St Albans district relieved of government housing demands

HOUSING targets for the district look likely to be scrapped after the coalition Government announced radical changes to planning structures.

The East of England Plan is set to be abolished as part of a drive to hand more planning power back to local communities, meaning proposals to build as many as 7,000 additional homes in the district up until 2031 are no longer in the frame.

More than 100,000 homes in the county as a whole had been proposed by the East of England Regional Assembly (EERA).

This was on top of an original figure of more than 7,000 homes which it imposed on St Albans in 2001 – 6,000 of these have already been built and the remainder will be fulfilled by upcoming developments such as the Harperbury Hospital site and Oaklands.

But while the district and county council had already agreed to honour the original target, there was strong opposition to the additional figures due to concerns about the impact on Green Belt land. Now EERA and the East of England Plan have been scrapped and decisions on future housing targets are likely to be devolved to the local authorities, as outlined in the new Government’s green paper on planning.

Planning portfolio holder Cllr Chris Brazier welcomed the news and said the authorities would now wait and see what the housing need is beyond 2021: “We do still need to look at land after 2021 as there is a housing need and we will still need to build new homes. But the number is not being imposed on us by central Government.”

He admitted the district council is still trying to identify sites on which to build as part of the Local Development Framework and this has included assessing Green Belt land due to the lack of available space in urban areas to meet demands.

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But Cllr Brazier stressed any development within the Green Belt would be strictly limited to brownfield or windfall sites and he said the council was no longer looking at any areas of search.

Derrick Ashley, executive member for planning at County Hall, said: “We fought the previous Government every step of the way over their plans for Hertfordshire, including our successful High Court challenge to the East of England Plan 2021, so we’re very pleased with this decision to scrap unrealistic housing targets.

“There is a growing need for new housing, but it is vital that these homes enhance local communities and, wherever possible, don’t encroach on our valuable Green Belt.

“We have said all along that the people who are in the best position to decide where to situate new homes are the people who live in the local area and have local knowledge.”

Hertsmere also welcomed the decision. Cllr Hannah David, portfolio holder for housing and planning, said: “We have long believed that housing targets should be set locally according to community needs and local demands. And whilst we will always continue to work towards meeting our identified local needs, the intention to abolish central targets means that we will have much more flexibility over how and where we do this and, it is hoped, greater control over protecting our Green Belt.”