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.
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
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 which, initially, did not affect Leverstock Green. However, since that date Dacorum's plans now include Hemel Garden Communities. This is an ambitious development programme that will transform Hemel Hempstead and create attractive and sustainable new neighbourhoods and communities to the north and east of Hemel Hempstead, through the delivery of more than 11,000 new homes and 10,000 new jobs by 2050.
Following the government's new guidelines SADC set a new target of 14,600 homes which 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 assist us.
IMPORTANT UPDATE NOVEMBER 2020
NOW FOR THE GOOD NEWS: SADC have now had their latest Plan thrown out by the Inspectors for, once again, failing to co-operate with interested authorities. The council now has three options, 1) to call for a judicial review of the decision, 2) to reject the Inspectors’ findings and allow them to produce their report failing the Plan or 3) withdraw the Plan and start again. Opinion is that Option 3 is the most likely and that SADC will have to start again.
AT A COUNCIL CABINET MEETING ON 19th NOVEMBER 2020 IT WAS DECIDED TO TAKE OPTION 3, WITHDRAW THE PLAN AND START AGAIN ON A NEW DRAFT. THIS WAS CONFIRMED BY THE FULL COUNCIL ON 2nd DECEMBER 2020.
Before this can begin a new Green Belt Review has been called for and this will influence the future plan. It is estimated that a new draft plan is unlikely to be finalised in much less than 3 to 5 years which could take us to 2024 or 2025. This buys us time but we must now wait and see what the Green Belt Review recommends and just what SADC come up with next time. In the meantime we are unsure how this will affect the Hemel Garden Communities plan.
The only thing that is certain is that nothing is going to happen in the short term.
UPDATE NOVEMBER 2021
St Albans City & District Council has called a virtual meeting with residents associations and other interested parties on 7th December to discuss their new local plan. Subjects to be discussed include the new Green Belt Review, Land availability assessment, Urban capacity assessment and Site Selection study; also, discussions with local authorities, joint work on the South West Herts Joint Strategic Plan and joint work on Hemel Garden Communities. Members of LGVA Environmental Sub-Committee will participate and any relevant details which emerge will be reported here.
SADC hope to submit their new Local Plan by mid-2023 with adoption by the end of that year.
UPDATE JANUARY 2022
SADC has issued a document outlining the current position of their new Local Plan. It shows in broad terms that they are at Stage 1 which is preparing the evidence and drafting the Local Plan. It refers to a new Green Belt review, housing and employment land availability and a local infrastructure study. It does not contain any suggested locations or numbers at present but does refer to the Hemel Garden Communities project which aims to provide 11,000 new homes and 10,000 new jobs in Dacorum by 2050. This project includes land at East Hemel and will no doubt connect with the St Albans housing allocation.
The St Albans document can be found at https://www.stalbans.gov.uk/sites/default/files/attachments/local%20plan%20digital%20update%20Jan%202022.pdf
Details of the Hemel Garden Communities project can be found at https://www.stalbans.gov.uk/sites/default/files/attachments/hemel-garden-communities-charter.pdf
Maps showing 1) the original area planned for development and 2) the area in the now abandoned 2018 Plan:
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.