East Hemel - St Albans Council's Plan to Build Houses close to Leverstock Green
Proposals to develop the Crown Estate land, formally part of the Gorhambury Estate, west of the M1 go back many years. In 2004, the East of England Regional Plan included extensive proposals involving this land. In 2008, a study by consultants on behalf of the Crown Estate argued that this area was ‘a poor quality urban fringe’ and the removal of the area from the Green Belt would ‘not harm the Green Belt functions’. The report recommended a redrawing of the Green Belt boundary to exclude the areas now earmarked for development. Although the Regional Plans were scrapped by the incoming Government in 2010, the underlying requirement for substantial numbers of new houses in Dacorum and St Albans has, if anything, 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). The Plan drew heavily on the findings of a study by consultants SKM commissioned by St Albans, Dacorum and Welwyn & Hatfield Councils. The study looked at the Green Belt in SW Herts and ‘prioritised’ all areas in terms of their value against the Green Belt criteria. 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 since and has expressed strong objections to the SADC proposals from the outset.
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 has been forced to start the planning process again.
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 LGVA held discussions with the Crown Estate and we believed that we had reached a reasonable compromise on how the proposals in the original SADC SLP might be implemented. However, the Forum has been temporarily suspended pending the publication of SADC’s revised SLP.
Despite LGVA and many village residents being opposed to the proposals, 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.
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
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 we expect the revised SLP to also include a higher target to be achieved by 2036.
SADC REVISED SLP
During early September SADC published their 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. The new plan is not available in detail but diagrammatic maps suggest that it will occupy 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 27% of their new housing requirements on the edges of Hemel Hempstead. We have engaged planning consultants to assist and advise us on the way forward.
Maps showing 1) the original area planned for development and 2) the area now, possibly, under threat: