East Hemel - St Albans Council's Plan to Build Houses close to Leverstock Green
Proposals to develop the Crown Estate land west of the M1, formally part of the Gorhambury Estate, go back many years. In 2004, the East of England Regional Plan included extensive proposals involving this land. Although these were scrapped by the incoming Government in 2010, the underlying requirement for substantial numbers of new houses in Dacorum and St Albans has become even more pressing. However, any proposals to extend these urban areas are heavily constrained by the Green Belt which is tightly drawn around both Hemel Hempstead and St Albans.
Current Government policy requires that Green Belt can only be released for development ‘under exceptional circumstances’. The definition of what constitutes ‘exceptional circumstances’ is a grey area.
In 2014, St Albans City & District Council (SADC) issued the first draft of its Strategic Local Plan (SLP). Controversially, the Plan proposed that St Albans should meet its housing requirements by largely developing areas away from the City. In particular, the area west of the M1 was identified as having ‘low value’ in Green Belt terms and was earmarked for 2,500 houses. These would be divided into two groups with 1500 north of Maylands and 1000 adjoining Leverstock Green (designated East Hemel (South)). The area between Maylands and the M1 would be developed for further industrial and commercial use.
LGVA has been actively involved in this matter and has expressed strong objections to the SADC proposals from the outset. However, despite LGVA and many village residents being opposed to the plans, we have to accept that a major housing development on part of the Crown Estate land is inevitable. There is a critical shortage of housing in the area and there are limited options where houses can be built. Since Hemel Hempstead was developed as a ‘new town’ almost 70 years ago this tract of land has been earmarked for eventual use as housing and, compared with much of the surrounding Green Belt, the land designated does tend to be inferior in Green Belt terms. Although the land is in St Albans district, our council has stated that if it was in Dacorum they would probably be doing the same thing.
In October 2016, the Planning Inspector ruled that SADC had failed in its duty to cooperate with neighbouring authorities while developing its plans. SADC lost a High Court appeal against the Inspector’s decision and was forced to start the planning process again.
During 2017 local resident and video producer, Orthodoxos Theodoulou (Oxo Productions), prepared a four minute video of Leverstock Green which was shown at the AGM in November 2017. The video features members of LGVA and Sir Mike Penning MP. To view click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gESkGJMr80w
EAST HEMEL FORUM
In early 2017 the Crown Estate formed the East Hemel Forum to ‘consider the replies to their consultation and to decide the way forward’. The Forum is run by the Crown Estate’s PR company Portland Communications and includes local councillors, representatives from village associations (including LGVA) and other groups with an interest in the proposals. The meetings are meant to be held monthly and the minutes, once approved, are posted on the Crown Estate’s East Hemel website at http://www.easthemel.co.uk/east-hemel-forum/. The Forum has been temporarily suspended pending the publication of SADC’s revised SLP. (Re-established June 2019 and will meet approximately three monthly at present).
NEW GOVERNMENT GUIDELINES
Early in 2018 the government introduced revised guidelines on housing targets. This led to Dacorum setting a new target of 23,500 homes to be delivered by 2036. None of the Dacorum housing directly affects Leverstock Green.
SADC is subject to the same guidelines and their new target of 14,600 homes does seriously affect Leverstock Green..
SADC REVISED SLP
During early September 2018 SADC published a new draft Local Plan and this, as we feared, now proposes the building of 2400 new homes adjacent to Leverstock Green. This would almost double the size of the village and it is difficult to imagine how the infrastructure could be changed to accommodate such a huge development. At the time of the original St Albans plan LGVA reluctantly accepted that 1000 homes would be built and, following lengthy discussions with the Crown Estate, we reached a compromise which limited the extent of development. Diagramatic maps suggest that the new plan will involve all of the land to the north-east of the A4147 as far as a point approximately opposite the Centurion Club. LGVA will certainly fight this outrageous new proposal which sees St Albans dumping around 37% of their new housing target on the edges of Hemel Hempstead with over 16% adjacent to Leverstock Green. We have employed planning consultants, Troy Planning, to advise and assit us.
UPDATE - APRIL 2019
The long awaited St Albans Local Plan, 2020 - 2036 has finally been published. Whilst it does not contain specific detail the proposed footprint is unaltered (as shown on the map below). The full document can be viewed at -https://www.stalbans.gov.uk/planning/Planningpolicy/library/localplan2018.aspx
Further details will emerge in due course when there will no doubt be a chance to view them at a public exhibition. Dates will be published on this website as soon as they are known.
Broad details of the plan, as far as they affect Leverstock Green, are as follows (reproduced from St Albans website):
Policy S6 iii) - East Hemel Hempstead (South) Broad Location
To provide a major urban extension of Hemel Hempstead. (Delivery of approximately 200 dwellings [per annum]continuing beyond 2036)
The development will be required to deliver:
- Masterplanned development led by the Council in collaboration with Dacorum Borough Council, local communities, landowners and other stakeholders
- Minimum capacity 2,400 dwellings
- The 2,400 dwelling figure above includes at least one 50+ bed C2 Residential or Nursing care home, at least one 50+ home C3 Flexi-care scheme and 12 units to provide special needs accommodation, in accordance with Policy L2
- A positive relationship with Leverstock Green and the wider existing neighbourhood structure of Hemel Hempstead
- Minimum 40% Affordable Housing in accordance with Policy L3
- Minimum overall net density 40 dwellings per hectare
- Housing size, type and mix as set out in Policy L1 and Appendix 6
- Strategic and local public open space, including managed woodland and ecological network links
- Countryside access links including improved off-road paths (rights of way) and links to a community food zone retained in the Green Belt
- A substantial new Country Park providing facilities for new and existing communities and a permanent green buffer to the south east
- Retention of important trees and landscape features
- One new 3FE and one new 2FE primary schools, including Early Years provision, to serve the new community
- Transport network (including walking and cycling links) and public transport services upgrades/improvements
- 3% of homes provided to be self-build housing
- New neighbourhood and local centres, including commercial development opportunities; which provide support for, rather than competition with, existing Leverstock Green facilities.
- Recreation space and other community facilities, including health provision
- Community Management Organisation with sufficient assets to provide sustainable management of community facilities, open spaces and parklands1
- One 15 pitch Gypsy and Traveller site.
- Excellence in design, energy efficiency and water managemen
- Appropriate renewable energy production and supply mechanism.
- Design to mitigate adverse impacts from motorway noise and air pollution
The stated aim is to complete the first 75 homes by 2023/2024, followed by 140 in 2024/2025 then 180 per annum until 2036 (a total of 2195 at that time).
SADC received almost 2000 comments and objections to their proposals, including a lengthy document from Troy Planning on behalf of LGVA. This can be viewed at https://stalbans-consult.objective.co.uk/portal/planning_policy/localplan2018regulation19/lp2018r19?&page=39&pageSize=20&pointId=1534425354106&do=view&q:sortMode, scroll down to the LGVA submission then, at the foot of this item, click on the attachment marked Additional Information. During November 2018 representatives of the Village Association met with planning officers at St Albans and expressed their strong views against the revised plans.
Needless to say, when the plan emerged, nothing had changed! However, it does have to pass an ‘examination in public’ when we will have a further opportunity to press home our objections.
UPDATE - SEPTEMBER 2019
The latest information we have is that the two Government Inspectors, who have been appointed to scrutinise the St Albans Plan, have written to SADC seeking justification for the decision to use a substantial area of Green Belt land for development. The Council has provided a detailed reply contained in a series of documents which are being considered by the Inspectors. The public hearings which were due to take place this Autumn have now been postponed until January or February 2020. LGVA will be represented by Troy Planning at the Examination in Public when it does take place. St Albans Local Plan documents and correspondence can be viewed at www.stalbans.gov.uk/planning/planningpolicy/localplan/latestnews.aspx
The Minister for Housing, Communities and Local Government has recently approved a joint venture between Dacorum Borough Council, St Albans City and District Council, Hertfordshire County Council, Hertfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership and The Crown Estate to develop ‘Hemel Garden Communities’. They envisage creating 10000 new homes and 10000 new jobs encircling the whole north and east of Hemel Hempstead with continuous development from the Marchmont Arms to where the A4147 crosses the M1 near the Centurion Club. See http://www.dacorum.gov.uk/home/planning-development/planning-strategic-planning/hemel-garden-communities which includes an on-line booklet entitled Hemel Garden Communities Charter describing the whole project. While part of this project, the St Albans proposal to build adjacent to Leverstock Green will not be affected.
Separately, Dacorum Borough Council has given details of the timetable for its own Local Plan. The aim is for a Pre-Submission Public Consultation in May - Jun 2020 followed by submission to the Government in November 2020. The Examination in Public is targeted for early 2021 with adoption of the Plan in February 2022. Although Leverstock Green is not affected directly, a Local Plan Update provides further information on the ‘Hemel Garden Communities’. The Update can be viewed at https://dacorum-mail.co.uk/3QGJ-NSDR-4A5PIHMR63/cr.aspx.
We are aware that during August there was some excavation work carried out on the field behind Greenacres. We do not believe this to be directly connected to any proposed development and understand that it was part of an archaeological survey commissioned by the Crown Estate.
UPDATE - NOVEMBER 2019
Dates have now been set for the Examination in Public which will range from 21st January to 13th February 2020. LGVA and Redbourn Parish Council will be represented by Troy Planning and several general issues will presented jointly. In matters relating to East Hemel (South) Troy will be making specific submissions on our behalf. These include raising concerns over sustainability, infrastructure, justification for extensive use of the Green Belt and justification for including a fifteen pitch gypsy and traveller site. These matters will be heard on the morning of Thursday 6th February.
All sessions are open to the public but no comments or questions will be allowed. Members of the Village Association will be present at all sessions relating to East Hemel.
IMPORTANT UPDATE - 18 April 2020
All hearings for the Examination in Public were suspended after only three days at the end of January as the Inspectors voiced serious concerns over the legal compliance and soundness of the St Albans City and District Council (SADC) Draft Local Plan. They also had reservations over the Council’s duty to cooperate, their spatial strategy and matters relating to the Green Belt.
The Inspectors decided that no further hearings would take place until they had set out their concerns in detail to SADC, and the Council had responded to those concerns.
A letter detailing the Inspectors’ concerns was delivered to SADC on 14th April. It is highly critical of the Draft Local Plan and stretches to 95 paragraphs over 18 pages; para 93 states "…we consider it a very strong likelihood that there will be no other option other than that the Plan is withdrawn from examination or we write a final report recommending its non-adoption…".
8 July 2020
SADC has responded to the Inspectors by agreeing to withdraw plans for housing on the site in Park Street, which has been earmarked for a Strategic Freight Depot, and have asked for the Examination to be resumed. It is likely that the Inspectors will insist on a new Green Belt Review before granting this request.
Maps showing 1) the original area planned for development and 2) the area now under threat:
The map below shows the planned extent of Hemel Garden Communites, marked by a solid white line. The dotted line marks the Dacorum/St Albans boundary.