St Albans housing figures back under scrutiny

HOUSE-BUILDING targets are back under the spotlight tonight as councillors meet to decide how many homes they want to see built in the St Albans district.

It is the first real look at required housing figures in the wake of the Coalition Government’s decision to revoke the controversial Regional Spatial Strategies (RSS) which imposed housing targets on local authorities.

And St Albans planning portfolio holder, Cllr Chris Brazier, has reiterated a pledge that Green Belt sites which were consulted on last year for possible housing schemes would not be considered for development again.

And he has also scotched fears of a massive housing scheme between Hemel Hempstead and Redbourn on land over which St Albans council went to court last year to prevent Dacorum council developing and incorporating the new homes within its RSS target.

Last year the council went out to consultation over Green Belt areas of search as part of its core strategy for its new planning blueprint, the Local Development Framework (LDF)

The so-called Green Belt areas of search in the St Albans district, which included controversial sites behind the Verulam Estate in St Albans and north of Harpenden, attracted huge amounts of opposition from local residents and the council agreed not to proceed with any of them.

But other sites will inevitably arise and as the Herts Advertiser has already revealed, developers have already been casting their eyes over land east of Harpenden Road in St Albans and west of Chiswell Green for potential housing schemes. Several schools including Beaumont and Nicholas Breakspear are also looking at selling off some of their land to pay for improvements and expansion to their existing premises.

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Oaklands College is understood to be looking at up to 400 new homes on its Smallford campus to help fund improvements and 200 new homes could be built on the former Evershed’s site in St Albans.

Cllr Brazier insisted that any suggestion of thousands of homes being built close to Redbourn were wide of the mark and the most that would be permitted, subject to consultation, would be around 200. “We can meet our targets with smaller developments around the district,” he said.

“We can’t stop developers putting in planning applications but we can used the Local Development Framework to give protection to the public at appeal.”

Tonight’s meeting of St Albans planning policy advisory panel will look at three options for housing growth targets.

The first is the RSS target which was 360 additional homes in the district each year between 2001 and 2021, making 7,200 new homes, with a further 2,520 homes between 2021 and 2028 bringing it up to a total of 9,720.

Option Two would also see 360 additional homes built between 2001 and 2021 then 1,750 additional homes between 2021 and 2028, totalling 8,950 while Option Three would result in 500 homes being built annually until 2028 making a total of 8,600 new homes.

Cllr Brazier explained: “Basically what we are looking at is are we going to still build 7,200 homes but we are not looking to take away swathes of Green Belt land.

“What I want to get across is that we are committed to protecting the Green Belt. The RSS has gone and it is now down to how we want to deliver this. The areas of search we consulted on previously are out and won’t come into the frame again.”

The panel’s recommendation will have to go to cabinet and the full council and could be out for consultation as early as October.

Cllr Brazier added: “We will go out with the sites and the numbers and explain that these are what we need without losing the Green Belt and the character of St Albans and at the same time explaining how we need growth.”