St Albans Green Belt plans go to consultation

ID shots for stories on the Green Belt and future expansion of St Albans, Sandpit Lane, Verulum Play

ID shots for stories on the Green Belt and future expansion of St Albans, Sandpit Lane, Verulum Playing Fields AL4 0 - Credit: Archant

Controversial proposals to release tracts of land from the Green Belt for potential house-building are to go out to public consultation.

St Albans councillors agreed last week that residents would be advised that exceptional circumstances might exist which would require the release of Green Belt sites to meet housing targets in the preparation of the district’s planning blueprint, the Strategic Local Plan.

Four Green Belt locations across the district have been identified as potential housing and economic development sites following the second of two independent reviews.

Two of them adjoin Hemel Hempstead to the west of the M1 which could be suitable for the development of 2,500 homes, a potential 1,000 new homes on land at Oaklands College in St Albans and 500 homes to the north west of Harpenden on land bordered by Cooters End Lane and Ambrose Lane.

The independent assessment estimates that housing need in the district is forecast to be 8,720 new homes for the period up to 2031 which would mean an average of 436 new dwellings per year.

Five thousand of those can be built in urban areas and previously-developed Green Belt land but there is a shortfall of 3,720.

The four sites have been put forward by the independent assessors as doing the least overall harm to the Green Belt.

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At a full council meeting last week, council leader Julian Daly said that the consultation was an opportunity for residents to argue for or against the sites and the concept of exceptional circumstances to release land from the Green Belt.

But Cllr Dave Yates commented that the council could not say it would never release sites from the Green Belt.

Several members called on fellow councillors not to shirk their responsibilities by abstaining from a vote. Cllr Daniel Chichester-Miles said to go out to public consultation saying there would be no Green Belt release ever “would be the equivalent of sticking fingers in our ears.”

His concern was echoed by Cllr Jacob Quagliozzi who warned that to vote against the proposal or abstain would put the council on the road to planning by appeal.

Independent councillor for Redbourn Tony Swendell said there were already worries that village life would be ruined by all the homes proposed on his side of the district and called for the consultation to extend to local farmers whose agricultural land could be at risk.

Consultation is due to begin in the autumn and after the meeting a spokesperson for DRiVe – District Residents Voice in Planning Matters – said: “An essential issue must surely be that planners and St Albans district council clearly set out the answer to this fundamental question ‘what benefits will all this additional housing development bring to the district?’ At the moment the answer seems to be a resounding ‘none’.”