Green Belt Housing Plan Thrown Out

The Planning Committee of St Albans council has rejected proposals for the building of nearly 400 new homes on green belt land at Chiswell Green, between St Albans and Watford. The Committee rejected the planning application by eight votes to one at a meeting on November 27th, claiming that the scheme would contravene the St Stephen Neighbourhood Plan approved by local residents earlier this year. LibDem Councillor and Planning Committee member Vladimir Jirasek said: “ The law is quite clear. Inappropriate development in the green belt is by definition harmful to the green belt. We should really be careful when considering an application causing the loss of over 140,000 square metres of Green Belt.”

The consortium of four developers behind the scheme, including Cala Homes, said the draft proposal would be the first stage in the building of 156 affordable new homes, along with 217 additional units and 12 self-build plots. As part of the plans three hectares of green space would be opened up for public use. The consortium also committed to set aside land for a new primary school, although the actual building of the school was not part of the planning application.

The council received 850 letters and emails regarding the plans, and a demonstration in opposition was held outside the council offices. Keep Chiswell Green campaigner Shirani St Ledger McCarthy commended the Planning Committee’s decision saying: “I’m absolutely delighted. It was always a very delicate balance and we did think it would go against us. Cala’s got a lots of money, and we haven’t. At some points the distance is 0.2km separating settlements – St Albans from Chiswell Green for example. If we don’t protect it, settlements will merge.”

Councillors highlighted a number of concerns, including traffic congestion, the current over-supply of primary school places, confusion over a 10% biodiversity net gain claimed by the developers, and the harm done to the local landscape.

However, LibDem Councillor Simon Mostyn cautioned that the decision to reject the plans could still be overturned. St Albans council does not have a local housing plan in place and Councillor Mostyn warned that should the developing consortium lodge an appeal the government’s Planning Inspectorate could become involved. The balance may then tilt towards granting permission for the scheme. Planning officers at St Albans Council had previously recommended granting permission for the development, claiming that the provision of housing outweighed encroachment onto green belt land and that there was no technical reason for refusing the application. “The spectre of the Planning Inspectorate hangs over our heads” said Councillor Mostyn.

St Albans council has consistently lagged behind targets for delivering affordable new housing. It is therefore very likely that a new planning application will be put before the council at a future date.