Update on Draft Local Plan-Preferred Options From Councillor David Levett

I said in a number of recent interviews and in my response to various emails that I would release information as soon as available so copied below is the text of a press release released this morning which does have the updated figures for Baldock which as I said is substantially less than those currently in circulation.
As and when the detail is finalised this will also be published and I will either post a link or copy here.
Cllr. David Levett
Portfolio Holder Planning and Enterprise
North Hertfordshire District Council
Email: david@dlevett.co.uk

Draft housing allocations unveiled for North Hertfordshire Local Plan

The emerging preferred options for the allocation of land for housing in North Hertfordshire were presented at a Councillor briefing last night (15).
The draft housing allocations were discussed in advance of a Full Council meeting on 27 November, when Councillors will be asked to agree for consultation on a draft Local Plan – Preferred Options, for the period 2011-2031. Consultation would then be held during December and January where comments will be welcomed from the public, interest groups and potential developers. The results of the consultation will be used to prepare the final version of the Draft Local Plan to be put forward, following a further consultation, for examination by the Planning Inspectorate next year.
The draft plan will include 12,100 homes for North Hertfordshire’s needs over the period to 2031. It will also consider how we respond to the needs from the Luton area that cannot be met within Luton’s borders, which we are required to do under the National Planning Policy Framework.
The plan will identify sites for housing and employment across each of North Hertfordshire’s towns and villages. It will also contain a new suite of policies to be used when determining planning applications.
The majority of new development will be focused around North Hertfordshire’s towns, to make maximum use of existing facilities, social networks and infrastructure. As some of the sites proposed will be substantial new communities, the Council will prepare masterplans for those sites. The masterplans will consider the infrastructure and facilities necessary to support the development, opportunities to provide employment, and incorporation of open spaces.
Cllr David Levett, NHDC’s Portfolio Holder for Planning and Enterprise said: “We need new homes in North Hertfordshire to meet the needs of our growing population, to ensure the district’s economic prosperity and that our families have somewhere to live. However those homes must be sustainable, viable, and deliverable and also ensure that the unique nature of North Hertfordshire, which makes it one of the best places to live in the country, is protected.
“We have given careful consideration to the proposed sites and want to reassure people that all sites will be suitably planned with the accompanying infrastructure and local amenities necessary to create thriving communities, particularly in the case of the major sites which will each require a masterplan to ensure these are delivered.
“Following the meeting of Full Council on 27 November, we will be seeking the views of the public on the draft Local Plan – Preferred Options, and we would encourage everyone to have their say.”

Draft allocated key housing sites and estimated dwellings (inclusive of completions since 2011 and permissions at 1 April 2014) for North Hertfordshire
• Baldock – Nine sites have been allocated in and around Baldock, including one of 2,800 dwellings at the Blackhorse Farm site, north of the town. The estimated total number of dwellings for the plan period is 3,591. A masterplan for the Blackhorse Farm site will be prepared to include the provision of a new road and pedestrian bridge across the railway, adequate new schools including a secondary school and a new neighbourhood centre.
• Great Ashby and North East of Stevenage – Two sites are allocated for an estimated 857 additional dwellings.
• Hitchin – Nine sites are allocated in and around Hitchin. The town is estimated to see 1,342 additional dwellings over the plan period. The largest site is for 484 dwellings on land at Highover Farm. The Priory Fields site is not included in the allocated sites.
• Letchworth Garden City – 11 sites are allocated in Letchworth, the largest of which being land north of Letchworth with an estimated 1,000 dwellings. The total number of dwellings to be delivered is estimated to be 2,030. A masterplan will be prepared for the site north of Letchworth .
• Royston – Eight sites are allocated in Royston with the total number of dwellings estimated at 1,485.
• Stevenage North – One site on undeveloped farm land in the parish of Graveley is allocated as a housing site with an estimated 1,000 dwellings. A masterplan will be prepared for the site jointly with Stevenage Borough Council, which controls the adjoining land in the South.

National Planning Policy Framework Duty to Cooperate on Unmet Need
• Cockernhoe and East of Luton – Three sites have been identified for up to 2,103 dwellings for this area, to meet possible needs arising from Luton rather than North Hertfordshire. A masterplan will be prepared for all three sites to consider issues such as minimising visual impacts of development, access into Luton, adequate new schools, a new neighbourhood centre and ensure any development meets Luton’s specific needs.


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9 Responses to Update on Draft Local Plan-Preferred Options From Councillor David Levett

  1. Alan Gordon says:

    After I wrote to the Prime Minister I got this response from the Department for Communities and Local Government. I imagine others have received the same letter. The key elements that interest me are in the 3rd and 4th paragraphs, specifically: the need to guard against inappropriate development in the Green Belt and that this issue is of significance in Baldock, and that the National Planning Policy Framework requires early and meaningful collaboration with local people in the production of the Local Plan. I cannot see how either of these has been met in the case of this draft plan, since it depends upon development on Green Belt and contains such a significant bias toward development around Baldock that it cannot possibly be removed at the consultation stage. This is therefore not early or meaningful consultation of local people.

    I will be protesting at the meeting tonight. If this ‘draft’ plan is voted through, it will be vital that every single one of us voices our concerns during the ‘consultation’.
    Mr Alan Gordon
    12 November 2014
    Dear Mr Gordon

    Thank you for your email to the Prime Minister of 26 September, expressing concern
    about proposed housing development in Baldock. Firstly, I am sorry that the Prime
    Minister was unable to respond personally to you in this instance, due to the large
    volume of correspondence that he receives. Instead, your letter was passed to the
    Department for Communities and Local Government, because of its responsibility for
    national planning policy, and I have been asked to reply. I apologise for the delay in
    doing so.

    The Government has reformed the planning system and returned power to local
    communities and neighbourhoods to shape the development of their areas. We
    believe that local communities and their councils should be able to decide on the
    amount and the type of development that they feel is suitable for their area, rather
    than constantly be overruled by top down targets, regulations and plans. That is why
    the Government does not set national housing targets or require councils to provide
    more houses than are needed. Our housing policy, as set out in the National
    Planning Policy Framework, simply asks local planning authorities to plan to meet
    the objectively assessed needs of their communities.

    We have encouraged local councils to get up-to-date Local Plans in place as soon as
    possible as this is the most effective way of managing development within a local
    area. By identifying sites in its Local Plan councils can guide development to the
    most suitable locations. I should point out that housing needs are not the only factor
    to be considered when drawing up a Local Plan. The Framework is very clear on the
    need to balance a range of different social, economic and environmental priorities.
    We are quite clear that planning should contribute to and enhance the natural and
    local environment by protecting and enhancing valued landscapes and that planning
    must recognise the intrinsic character and beauty of the countryside and guard
    against inappropriate development in the Green Belt and other areas of particular
    landscape or environmental sensitivity. I understand that these issues are of
    significance in Baldock and that residents rightly place a high value on the quality of
    their environment.

    The Framework also makes clear that early and meaningful engagement and
    collaboration with local people in the production of the Local Plan is essential. A wide
    section of the community should be proactively engaged so that Local Plans, as far
    as possible, reflect a collective vision and a set of agreed priorities for the
    sustainable development of the area. Each local council must prepare a Statement
    of Community Involvement. This should set out their policy for involving communities
    in the preparation and revision of Local Plans. Local Plans are subject to a public
    examination before an independent inspector. At the examination the council will
    have to show that the views of the community and others with an interest in the area
    have been considered.

    I understand that North Hertfordshire District Council are working on a new Local
    Plan that will set targets for new homes, employment and retail development, and
    identify areas of land where these developments should be built for the period 2011-
    2030. This envisages consulting on a ‘preferred options’ draft plan in December
    2014/January 2015.

    The Government trusts local councils to make the right decisions to ensure that the
    options taken forward in plans are justified and take into consideration local people’s
    views. It is therefore vitally important that you submit representations to the local
    authority to ensure that your views may be taken fully into account.

    Usually, local councils offer a number of ways for residents to view consultation
    documents and respond to consultations. I would advise you to contact your council
    to enquire about what options are available for you to make your views known in
    future consultations on the Local Plan.

    I appreciate the strength of feeling you have expressed. I hope the above general
    information is helpful.

    Yours sincerely,
    Joanne McGouran
    Planning – Economy and Society
    Planning Directorate
    Department for Communities and Local Government

  2. Alan Gordon says:

    The other major concern I have is that North Hertfordshire would be helping to set a precedent that councils across the country can disregard Greenbelt protections, simply by including them in these plans and so bestowing upon them favoured status at the planning application stage. Greenbelt is meant – for very good reasons – to have a much higher precedence than non-urgent housing need. Deliberately circumventing this principle is dangerous and runs counter to the intentions of the National Planning Policy Framework – it may even be illegal.

  3. Alan Gordon says:

    When I read the press releases from Councillor Levett, I am struck by a contradiction. It states that (1)”The majority of new development will be focused around North Hertfordshire’s towns, to make maximum use of existing facilities, social networks and infrastructure.” And yet, he also states that (2)”all sites will be suitably planned with the accompanying infrastructure and local amenities necessary to create thriving communities”. If (2) is correct, then why would they be focusing on towns and existing infrastructure, but if (2) is not correct, then the existing facilities and infrastructure of the towns will be swamped.
    Doubling the size of Baldock in just 17 years is not sustainable in any respect: it makes no environmental or other condition of life better, but it will destroy the character of Baldock and create problems in every aspect of life, from schools to health, from employment to traffic to crime. It would create a bulge in demographics that will take many decades to even out (for example, families with small children, or retiring elderly).
    If councillors must vote on plans to provide 12,100 homes across North Hertfordshire, without options to spread them across all towns and villages more evenly, or without the option to establish a new town, then it must be explained why those options have not been included for consideration. Excluding them biases the process from the outset. This plan does not reflect the desires of the people of North Hertfordshire – it is therefore not a local plan and must be rejected.

  4. Marina Alvarez says:

    I don’t think we are doomed, Leggett has selected the section of the National Planning Policy Framework which best suits his argument for the proposal. Having read it, there are other requirements in there, which would be conflict with such a large development. I urge you all to read it, it’s not that long and carries a lot of weight in terms of safeguarding Greenbelt land and smaller communities, see section 9 in particular.

    [PDF]National Planning Policy Framework 2012 – Gov.uk
    than people in communities. This National Planning Policy Framework changes that. By replacing over a thousand pages of national policy with around fifty, …

  5. Chris Bassett says:

    Why would other councillors vote against these proposals when they are getting off so lightly? We do not stand a chance! Baldock is doomed.

    • Christine Watson says:

      Well we could accept doom or we could fight it then we’ll at least know we tried to stop the rot. Actually the good thing is we now know how many houses are proposed in Baldock even if we do not yet know specific locations. I think we need to convince all councillors that there are good reasons for NOT building over huge swathes of land round Baldock and there are some other places which would be better to build. AND that it’s unfair to give us 30% odd, doubling our population.

      So let’s start writing again, using the easy method devised by this website, telling councillors why they should not vote to build so much here. Save a copy of anything you send so you can send again after November 27th because I have a feeling that in the Consultation Period they only consider newly received stuff.

      It’s like any competition – you’ve got to be in it to win it.

  6. Alan Gordon says:

    I am just appalled by this. The concerns of people in Baldock have been completely brushed aside. Furthermore, I read “It will also contain a new suite of policies to be used when determining planning applications.” to mean that planning policy will be changed to ensure we cannot stop building at the planning application stage either (or that greenbelt should take precedence over non-urgent housing need).
    Some stats (based on my counting):
    * 31% of building with be in Baldock compared with 17% in Letchworth, 13% in Royston (which has already had a lot of development) and just 11% in Hitchen.
    * Looking at census data, Baldock has a population of 10, 280 (in 2011 up 11% from 1991), Royston has a population of 15,781 (up 12% from 1991), Letchworth has a population of 33,249 (up just 5% since 1991) and Hitchen has a population of 34,266 (up just 6% since 1991). [figures from citypopulation]
    So, Baldock has already been growing at twice the rate of Hitchen and Letchworth and is now expected to shoulder 1 third of all the extra housing, even though it is 1 third the size of Hitchen and Letchworth!
    How is this fair? Is Baldock suddenly and buzzing industrial hub with a massive housing crisis and people sleeping in tents? Or, is this a lazy proposal to solve the housing need of the entire region with a single large development and almost no consultation. Since there are no other options to consider, councilors will have to vote on proposals to build over greenbelt and destroy the character to Baldock, knowing that there isn’t capacity within these plans that meet the housing need they are being told exists. They won’t be able to spread the development more evenly, as the proposals are severely biased from the outset.
    Clearly we need to escalate our protest or we will simply be brushed aside!

    • Paul Davis says:

      I too am stunned by this proposal Alan. This has already been discussed and decided, any consultation is just lip service and sound bytes.

      We voted these people in to represent our needs and views, all they are doing is representing big business. Sustainability? This is not sustainable, where are the teachers going to be found for the new schools? There is already a shortage! What about a medical centre? There is no mention of one. Only a Neighbourhood Centre.

      Who will pay for the staffing of the neighbourhood centre? I was not sure exactly what a neighbourhood centre was, so I googled it. No surprise what I found were articles about staffing shortages! I quote.
      Due to staff shortages, the neighbourhood centre has had to reduce their drop-in hours to 12.30-4pm on a Wednesday. This is a temporary measure and full service will resume as soon as possible. Planned activities are continuing as normal. Customers wishing to have computer access can use the library, the council offices in Military Road or Querns Community Centre. We apologise for any inconvenience. This is taken from Canterbury City Council’s own website.

      It is horrific what is being planned for Baldock and we need to fight this all the way.

      What is happening here is that 44 North Herts Councillors are trying to bully this past our 5 Councillors who represent Baldock.

      • Jane Neal says:

        The attached draft local plan of which Mr Levett makes mention of highlighting the preferred options which also details housing, parking, infrastructure, town centres, employment, green spaces and much more one assumes has been established on the principals of The Localism Act 2011 and the National Planning Policy Framework (March 2012).
        Within the summary of the draft plan it stipulates that North Hertfordshire can now prepare a local plan using locally derived housing targets.
        1) However it is still not clear from where the 12,100 homes to be built by 2031 within North Hertfordshire come?
        Mr Levett has in the past talked about the Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment (SHLAA) that North Hertfordshire has completed. The National Planning Policy Framework for plan making talks about using a proportionate evidence base where the “Local Plan is based on adequate, up-to-date and relevant evidence about the economic, social and environmental characteristics and prospects of the area”.
        2) Could we also be made aware of the Strategic Housing Market Assessment that North Hertfordshire have completed to assess its full housing needs?

        3) And also in conjunction with this, the Landscape Character Assessment that has been prepared that describes the variation in the character of the landscapes from the various different proposals?
        Mr Levett then goes on to talk about precedent in size of growth. If you investigate the current situation with regards to precedents and planning law you will find many cases that have set new understandings of precedent, which in conclusion summarises that presently there is much confusion with regard to the establishment of precedents. Indeed Mr Pickles has recently ruled against a Council who have wanted to contravene the National Planning Policy and use areas of green belt land. Furthermore the new National Planning Policy Framework does try to ensure that Sustainable development is at the forefront of decision making.
        Looking at the press release of the draft proposal and in particular the paragraph that stipulates – “The draft plan will include 12,100 homes for North Hertfordshire’s needs over the period to 2031. It will also consider how to respond to the needs from Luton area that cannot be met within Luton’s Borders, which we are required to do under the National Planning Policy Framework”

        4) How much of the housing is for Luton and how much is actually for North Herts? That is actual nee, not what you have printed in your draft proposal?
        It is true with respect to the requirement that you are required to cooperate with neighbouring councils .There is a duty of co-operation on councils, and North Hertfordshire does need to demonstrate in its core strategy that there has been consultation with the neighbouring authorities.
        However this duty to co-operate does not say what the objective of the co-operation involves, so it is logical to argue that it is up to North Hertfordshire if this should be, a) – do we co-operate with the neighbour not to build houses or b) or co-operate to build houses. North Hertfordshire is obliged to co-operate with its neighbours but it is not obliged to agree with them.
        5) So as this development does not meet the needs of the electorates of North Herts why have North Hertfordshire Council adopted an attitude to ignore the people it is supposed to represent?

        Again if I reference the National Planning Policy Framework it suggests that it is a framework where local people and their accountable councils can produce their own local and neighbourhood plans.

        6) This does raise the question are these plans more inspirational than needed?

        7) Are these figures just provided by central government or county council, and have local Councillors simply forgotten who they represent or is it they do not have the courage to stand up and represent the electorate?
        8) Is the readiness to accept the need for new homes from the neighbouring authority driven by the new homes bonus?
        For clarification the new homes bonus was introduced with the aim to incentivise councils in England to build properties as each new home built ensures that the government will pay the council the equivalent of the council tax for each new home, with a bonus for affordable housing, for the next six years.
        The numbers provided by Mr Levett on percentage coverage of settlements is interesting but it would have been of more use if he had included in the figures also land used by roads and railways, commercial and industrial buildings, lakes and rivers and land completely unusable.
        I agree that the last thing anybody wants is a free for all but it would be useful for the electorate to see how the new draft local plan has dealt with the following issues and questions that the National Planning Policy Framework has asked:
        a) A plan that encourages the effective use of land by reusing land that has been previously developed (Brownfield land). Has North Herts considered all infill locations in the region?
        b) Pursuing sustainable development involves seeking positive improvements in
        The quality of the build, natural and historic environment, as well as in
        People’s quality of life, including (but not limited to):
        ● making it easier for jobs to be created in cities, towns and villages.
        ● moving from a net loss of bio-diversity to achieving net gains for nature.
        ● replacing poor design with better design.
        ● improving the conditions in which people live, work, travel and take Leisure.
        How does North Hertfordshire plan to satisfy these requirements with the huge urban sprawl that it plans to create from Hitchin through to Baldock?
        c) Ensuring the vitality of town centres, so how will Baldock be maintained when you propose to build a complete separate town centre away from the current town centre?
        d) Supporting a prosperous rural economy, planning policies should support economic growth in rural areas in order to create jobs and prosperity by taking a positive approach to sustainable new development. To promote a strong rural economy, local and neighbourhood. You have already stipulated in your figures how much rural land there is. Others have mentioned local farms being in place for generations, providing employment and income for local communities not to mention products supplied to supermarkets and stores. What happens to these?
        e) The opportunities for sustainable transport modes have been taken up depending on the nature and location of the site, to reduce the need for major transport infrastructure. Everyone recognises the infrastructure issues and North Hertfordshire have assured us that the Blackhorse Farm site is only viable if major infrastructure development occurs. Would other smaller infill sites not match the needs without the need for major development?

        Notwithstanding this it is also questionable if major sewage and water suppliers can be provided to the area economically?

        So is creating a big new infrastructure, roads and bridges really necessary and in accordance with National Planning Policy Framework?
        In summary I am lead to believe that the scrapping of the Regional plans has allowed North Hertfordshire to plan their housing according to their needs and discussion with their electorates.
        However I don’t think this consultation has happened to the level required nor do I believe that the housing needs identified by North Hertfordshire is purely for North Hertfordshire. It is more likely that the North Hertfordshire requirements alone could be accommodated by small infill sites around the edge of existing settlements together with infill brown field sites. What is not clear is why our elected Councillors are not representing the electorate of North Hertfordshire.
        Maybe we should as one gentlemen suggested just come together and show a vote of no confidence with the current incumbent members. Even considering voting them out at the next local elections, for example Labour has not hidden their housing criteria. It doesn’t really matter if it is Liberal, Labour or even New Conservatives. What is important is that we are represented by the Councillors that we have elected.

        What we all need to consider is:

        • Contacting the Chief Executive of the Council first and then the Local Government Ombudsman and complaining about the performance of our Councillors in terms of representation.
        • Voting against these people in the next elections
        • Consider all the developments. What the Councillors will do is use each area to fight against the other to satisfy there requirements. So for example success of save rural Baldock in reducing housing on its land in areas marked G, F and K on the North Hertfordshire plan will mean they can use this to focus on land in B and D. However this will still affect Baldock, as another town the size of Baldock will be built next to the existing town. Is this the market town you want to live in?
        Is this Misdirection in attributing “substantial weight” to one large substantial plot?
        • Local influential businesses may get more customers but not to the level they assume. A new settlement will be built with its own shops and schools. Why shop in Baldock? Also will the settlement represent a social economic group that for example will buy expensive quality meat and bread in the current shops?
        • Write and involve as many interest groups as possible, don’t just consider your local Councillor. Archaeological groups, habitats and environments groups, opposition parties, National Trust, Campaign to Protect Rural England, media local and national anything to try to increase the transparency of this draft local plan.
        What all the interested parties need to do to stop Letchworth, Hitchin and Baldock just becoming one urban sprawl using areas of natural habitat, green belt land and productive agricultural land is work together to make the Councillors we have elected represent our needs and not let them play one group off against the other to meet their own needs.



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