Bid to block plans for thousands of new homes in Hemel Hempstead fails

Councillor called on authority leaders to scrap 3,100-home proposal in his ward
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A bid to block plans for thousands of new homes in Hemel Hempstead has failed.

At a St Albans City and District Council Planning Policy and Climate Committee meeting, independent councillor David Mitchell called on authority leaders to scrap a 3,100-home proposal in his ward.

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Cllr Mitchell, who represents Redbourn, accused council planners of having “no exceptional circumstances” which enabled them to redraw the green belt boundary around the land – between the edge of Hemel Hempstead and the M1.

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He referenced a document which Troy Planning and Design handed to St Albans City and District Council on behalf of Redbourn Parish Council.

It reads: “SACDC has provided no exceptional circumstances required by the National Planning Policy Framework in order to consider the release of green belt through the local plan.”

It notes that the land earmarked for new homes is not in the 2023 green belt study “recommended area” for building.

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Instead, construction would take place in areas of “valuable” green belt.

The Troy Planning submission adds: “There is significant utility infrastructure located east of Hemel Hempstead including gas pipelines to the Buncefield Oil Depot and electricity transmission lines.

“Nowhere in the local plan or in the evidence base does it explain how the existing utility infrastructure is going to be addressed as part of the proposals despite this being a clear strategic matter that should be considered a potential ‘showstopper’ to development proposals at Hemel Hempstead.”

The new builds in Hemel Hempstead are proposed as part of a larger scheme for 11,826 new homes in the years up to 2041 across the St Albans district, which includes the city, Redbourn village, Harpenden and London Colney.

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The Hemel Garden Communities allocation would take 4,750 of these homes in total.

Next-door Dacorum Borough Council, which covers the existing Hemel Hempstead town, Berkhamsted and Tring areas, is also preparing a local plan – for 14,345 homes between 2024 and 2040, including 11,742 in and around Hemel Hempstead.

Cllr Mitchell, talking to the St Albans plan, said: “I think one of the stumbling blocks in our local plan is the Hemel Garden Communities.

“There are so many issues there that have yet to be resolved that it could be the thing which brings the whole plan down.

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“Yes, I would like to see these sites removed from the local plan.”

According to Westminster government’s National Planning Policy Framework, “green belt boundaries should only be altered where exceptional circumstances are fully evidenced and justified, through the preparation or updating of plans”.

It adds: “Strategic policies should establish the need for any changes to green belt boundaries, having regard to their intended permanence in the long term, so they can endure beyond the plan period.”

St Albans City and District Council commissioned a green belt review, which ranked the areas of green belt in the Redbourn ward “important” and found they performed “strongly” against the green belt “purposes” – the highest of three ratings.

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The authority’s draft plan claims city and district planners have made “as much use as possible of suitable previously developed and underutilised land, [optimised] the density of development in line with national policy [and has] been informed by discussions with neighbouring authorities about whether they could accommodate some of the identified need for development”.

Cllr Sharon Hollingsworth, Liberal Democrat councillor in Sandridge and Wheathampstead, challenged Cllr Mitchell at the committee meeting, which took place on Tuesday, November 14.

Cllr Hollingsworth said: “I think we all have sites in our wards and adjacent to our wards that we perhaps don’t consider to be appropriate.

“This the point of a consultation – that those points are made – not that things are taken out early because you don’t like them.

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“We all have housing figures that we need to reach, and we all need to take our hit.”

Cllr Hollingsworth pointed to a Planning Inspectorate decision to grant permission for up to 100 homes at Bullens Green Lane in Colney Heath, which is in the green belt, taken on appeal after the local planning authority refused permission for the scheme.

In the decision, inspector Christa Masters identified “acute housing delivery shortages and acute affordable housing need” which became “very special circumstances” for building in otherwise protected countryside.

“Green belt doesn’t necessarily mean sites are safe,” Cllr Hollingsworth said.

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“Having a local plan does help us try and save more aspects of green belt and do things in an organised fashion.”

St Albans City and District Council held a consultation between July 12 and September 25 this year.

The majority Liberal Democrat committee voted to reject Cllr Mitchell’s motion.