St Albans future housing plan under spotlight at High Court

High Court

High Court - Credit: Archant

Controversial St Albans housing plans came under the spotlight today (June 21) in the culmination of extensive legal disagreements between neighbouring councils.

Green Belt land for St Albans' SLP at Chiswell Green Farm, which was included in the SLP

Green Belt land for St Albans' SLP at Chiswell Green Farm, which was included in the SLP - Credit: Archant

In 2016 councils geographically surrounding St Albans district council (SADC) - Dacorum borough council, Hertsmere borough council, Three Rivers district council, Watford borough council - made representations against SADC’s Strategic Local Plan (SLP) submitted last August.

The SLP sets out overarching policies on major development throughout the district until 2031, including construction of 4,000 homes in the Green Belt, and identifies land for new infrastructure, commerce, industry, residential and social amenities.

The other councils, grouped to form the South West Herts Group (SWHG), argue SADC ploughed ahead with housing plans without giving them due consideration - even on issues which they say will affect them like housing close to their infrastructure.

In November 2016 inspector David Hogger recommended the SLP was withdrawn because he said it had not fulfilled an obligation of co-operation.

SADC pursued a hearing at High Court today in the hope that the judge will quash the inspector’s decision.

Matthew Reed QC argued in front of Sir Ross Cranston today that the mere fact discussions had taken place between SADC and other councils is evidence of attempt to co-operate with them, and the obligation does not include a requirement to agree.

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He said disputes pivoted on housing quotas - consultants on behalf of SADC conducted their own evaluation which differed from a joint one produced by the other councils combined.

The authorities were forced to agree to disagree, Mr Reed argued: “What is being said by the council [SADC] was in effect there was a crystallisation issue that lay between the parties in respect of the housing market area, that there could not be any further discussion and the duty of co-operation in respect of that central issue had been fulfilled.

“There had been clear debate and the debate reflects what my lord called reaching an impasse.”

Mr Reed argued St Albans should be considered as a separate housing market to the other councils in the SWHG, partly because of it’s proximity to London.

He called the inspector’s decision “irrational” and based on “flawed logic”.

Mark Westmoreland Smith will speak on behalf of the Secretary of State tomorrow at 10am.