HGBA July 16 Newsletter

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Dear Member

Your District Council’s draft SLP:
Never Mind The Quality Feel The Width

The District Council’s ‘Planning Policy Committee’ (PPC) has the responsibility for agreeing a draft ‘Strategic Local Plan’ (SLP) for the entire District and then submitting it to a Planning Inspector from the Planning Inspectorate for his review and agreement. The Plan will impact every aspect of our lives in the coming years wherever you live in Harpenden.
On 12 July, there was a major PPC meeting . The ten District Councillors on the Committee had to consider whether they had all the factual evidence they need to submit its draft SLP to the Planning Inspectorate. 
As you might reasonably expect, the Planning Inspectorate has some clear expectations of an SLP.
For example, the “Procedural Practice in the Examination of Local Plans” requires that your District Council ‘be clear about what conclusions they have come to from the range of evidence available and how they have made choices, based on the evidence. The Plan must not contain assertions of fact that are not supported by the evidence. Similarly, the evidence should not be collected retrospectively in an attempt to justify the plan’.
The meeting on 12 July had to consider, amongst other things, the way in which your District Council has selected Green Belt sites for development. The background on green belt ‘site selection’ was contained in Appendix 4 of the papers for the meeting.
 In an email to all PPC members prior to the meeting on 12 July we said:
The scoring of Green Belt sites by SADC has been one long exercise in deciding what result is politically required, and adjusting the scores as necessary to achieve that result. Appendix 4 is just the latest step in that process. It is a flimsy piece of window-dressing, driven by a determination to cling to the site rankings decided in July 2014, regardless of the evidence.

Appendix 4 uses a number of well-worn techniques with which we are all now very familiar. When agreed methodologies fail to reach the “right” conclusion, they are abandoned in favour of an alternative method. Evidence which points towards a different answer is ignored or misrepresented. Planning officers take completely the opposite stance from those previously taken on the same site. Assertions are made for which there is no evidential basis at all.

PPC members have one last chance to decide whether they want to be forever associated with this evidential dog’s breakfast or are prepared to do the right thing and subject officers’ work to rigorous examination. Hundreds of thousands of pounds of council taxpayers’ money is about to be thrown away on promoting a plan through examination which has no proper evidential basis at all.

This paper concentrates on the score given to NW Harpenden for traffic and access and provides a line-by-line analysis of the reasoning put forward by officers in Appendix 4 to justify the score of 8/10 for NW Harpenden under Criteria 6: traffic and access, as opposed (in particular) to the score of 3/10 for North of St Albans. That is not because it is only the traffic and access score which is wrong: it is because this score provides a vivid snapshot of the way in which SADC is prepared to manipulate the process to achieve its desired ends.

If you would like to understand how traffic alone will bring Harpenden to a grinding halt when the houses are built, you will find a line by line critique at the bottom of the following page
Please be aware that your District Council is not just considering building 500 dwellings on green belt in north Harpenden but also 800 dwellings within the Town. On top of 1,300 new dwellings, our newsletter of June 2016 outlined how the total might rise to as many as 2,200.

That it might rise to 2,200 is a very real possibility. We know that the planners in Central Bedfordshire Council are keen to permit 900 dwellings to be built on land they control on the right hand side of Luton Road going north to the KInsbourn Green mini roundabout. Usefully for the developer, there would be no opposition by Central Beds councillors because the site is far away from where their constituents live and thus there would be no controversy concerning, for example, the traffic volumes resulting from the development. Central Bedfordshire Council, would, of course, have the benefit of increased council tax revenue.
One does not need a degree in urban planning to work out that the development will in effect be part of Harpenden in terms of schools, parking, medical services and road and rail transport.
At the meeting of the PPC on 12 July, it was decided to proceed with submitting the draft SLP without major change to the Planning Inspectorate. The PPC was not unanimous in thinking that it had put together what in planning terms is a ‘sound’ draft Plan. But driven by the complexity of the issues at hand and the PPC’s loose grip on how those issues are going to be solved in practice, they have effectively chosen to push decision making ‘up the line’ and onto the Inspectorate.
In pressing forward, your District Council and its PPC Committee has not amended its draft SLP in any significant way to take account of the detailed and comprehensive representations made by Harpenden Town Council, The Harpenden Society, The Harpenden Green Belt Association, the CPRE and, for example, Redbourn Parish Council. So much for local democracy and the Department for Communities and Local Government's guidelines that SLPs should have the support of local people.
An Inspector will look at what we have all said and in detail. The Harpenden Green Belt Association for one will find that totally refreshing. We will appear before the inspector and at last we will have our say in front of somebody who wants to listen and can formulate an independent opinion.
We all know that we have a great need for new houses and flats but the issue is how do we do build that accommodation without ruining the existing community structure with ill-considered planning on issues like the siting of schools and transport infrastructure. Ignoring the opinions of local residents by receiving them and just recording them, rather than actually seeking to address them, or responding to legitimate and well-reasoned public questions at each PPC meeting with bland assertions rather than facts is quite unacceptable.

As always, it would really help the Association if you would forward this email to those you know who live in Harpenden and who may not know what is going on in your District Council.

Please ask your friends to forward the newsletter on to those they know.
And if your friends want to make their voice heard by the Inspector, encourage them to join the Association – it’s free! Email

David Rankin
The Harpenden Green Belt Association
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