They paved paradise – precious countryside lost to development

22nd September 2021

The Green Belt is precious and precarious. Once developed, covered by tarmacadam and brick, it is lost forever.  This is the story of countryside lost to development.

Significant tracts of Green Belt land are under threat from housing development. In the view of CPRE Hertfordshire the protection of the countryside is more important than meeting pre-determined housing targets.

To highlight the threat that exists for our at-risk local landscapes, we tell the story through a series of photographs of a piece of land on the western edge of Tring, part of which sits within the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). 

All photographs by Elizabeth Hamilton.

Photograph 1 was taken in summer 2012. A section of the land was being used for the grazing of horses and this particular field (not AONB) appeared to be still in productive agricultural use.

 

Photograph 1

 

In photograph 2, also taken in 2012, the hedge on the left forms the boundary of the AONB. The well-used path you can see was a favourite for walkers and the main footpath link between two parts of the AONB either side of the Tring gap.

Photograph 2

Our countryside is so enjoyed by those that visit it because it reflects the timeless cycle of nature. This is evident in photograph 3 from 2017, which was taken from approximately the same position as photograph 1. In this photograph you can see how the land appears to have been taken out of cultivation and has developed a diverse flora.

 

Photograph 3

 

Photograph 4 shows land in the AONB in 2017, again with a diverse flora and offering an excellent habitat for butterflies.

Photograph 4

Fast forward to April 2021 and the new development in photograph 5. This is the view that now greets visitors to the area. Large sections of the hedge have been uprooted and flora and fauna have given way to executive housing. There is some use of local building materials (brick and flint) but otherwise it could be “anywhereland”.

 

Photograph 5

 

The layout of this development is built around the car. The site is three miles from Tring railway station, two miles from a secondary school and a mile from town centre shops, but very near to the A41 bypass. What local need is this housing development meeting?

Countryside lost

And perhaps the bigger question is how did we lose this beautiful section of countryside?

In the Dacorum Local Plan adopted in 2013 there were a number of Green Belt sites allocated for housing. CPRE Herts made representations during the public examination of this plan to stop these local allocations being taken out of the Green Belt. We argued that there were no exceptional circumstances to justify these allocations and that the redevelopment of previously developed ‘brownfield’ land should be prioritised instead. However, in our view, it seemed to be a fait accompli and we were unsuccessful.

So this is the situation that we have today. In photograph 6, you can see the mature hedge adjoining the AONB and footpath has fallen victim to the developer’s diggers.

Photograph 6

Do you recognise the view in photograph 7? It is the same view of the field that you saw in photographs 1 and 3. A bit different now, isn’t it? Greenery has been replaced by dirt and flora has given way to ugly spoil!

Photograph 7

 

There are so many questions which we would like answers to. Look at photograph 8 and ask yourself: What has happened to the flower-rich AONB field seen in photograph 4? What you are looking at is the site office enclosure. Did it really need to be located here causing, in our view, completely avoidable biodiversity destruction?

Photograph 8

The developer claims to focus on sustainability, including respecting the environment, preserving local architectural heritage, and minimising the use of natural resources and environmental impact. Looking at photograph 9 we see little attempt to minimise environmental impact.

 

Photograph 9

 

Walkers do still visit this area for exercise and to join the footpath that links the two parts of the AONB, north and south of the Tring gap. This is how they ‘enjoy’ (photograph 10) this walk today.

Photograph 10

The beautiful, thriving, green landscape shown in the first four photographs has been lost forever. Please join us to help protect what remains of our precious Hertfordshire countryside.