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!
WHERE ARE WE NOW?
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.
LGVA has been actively involved in this matter since that date and has expressed strong objections to the SADC proposals from the outset.
On 20th October 2016, with very little notice or advanced publicity, the Crown Estate arranged an exhibition in Holy Trinity Church Hall to ‘consult on their ‘vision’ for the East of Hemel site. Although the Hall was somewhat cramped, many residents, the LGVA committee members and all the local councillors attended. The exhibition outlined the Crown Estate’s aspirations for the site and proposed the release of Green Belt far in excess of what SADC was proposing in its SLP. Many residents protested strongly about this.
On 26th October 2016 the Planning Inspector, Mr David Hogger, ruled that SADC had failed in their duty to cooperate with neighbouring authorities, including Dacorum Borough Council, while developing its plans. SADC appealed and called for a Judicial Review in the High Court.
In November, Savills, on behalf of the Crown Estate, submitted to St Albans an ‘Environmental Impact Statement – Scoping Opinion’ which is the first step in the Planning Application process. The statement outlines the detailed environmental issues which will need to be addressed and significantly covers all of the Crown Estate land in East Hemel which is shown on this map edged in red. LGVA argued that this application was premature, to say the least. However, it showed that the Crown Estate was determined to set the pace.
The Crown Estate arranged a second public consultation on 24th June 2017 and LGVA circulated an information leaflet with the recent Newsletter in advance of this. The leaflet explained that the East Hemel proposals are the Crown Estate’s vision for developing their land which has been identified in the draft SADC SLP. These are NOT official proposals supported by SADC and differ in many respects from the original plans contained in SADC’s SLP – not least in the amount of Green Belt which would need to be released. The Crown Estate have obviously listened to comments from the earlier consultation and have watered down their proposals. Nevertheless, they have still earmarked more Green Belt land than LGVA believes is acceptable.
Although LGVA and many of the village residents are opposed to the overall plans, it is highly unlikely that we will be able to overturn them in their entirety. 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’ over 40 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 by SADC tends to be inferior in ‘Green Belt’ terms. Although this land is in St Albans, our council has stated that if the land was in Dacorum, it would probably be doing the same thing.
Given that there is little prospect of stopping the development as a whole from eventually going ahead, LGVA is determined to limit the impact on the village and to try to retain the character of Leverstock Green. There may also be opportunities to improve amenities such as medical facilities to benefit the existing community. With these aims in mind, we are working closely with other interested parties including community representatives in Redbourn and Harpenden and the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE). We are also liaising with our MP, Mike Penning, who supports the development in principal but joins us in seeking to limit the loss of any more Green Belt. We aim to keep the village community involved and informed as the plans evolve and we will be posting regular updates on this website.
VISIONS OF THE FUTURE
This map is the original published by SADC, the area between Maylands and the M1 is to be developed for limited industrial use as there is an exclusion zone around Buncefield. The yellow area between Leverstock Green and the M1 is of most interest to the village and is earmarked for 1,000 houses.
This map is the latest ‘vision’ produced by the Crown Estate and shows just the southern area adjoining Leverstock Green. This is a big improvement on two of the original options but still expands into the Green Belt to the south of the village.
The Appeal and Judicial Review mentioned above duly took place in June of this year and in a Judgement dated 13th July 2017 the Judge, Sir Ross Cranston, ruled against SADC. This effectively means that their SLP cannot go forward and we can now only await the next move by the Council and/or by the Crown Estate. This website will be updated as soon as further details are known.
CONSULTATION 24TH JUNE 2017
Full details of the Crown Estate’s latest proposals can be found athttp://www.easthemel.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/East-Hemel-Boards-June-2017.pdf. It is important to remember that the Crown Estate’s ‘vision’ simply reflects their ideas, it is not a plan.
EAST HEMEL FORUM
Following the initial exhibitions, the Crown Estate decided to form an East Hemel Forum to ‘consider the replies to their consultation and to decide the way forward’. The Forum is run by the Crown Estates 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 held monthly, and once approved, the minutes are posted on the Crown Estate East Hemel website.http://www.easthemel.co.uk/east-hemel-forum/