Strategic Local Plan: Losing St Albans’ Green Belt not worth getting “hysterical over” says councillor

The next step has been taken for St Albans' draft Strategic Local Plan: Cllr Mal Pakenham spoke at a

The next step has been taken for St Albans' draft Strategic Local Plan: Cllr Mal Pakenham spoke at a recent extraordinary meeting on the planning blueprint - Credit: supplied

Losing part of St Albans’ Green Belt to housing and other development is not worth getting “hysterical over” councillors were told at a recent meeting.

Green belt land around Redbourn outlined in St Albans district council's Strategic Local Plan for ar

Green belt land around Redbourn outlined in St Albans district council's Strategic Local Plan for around 2500 houses - Credit: Archant

After thousands of hours were spent in the preparation of the district council’s draft Strategic Local Plan (SLP), it comes as no surprise that over two hours were spent on December 2 debating what was dubbed as “the biggest decision” currently facing local councillors.

Forty-six councillors voted for the document to go to the next round of consultation, with a final draft version expected to be submitted for assessment by the planning inspectorate late next year.

The draft plan, which was opposed by nine councillors, proposes that 9,000 homes should be built in the period to 2031, with 436 houses constructed annually.

That includes 4,000 homes to be built in the Green Belt in Harpenden, Redbourn and at the Oaklands College campus in St Albans.

Among those taking issue with expanding onto local fields was Green Councillor Simon Grover who said: “The Green Belt that surrounds us is our district’s most valuable resource. Let us remember that the large majority of residents who responded to [last year’s] consultation were firmly against the release of Green Belt.

“It is not clear that these homes will go to the teachers, nurses and the children of this district who need them.”

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But Labour councillor Mal Pakenham retorted: “The Green Belt is 81 per cent of the district. I think councillors need to take a reality check and stop becoming hysterical.

“The idea that there is going to be no Green Belt left is ridiculous. I think some of the people saying that are scaremongering.

“They are the ones who have a house and are secure. What do we do Cllr Grover? How do we solve the housing demand? Do we build a big skyscraper in the middle of your ward in St Peter’s? I’m sure he will object to that.”

Lib Dem Councillor Chris White suggested that pressure be applied upon the Government to stop allowing the unchecked conversion of offices into homes after politicians relaxed permitted development rules.

He said the move had resulted in ‘enormous damage to this district’ as the additional homes created in converted offices had added to traffic congestion problems and cost the community “hundreds of thousands of pounds in lost Section 106 [developer] contributions”.

There were concerns, too, over the proposed building of 500 homes in north west Harpenden, with local Councillor Geoffrey Turner saying he was ‘anxious’ about such development so close to the border of Bedfordshire.

He said: “I worry that development here will signal to Central Bedfordshire planners that development on their patch is acceptable; this could lead to coalescence of settlements.

“Our main traffic artery through Harpenden is clogged, slow-moving and stopped morning and afternoon … I worry that development on the broad location will bring Harpenden to a halt.”

But Cllr Roma Mills urged: “We cannot procrastinate anymore. We have to get on with [the SLP] now.

“If we go ahead with the plan, it will mean a loss of just one per cent of Green Belt to provide 4,000 houses.

“Please do not go out in public and say this is a loss of huge swathes of Green Belt, across the district, it honestly isn’t.”

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