Hertfordshire - Campaign to Protect Rural England

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When the garden's not so green

Thursday, 06 August 2015 14:08

Letchworth Garden City Letchworth Garden City numb/Alamy

Is a new 'Garden City' the solution to Hertfordshire's housing problems?

With large-scale housing proposals in draft local plans, at first glance a new settlement beyond the Green Belt in North Herts. might seem attractive. The proposal has been around for some time. Around the time of the General Election, the term ‘Garden City’ was used by several sitting MPs. The idea that this would help protect the Green Belt is, however, a fallacy.

Presumably the various groups and individuals supporting the concept of a new settlement beyond the Green Belt in North Herts have in mind a settlement in a location:

  • avoiding the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty as well as the Green Belt;
  • with good accessibility by both road and rail transport;
  • avoiding the Chalk Downlands which extend north-eastwards from the Chilterns, in the area from Baldock to support Royston and beyond; of sufficient size to economically retail, education, health and leisure facilities for the potential residents.
  • with a population of 15,000 - 25,000 living in 6,000 - 10,000 houses.
  • with the primary purpose of reducing the need for a similar scale of housing development within the Green Belt in Hertfordshire.

Planning Questions and Issues
Some of the questions that arise are:

  • Where would new residents come from?
  • Where would they work?
  • How would employment be created?
  • Who would masterplan and finance the construction?
  • When would the town, and its associated infrastructure, be built?
  • Who would construct and create that infrastructure?
  • How would social isolation be avoided?
  • What are the environmental costs of creating such a new settlement?
  • What happens to the housing need arising within the existing towns in North Herts., Luton, Stevenage, and other towns in Hertfordshire’s Green Belt?
  • What are the alternatives to a new settlement?
  • Planning issues

In Planning and Sustainability terms a ‘Garden City’ is unachievable. It would require access to local jobs, a full range of services and facilities, not just houses.

The current housing increase proposed by North Herts. Council alone (14,200 dwellings), is partly to meet demand for in-migration to support business and industry in London and key growth points promoted by the Local Enterprise Partnerships in London, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire.

Any new settlement located along the A505 north east of Baldock – the only potentially suitable area for a minimum of 6,000 houses and 15,000 people - would become a dormitory for London and Cambridge commuters. It would be without any existing local employment base.

Many social housing residents would have to move away from their home towns, villages and extended families. Limited alternative housing opportunities are likely to be made available to them if they are reluctant to do so. Existing residents of North Herts. - and the other districts in the Hertfordshire Green Belt - would still need housing in their own towns and villages.

This temporary answer to the ‘housing problem’ merely creates another growing town in North Herts. whose population would in turn generate future housing need.

Loss of high quality farmland in open countryside (which also forms highly prized views from the Chalk ridge between Baldock and Royston) is another reason why any location for a new settlement of 6,000 or more houses near the A505 is likely to be unacceptable in terms of national planning policy.

There is no existing organisation that could deliver a new town beyond the Green Belt within North Herts in the period during which North Herts Council proposes 14,200 new dwellings should be built. A substantial number would still have to be built elsewhere in North Herts, as well as the other Green Belt districts in Hertfordshire. There are no current mechanisms to facilitate meeting the housing needs of East Herts., Stevenage, Welwyn Hatfield and St Albans (whose main towns are all in the Green Belt) in a new settlement on the northern edge of the County.

Key issue
A key issue is the number of houses actually justified in Hertfordshire, given the extent of the Planning Policy constraints that exist here, in particular the Green Belt and Chilterns AONB. All of the consultation draft Local Plans published to date have failed to identify a housing target that reflects national planning policy for the protection of the Green Belt and Chilterns AONB.

But the key to protecting the Green Belt in Hertfordshire is in the hands of the District Councils. They can consult on - and set targets for - new housing without meeting market demand, because of the County’s precious Green Belt and outstanding countryside. They have the power to resist pressure for excessive in-migration.

Housing targets CAN be set which can be met primarily through building on previously developed land. Housing on greenfield Green Belt sites should only be proposed where circumstances are genuinely ‘exceptional’. But District Councils have to have the will to do this and plan for the consequences.

A new settlement of 6,000 plus houses in North Herts. beyond the Green Belt - whether called a Garden City, Garden Suburb or New Town:

could not be built in time to meet the need for housing in the Local Plan period to 2031;
would not be environmentally, economically or socially sustainable.

Most new housing will need to be built within the areas where the need arises. A new settlement in the non-Green Belt area of North Herts will not meet those needs.

A new Garden City in North Herts. will not protect the County’s Green Belt from development. Only strategic planning, and political will to do it, can do that.

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