion while paving the way for more houses and shops to be built throughout St Albans.
Ruth Coles, a retired charity director who lives in Wheathampstead, has taken the district council to task for identifying infrastructure problems in a public consultation document but failing to offer solutions.
She is one of several people who have voiced concerns over the contents of the council’s core strategy for future large-scale residential, business and other development in the district. The proposals, which could pave the way for 4,250 homes to be built over the next 17 years, have been sparking controversy for some time.
While the strategy notes the need for additional retail development, it also highlights “serious traffic congestion” in the district and a need to improve air quality.
Ruth, who has lived in Wheathampstead for more than 40 years, said: “Traffic congestion wouldn’t be eased by putting in a supermarket. The council identifies problems but doesn’t give a clue about how to address those. It’s woolly, woolly thinking.”
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She added: “I’m concerned about the air quality when I walk around the town centre in Harpenden.”
Ruth described the council’s suggestion of having infill housing “when they haven’t worked out where the traffic movement will go” as one of several “strange inconsistencies” in the document.
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The council admits that there are many “complex factors” in attempting to deliver the right amount of development to meet local needs. It is aiming for a new housing target of 250 homes a year, including 100 affordable ones, until 2028.
A 15-acre greenfield site bordering Hemel Hempstead, near Redbourn, has been suggested as a potential location for 150 homes which has prompted freelance television producer, David Mitchell, who lives in the village to write to councillors asking them to look again at Spencers Park, a strategic housing location west of Cherry Tree Lane.
He said: “One hundred and fifty homes on 15 acres are too dense for the area. Would housing here really serve the needs of St Albans district being right on the edge of the region and being geographically part of Hemel Hempstead?
“Some nearby residents have suggested the land should be retained for agriculture as it is ideal for wheat production.”
Meanwhile, CLASH – Campaign by Locals Against Sewell Housing – a group formed to fight the developers’ bid to build 125 homes east of Harpenden Road, known as Sewell Park, was due to present a petition to full council last night against allocating the site as a strategic housing location.
The site sits between Woollams Playing Fields and St Albans Girls’ School and Harpenden Road resident Robert Kent maintains: “St Albans is an old market town creaking at every seam trying to cope with the number of people who live here. To pile more people into this area is madness.”
Although the council recently removed the site from its original list of strategic housing locations, it has asked the public whether Green Belt land should be considered for future housing.
Cllr Chris Brazier, the council’s planning portfolio holder, welcomed public debate over future development. He said a main goal of the proposals was to prompt comment as, “we don’t know yet how the infrastructure is going to be dealt with by this government.”
He explained: “We already know that across the county we are in an infrastructure deficit so what this document is saying is, this is how we see St Albans developing over the next 20 years. Do you agree and one can only deal with this when we get the infrastructure correct and council can only do that once we know what the government is offering.”
Cllr Brazier added: “We are not providing the solutions, we want to know if you agree with us. We need schools, we need health facilities, we need to plan for the ageing population.”
Asked about plans to include land near Redbourn for strategic housing, Cllr Brazier said St Albans was “unique” in that it boasted a city centre separated from fringe settlements by Green Belt land.
He went on: “We are still in talks with Dacorum Borough Council over whether that (site) will benefit St Albans or Dacorum. It’s an area which could be developed.”
The strategy for the location of future development is out for public consultation until February 7. For more information on the CLASH petition see www.clash1.com