St Albans Council leader stonewalls planning expert over failed strategic plan
- Credit: Archant
St Albans business leaders were left astonished and unimpressed when the district council’s boss peevishly refused to answer a question on the district’s failed planning blueprint.
Over 120 people attended the St Albans District Chamber of Commerce business breakfast meeting last Thursday (8) at Verulam Golf Club, off London Road.
The event was held for the Chamber’s annual update from St Albans district council executive leader Cllr Julian Daly, and chief executive James Blake on issues of interest to the business sector.
However, Cllr Daly annoyed some in the room when he fobbed off a question about the council’s failed Strategic Local Plan (SLP).
Planning inspector David Hogger recently said the blueprint, which sets out strategic sites for future expansion, should be withdrawn, and a revised one submitted as there was “little evidence” the council had met its duty to cooperate with nearby authorities, including on cross-boundary issues.
David Lane, principal of DLA Town Planning, said to Cllr Daly: “You said the SLP has been stalled. Have you given any consideration to [a] housing supply joint plan with Dacorum [council], who are upset with your strategic plan, with a common team of planners, and perhaps reporting back to a common committee for all three councils and help address the duty to cooperate?”
David also referred to the SLP earmarking Green Belt land east of Hemel Hempstead in Redbourn parish for 2,500 homes, and the inspector’s comments on the district council’s need for a more rigorous approach to cooperate.
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He asked whether, given the plan’s rejected status, council was risking the “alternative, that the government will put more pressure on you, to come up with an answer” to cross-boundary housing issues.
Cllr Daly said: “No is the answer to your question.”
Initially there was laughter in the room, as people waited for a full response from him, but when it was clear there was none forthcoming, an annoyed Steve Walker, managing director of St Albans estate agent Collinson Hall, prodded: “Why? Sorry, that’s really rude. Why are you so trite? This is a serious question.”
Cllr Daly replied: “The question was have you considered it, and the answer is ‘no, we haven’t’.”
Steve responded: “I think it does deserve a longer answer.”
Cllr Daly said: “Would you like to re-shape the question then?”
Steve said: “I think David has made the point that the inspector has firmly refuted your approach to the planning, where you have a duty to cooperate and David was suggesting that you haven’t done so. Why don’t you speak to Dacorum?”
Cllr Daly said: “I didn’t say we didn’t speak to them, I said we hadn’t considered doing a joint plan with Dacorum, which was the question.
“I also take issue with your interpretation of the inspector’s comments. His comment was we hadn’t provided evidence of duty to cooperate. Tracy [Harvey, head of planning] and I and others have had multiple meetings with Dacorum and Welwyn Hatfield and Central Bedfordshire, Hertsmere and Three Rivers, Stevenage, North Herts and East Herts.
“Clearly if he’s [planning inspector] not satisfied we have provided the evidence, we will have to work out how to do it. We did ask back in September for a meeting with our neighbours, hopefully they will now allow us to meet them in January. We don’t know if they are going to put together a joint plan, such as David was saying, but the straight answer to his question was, no we haven’t considered it. And I don’t believe they have either.”
He said that Dacorum had had ample opportunity to bring up such a combined plan, as “we asked them if they were looking to put housing on our land”.
The neighbouring authority was also asked whether it could take some of St Albans’ housing as this district has more Green Belt constraints, according to Cllr Daly, but ‘they didn’t take it up’.
After the meeting, David Lane said he feared that the government could take over the plan to see it through to completion.
One of those attending the event later tweeted that he was “utterly shocked by the contempt shown by Councillor Daly, his disrespect during the Q&A was appalling”.