St Albans Green Belt homes development bid wins High Court judgement

Wildflower field at Sewell Park, St Albans

Wildflower field at Sewell Park, St Albans - Credit: Alyson Northedge

CONTROVERSIAL plans for construction of 116 new homes and a 72-bed care home in the Green Belt near St Albans have been put back on track by a top judge.

The ambitious proposals for a greenfield site off Harpenden Road, Sewell Park, close to school playing fields and St Albans Girls School, were thwarted when St Albans City and District Council refused planning permission.

That decision was later upheld by a Government planning inspector who found that developers, Hunston Properties Limited, had failed to show the “very special circumstances” needed to justify inappropriate development of the Green Belt.

However, Judge Mark Pelling QC, sitting at Manchester High Court, today ruled the inspector made a “fundamental” legal error and directed the Department of Communities and Local Government to look again at the plans.

The judge said the inspector was “wrong in law” to base her assessment of the projected need for new housing in the area on a revoked planning policy and had misconstrued and misapplied the Government’s national planning policy framework.

Hunston insists there is evidence that 688 new homes will have to be built in the St Albans area every year until 2028 to meet unmet housing demand. The company says that the council faces a shortfall of more than 1,400 new homes over the next five years.

It argues that, in the absence of a strategic local plan for the area, central Government projections are the best evidence of real unmet housing demand and that the need for new homes ‘clearly outweighed’ Green Belt objections.

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However, in rejecting the proposals, the inspector had accepted council arguments that only 360 new homes needed to be built annually and that target could be met by sites which had already been allocated for residential development.

The inspector said Hunston’s plans would “erode the openness of the area” and “cause irrevocable harm to the character and appearance” of the green field site.

Overturning the inspector’s decision, however, Judge Pelling said her assessment of projected unmet demand for new housing in the area had been based on a regional spacial strategy for the East of England that had been revoked in January this year.

He added: “The Green Belt Policy is not an outright prohibition on development in the Green Belt. Rather it is a prohibition on inappropriate development in the absence of very special circumstances.”

The inspector’s error was “fundamental” and required a full reconsideration of Hunston’s planning appeal, the judge concluded.