Uproar over accessway plan over Harpenden playground and wildlife site

Local resident Carol Hedges next a childrens playground, near where the proposed road would go

Local resident Carol Hedges next a childrens playground, near where the proposed road would go - Credit: Archant

OUTRAGED residents in Harpenden have blasted those behind a controversial planning application to build an accessway over a playground and dump excavated soil on a wildlife site where protected snails have been discovered.

Harpenden town council (HTC) has asked St Albans district council (SADC) to give the green light to carve out a new access route along Westfield recreation ground from Willoughby Road for maintenance vehicles.

But the scheme has brought a flurry of objections from residents wanting to preserve both the recreation ground and neighbouring former allotment site, where HTC plans to dump excavated soil.

The latter is home to Roman snails, which are protected under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act and it is illegal to intentionally kill, handle or possess them without a licence from Natural England.

A recurring theme in objections lodged by residents fighting the plan is that HTC is taking a “sneaky” initial step towards building on the green fields of the neighbouring former allotment site.

They are particularly annoyed that HTC has lodged the scheme with the district council before the outcome of a recent hearing into a bid for the recreation ground to be designated a town green has been decided.

One objector, who described submitted drawings as “no more than sketches”, said Willoughby Road was too narrow to create an access from.

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Another said they were “very concerned that this is a sneeky [sic] step by the town council and part of their plan to develop the green wildlife site”.

A resident of 60 years said they “strongly opposed” the scheme and described it as a “blatant attempt by HTC to get ahead of future planning for when they hope the public inquiry [into the town green bid] is lost.

“The access point will then become an access road crossing the field, and serving a major development on the wildlife site.”

Resident Carol Hedges, who initiated the town green bid, told the Herts Advertiser that she believed the town council was “not interested in listening to or working with local residents.

“It seems the only voices they hear and obey are of their cabinet colleagues and their developer and business contacts.”

SADC councillor Simon Grover has asked for the scheme to be called-in for determination by a planning committee instead of by delegated authority.

He said: “I am concerned at the potential damage to the original bank, to mature trees and to the wildlife in the undergrowth.

“I also think the applicant needs to be clearer about exactly why this development is needed and give assurances about the future use of the development and the land around it.”

A spokesman for HTC said that when the recreation ground was transferred from SADC to the town council a condition of the contract was that a right of way from Beeching Close would be extinguished.

SADC also asked HTC to fence off the section of the recreation ground adjacent to Beeching Close, preventing access between the two points. He said a new access was thus needed to allow maintenance vehicles to enter the site.