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East Hertfordshire District Plan "holding direction lifted"

Thursday, 18 October 2018 12:16

On 12th October 2018, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government informed the Council that following careful consideration of all the issues raised in respect of the District Plan holding direction he put in place on 11th September 2018, that his views on the Plan do not differ from the conclusions reached by the Inspector in July.  Therefore, the holding direction has now been withdrawn.

The Council intends to hold an Extraordinary Council meeting on the 23 October 2018 to vote on the official adoption of the District Plan.

East Herts District Plan – Secretary of State gives the go ahead, with help from friends

James Brokenshire, Secretary of State at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, has written to the Leader of East Hertfordshire District Council, Linda Haysey (cake maker to the good people of Gilston and Eastwick) telling her that he had given the go ahead to the Council District plan for housing and the necessary infrastructure with its massive “tearing up the Green Belt” (Prime Minister Theresa May’s words).

Mr Brokenshire had put the Plan on hold on 11 September. He said that he had been urged to do this by the MP for Stevenage, Stephen McPartland, by “the county branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (that’s us) and several campaign groups.

In his letter advising the Leader of East Herts Council that he had withdrawn his holding direction, Mr Brokenshire set out his reasons. He said that he agreed with the Planning Inspector who had considered the East Herts Plan at a Hearing in Public that started last year. We think that the Inspector didn’t give enough weight to protection of the Green Belt and we told Mr Brokenshire this when we asked him to put the Plan on hold.

Mr Brokenshire says in his letter that he agrees with the Inspector. So, Mr Brokenshire doesn’t think that the Green Belt is worth protecting either.

Mr Brokenshire’s letter includes encouragement for the Council to “explore all options for addressing Hertfordshire’s future housing need, including new settlements.” We think that the last two words may refer to one of Mr McPartland’s pet projects, a new Garden Town in the north of the county, somewhere around Ashwell probably.

“Hertfordshire’s future housing need” is an interesting phrase too. East Hertfordshire Council’s Plan is based on future household number projections from the Office for National Statistics. These were produced in 2014.

The ONS came out recently with revised future household number projections that shows a near 25% drop in the rate of growth compared to their previous projection. This means that the Plan may well contain more houses and more sites taken out of the Green Belt than is necessary. But the plan has been adopted now and so we will not know for many years.

You might think that, as we were acknowledged as one of the parties that asked the Secretary of State to put a hold on the Plan, we would have been one of the recipients of a letter telling us of Mr Brokenshire’s decision. But we didn’t: we heard from the CPRE branch in Kent, yes, Kent.

Finally, the last paragraph of Mr Brokenshire’s letter mentions the collaborative work between council officers and officials in his Ministry. Just what was that work and why wasn’t anyone else asked to collaborate?

In the last paragraph also, Mr Brokenshire thanks East Herts “for providing additional information to assist me in consideration of the issues.” What “additional information” and why weren’t we asked too? I’m not suggesting that there was a stitch up but I’m glad that one campaign group has submitted a Freedom of Information Request for release of this.

All in all, we are massively disappointed by Mr Brokenshire’s decision but we are not wholly surprised. Mrs May may have ruled out “tearing up the Green Belt” but her Secretary of State, a Planning Inspector and East Hertfordshire District Council aren’t taking any notice.

Richard Bullen

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Winter on the River Gade at Water End by ElizabethHamilton