Harpenden on the Rack.

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Dear Member
In its draft Strategic Local Plan (SLP) and on 2 December, St Albans District Council (SADC) moved very much closer to building thousands of homes in our District on green belt countryside.

Harpenden will have to absorb at least 500 new homes, east of St Albans will take at least 1,000 new homes and about 1,500 new homes will be built near Redbourn .
As you will know from our previous newsletters this is only half the story, as homes will be built within the greenbelt in what is categorised as ‘urban capacity’. In the case of Harpenden, another 800 houses will be built within the green belt that surrounds the Town, making a total of 1,300 new homes.
Consuming  green belt for building actually received very little support from the public when your District Council consulted residents in the autumn of 2014. Comprehensive and detailed submissions from a number of local organisations like ours were also not taken into account. In particular, your own Harpenden Town Council’s highly critical submission was effectively ignored.
Lying behind the District Council’s decision to go forward with the draft SLP on 2 December was the need to avoid failing, as the Council has done before, to agree by a majority vote, any sort of SLP.

Central government and The Leader of the Council would not have taken kindly to another failure so the whips were out before 2 December and most District Councillors (including those representing Harpenden) thought it was in their best interest to fall into line. A  draft SLP was thus duly voted through on the day in question.
We emailed each District Councillor before they met on 2 December about significant weaknesses in the  draft SLP and asked them to delay approving the draft until the weaknesses had been properly considered.

Some (but not all) of the weaknesses that we pointed out are as follows:
  1. There is no detailed ‘Master Plan’ regarding the huge number of houses to be built near Redbourn and the impact it will have not only on Redbourn but also on Harpenden and St Albans in terms of crowded roads, trains and parking spaces. The  need for an integrated ‘Master Plan’ was made very clear by the Chairman of Redbourn Parish Council in a spirited 3 minute presentation on 2 December but his words fell on deaf ears (apart from the ears of councillors from Redbourn).

    With regard to Harpenden, I can assure you that many residents in Redbourn use Harpenden railway station and you can therefore assume that many of the new residents of the 1,500 homes to be built near Redbourn will do the same. After all, how many of the new residents are going to drive across crowded Hemel Hempstead to use the train station in Boxmore. Some but not many!

    And in terms of road traffic, many members will be aware that the road into Harpenden from Redbourn is now getting busier and busier with long tailbacks at peak times. Even if space is found to build a new car park in the centre of Harpenden, it is reasonable to assume that with 1,300 new homes and Redbourn effectively doubling in size, Harpenden is going to get choked with traffic
  2. We pointed out to SADC councillors that the draft plan has been produced without any up- to- date traffic modelling. Such modelling is absolutely key to choosing the sites for building homes in such a congested district but Hertfordshire County Council will not start traffic modelling for the whole County until February 2016. You may recall that at the public meeting which was held in Harpenden Public Halls in the autumn of 2014, the Leader of the Council said that the amount of traffic on the Luton Road was reducing. The fact is that traffic volume on the Luton Road is actually going UP and will go even higher as Luton Airport expands to 19 million passengers per annum.

    500 houses crammed on a field adjacent to the Luton Road will produce let us say 1,000 cars from which you can easily draw your own conclusions about traffic congestion. From the corner of the field nearest the Town, it is an 18 minute fast walk by a fit and healthy person to the High Street. I really do not think that many of the new residents are going to walk into town and certainly will not be walking if they are going to do a weekly shop at Sainsbury’s or Waitrose!

    An independent ‘traffic impact report’ on the implications of building 1,300 new homes in Harpenden would be more than useful to place before a Planning Inspector but such a report would cost around £2,000. One might hope that Harpenden Town Council would be interested in funding the report but would they pay for an independent report if it made uncomfortable reading for some District Councillors and SADC planners?
  3. A major theme of the draft SLP is that 40% of the houses to be built in our District should be ‘affordable’. However the draft SLP is going forward without any assessment of the implications of the Conservative Government’s ‘Housing and Planning Bill’ which extends ‘right to buy’ and includes a proposed new law on ‘starter homes’ which will override local plans. The 40 %  draft SLP ‘affordable housing’ target for lower income earners now needs a re-assessment. This is not a minor issue but affects the whole approach of SADC to strategic planning for the District.
  4. And finally, we asked what consideration is being given to an independent environmental report, commissioned by SADC itself in 2012, which said ‘it would be unwise to permit further urban development in the District on underdeveloped land’.
Apart from our Association, The Campaign to Protect Rural England  wrote to every District  Councillor before the Council meeting on 2 December to say that.............’we  believe that the Plan would be found unsound by the Inspector appointed to examine the Plan based on the evidence currently available to the Council and the content of the document presented to you for approval at your meeting.............. the risk of your Council publishing an unsound Local Plan in advance of a proper assessment of essential information, is so great that we believe you should await that information and reconsider the key elements of the Plan’s strategy in respect of Housing Targets and Green Belt site allocations’. In my words, the CPRE is saying that the sites chosen are capable of being challenged as the best sites to build on and, if one takes into account the latest court case, the courts may not support the sites being taken out of green belt anyway.
The next stage in this unfolding nightmare for Harpenden is a consultation period on the draft SLP by SADC to run from January 8 to February 19. The consultation process is designed to collect ‘representations’ on the draft SLP’s ‘legal compliance’ and ‘soundness’ which will be considered by SADC in March-June 2016. As you would expect, our Association will be submitting a detailed ‘representation’.

SADC will eventually submit their  draft SLP to an ‘Examination in Public’ by an Inspector from the Planning Inspectorate acting for the Secretary of State. Our Association’s ‘representation’ will be read by the Inspector and we are prepared to give evidence to the him or her.

In the meantime, The Harpenden Society has taken on the organisation of a public meeting to be held at Fowden Hall, Rothamsted at 7.30 pm on Thursday 4th February 2016.  

The intended tone of the meeting will be ‘So, Councillors, you've approved the plan, now what are you going to do about ensuring that the proposed developments are ‘sound’ and will provide the necessary infrastructure like schooling, road space, parking facilities, access to health and social care, etc. and what assurances can you give us that the resources will be found to do whatever you say you are going to do?’

It should be a very interesting meeting for residents of Harpenden who want to know how Harpenden is under a very evident threat and what they can say that the Inspector will take into account.
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Thank you.

David Rankin
The Harpenden Green Belt Association
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