St Albans landowners speak out over Green Belt

AN ORGANISATION representing landowners and developers in St Albans has called for balanced debate over future development, claiming talk about building on the Green Belt has been “highly emotive”.

Barton Willmore, speaking on behalf of eight landowners and developers in the district, said that discussion was, “often dominated by a simplistic ‘concreting over the countryside’ view.”

The group of landowners wants to allay some of the local community’s concerns. But they admit it is “difficult” for St Albans district council to meet all housing and infrastructure needs of local people through its planning blueprint, the Strategic Local Plan.

The council is still trying to finalise the framework, setting out future development for the area until 2028.

In a statement, Barton Willmore said the council was “refusing point blank to even consider including any more than two minor Green Belt sites in the plan” to help meet housing needs.

It continued: “Landowners don’t want to concrete all over the countryside but they do want well-planned, high quality developments on Green Belt land to at least be considered by the local authority.

“No new development would be granted planning permission unless it had sufficient public open spaces and was sympathetic to its surroundings.”

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The statement said: “St Albans needs new homes and they must be built somewhere. Brownfield sites are not always the best or most sustainable option.

“A high quality development can even turn an unloved, neglected piece of derelict land into a well-loved and much used open space, for example [at] Lye Lane.”

Barton Willmore also questioned the council’s current housing target of 250 new homes a year, saying it was well below the previous Regional Spatial Strategy figure of 360, and projections from the Department for Communities and Local Government which predicted the district would need 688 new homes a year up until 2028.

Associate planning consultant for the organisation Neil Goldberg added: “We hope the Secretary of State will increase the number of houses to be built on the plan. We are of the opinion that figure [250 homes] is unsound.”

The council’s portfolio holder for planning was unavailable for comment but a council officer’s report on the draft plan explained that 250 homes a year was a sustainable figure for the area.

It added: “There is overall support for lower rather than higher housing targets. The lower levels of growth proposed would mean that there would be less pressure on Greenfield sites in the Green Belt.

“This would have positive effects in terms of reducing impacts on biodiversity, protecting local landscapes, avoiding the reduction of gaps between settlements, and resulting in lower levels of soil loss.”