St Albans draft Local Plan suspended amid ‘serious concerns’
- Credit: Pete Stevens
St Albans’ draft Local Plan has been suspended due to “serious concerns” about legal compliance and soundness.
The Local Plan underwent examination hearings last week, which were broadcast live on the district council's website. The draft plan identifies opportunities for large-scale future housing, commercial development, infrastructure and environmental protection.
Cllr Jamie Day, the council's portfolio holder for planning, said: "The inspectors' decision to cancel the examination hearings is very disappointing.
"All members of the council want to advance our Local Plan so that we can get on with the challenge of providing much-needed new housing in the district along with the infrastructure required to support it.
"This delay in our attempts to adopt a Local Plan that identifies land for future development is very frustrating for both us and our residents.
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"A huge amount of work has gone into producing the draft plan, including intensive public consultations and considerable co-operation with other local authorities and interested parties.
"Once the inspectors inform us of the reasons for their decision, we will respond in detail."
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According to a letter from examining inspectors Louise Crosby and Elaine Worthington, the three days of examination hearings, between Tuesday, January 21 and Thursday, January 23, raised "serious concerns in relation to legal compliance and soundness".
The letter said "It would not be a good use of anyone's time for the next hearing sessions to go ahead at this stage.
"We understand how important it is for the council to be able to move forward to get an up to date local plan in place, and that you will be disappointed with what we are saying here. However, we have only come to this view following a great deal of thought and after hearing all the evidence from both the council and representatives."
The inspectors said they would be providing more details about their concerns "as soon as possible". They had previously written to the council in July raising a number of issues,
including the council's approach in identifying sites to be released from the Green Belt for housing.
Further hearings were due to take place next week and the week after, but have now been cancelled.
Cllr David Yates, an independent Park Street councillor, said the suspension of the plan was due to the controversial strategic rail freight interchange, which was approved for the former Radlett Aerodrome site. Over the three days of consultation, inspectors discussed building a major housing development, called the 'Park Street Garden Village' on the land instead.
Cllr Yates said: "The sad fact is that the site's inclusion was pointless as well as ill-advised.
"Two public enquiries, High Court judgements, and a succession of Secretaries of State had all concluded that a desperate national need for rail freight interchanges - and only a desperate national need for rail freight interchanges - could outweigh the harm to the Green Belt of a built development on this site.
"The district council, the Herts Advertiser, STRiFE (Stop The Rail Freight Interchange), and just about every local group had campaigned against the freight terminal for years and failed.
"I believe it's important that all councillors acknowledge that including the Park Street site for housing was a reckless and irresponsible thing to do."
Shadow portfolio holder for planning Cllr Richard Curthoys said: "It's hardly surprising this has happened. The Lib Dem minority administration cancelled every planning policy committee meeting and choose not to consult with other parties at council and to adopt a policy of secrecy on the plan, maintaining that a 'we know best' policy would suffice.
"Well now we are in a worse position then before we started. The district is still without a Local Plan and as a consequence we are vulnerable to large-scale planning applications which will be difficult to refuse."
David Mitchell, chair of Redbourn Parish Council, said: "I am not surprised that the examination has been suspended as the Local Plan was seriously flawed.
"Redbourn Parish Council felt there was a lack of explanation as to how Green Belt sites were justified, and not enough work had been done on infrastructure provision and environmental issues. Hopefully these major concerns will now be properly addressed so that the right houses can be built in the right places."