East Hemel - St Albans Council's Plan to Build Houses close to Leverstock Green

BACKGROUND

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.

The Appeal and Judicial Review took place on 21st and 22nd 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.  

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.

UPDATE - July 2017 

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’ 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 by SADC tends 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.

Interestingly, a recent government order requires all local authorities to submit details of all brown field sites in their area.   This will, of course, apply to St Albans, although we believe it is unlikely to make any material difference to the requirement for the land designated for East Hemel.  Nevertheless, LGVA has issued the following response to the Crown Estate’s consultation.

Despite our participation in the East Hemel Forum, the LGVA remains fundamentally opposed to the proposal by SADC to develop areas of the Green Belt adjacent to Leverstock Green.  We do not accept that there is any justification for building a large proportion of SADC’s housing requirement remote from St Albans itself.  In particular, in the light of the recent rejection of SADC’s appeal at the judicial review in the High Court, we consider that any planning application by the Crown Estate is at best premature.

Furthermore under new legislation, Councils are required to compile a register of brownfield sites which may be suitable for housing development.  Until the potential offered by all of the brownfield sites within the whole of St Albans District has been investigated fully, the use of Green Belt sites should not be considered.

Consequently, given these considerations, the LGVA will object to any planning application submitted in respect of the East Hemel proposals.

UPDATE – August 2017 

Since the High Court judgement against them St Albans City and District Council has been working towards producing a new Strategic Local Plan and consulting neighbouring authorities.  In the meantime the Crown Estate has expressed its intention to submit its own plan for East Hemel.

We have to accept that there is little prospect of stopping the proposed development going ahead so our aim is to mitigate its impact on the village.  To this end we are seeking to co-operate with the Crown Estate and have recently met their representatives.  They are prepared to listen to our views and to heed the findings of the recent public consultation, also they are sympathetic to our desire to preserve the village character and spirit of Leverstock Green.  Their aim is, as far as practical, to limit the extent of the new development and to keep use of Green Belt to a minimum whilst fulfilling the criteria attached to building 1000 homes in the southern section. 

At present the Crown Estate is engaged in pre-application technical discussions on diverse matters including housing density, traffic, school provision, and a noise barrier to the M1. Archaeological surveys will also be carried out in coming months.  All of these factors will affect the eventual extent of the development. 

As various matters are resolved the Crown Estate will finalise their plan and hope to submit it to SADC by the end of this year.  SADC's reaction to such a planning application remains to be seen.

SUMMARY – August 2017 

LGVA is determined to limit the impact of East Hemel on the village and to preserve the character of Leverstock Green. We are mindful that there may actually be opportunities to improve amenities, such as medical facilities, to benefit the existing community.

With these aims in mind, we are working closely with the Crown Estate as well as other interested parties including community representatives in Redbourn and Harpenden and the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE). We met with our MP, Mike Penning, who supports the development in principle 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.  These will include the results of the June Consultation as soon as they are published.

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. 

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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. 

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 KEY REFERENCES

CONSULTATION 24TH JUNE 2017

Full details of the Crown Estate’s latest proposals can be found at http://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/

ST ALBANS STRATEGIC LOCAL PLAN (Published 2016)

No longer available

RULING BY PLANNING INSPECTOR ON THE SLP

https://www.stalbans.gov.uk/Images/ID-7CONCLUSIONSlettertotheCouncil_tcm15-56449.pdf

HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE - DETAILS OF JUDGEMENT ON JUDICIAL REVUE 

https://www.stalbans.gov.uk/Bounce.aspx?PG=/Images/St%20Albans-v-Sec%20of%20State%20Approved%2012.07.17_tcm15-61009.pdf