Letter To NHDC Councillors

This is the letter that was published in the Comet 20th November 2014.

 

The NHDC Councillors
Council Offices
Gernon Road
Letchworth Garden City
Herts
SG6 3JF

20th November 2014

Dear Councillors

It is with shock and amazement that we read the recently released draft papers, which you are due to vote on next week.

The proposal is that you should agree to allow the Housing Local Plan to include building 3591 houses round one small market town on prime agricultural land, which is currently part of the Green Belt.

How can this have come about? What possible justification would you have for agreeing to such a devastating, destructive suggestion?

The facts (taken from the proposals themselves) are as follows:-

  1. The Local Plan is based on an estimate of the number of houses that will be needed across North Hertfordshire in the next 20 years. This number has come from the 2013 Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) and the household projections from the Department for Communities and Local Government. This is not set in stone and will itself be subject to review within a year (i.e. before the proposed submission draft of the local plan is due in September next year). Current estimate 12,100. This has been massively revised upwards from 7,500. Why? What assumptions have been made to set this monstrously large figure? How can such a momentous decision be based on such flaky data?

 

  1. The plan dismisses Eric Pickles’ recent statement about use of Green Belt as nothing more than a statement of the existing policy, and therefore it has been ignored. Please remember what he said…

“The Government attaches great importance to Green Belts.  The fundamental aim of Green Belt Policy is to prevent urban sprawl by keeping land permanently open….  Inappropriate development is, by definition, harmful to the Green Belt and should not be approved except in exceptional circumstances.”

The Green Belt review has been commissioned by NHDC with the Local Plan in mind but is still subject to review and approval by you, the councillors. These are NOT exceptional circumstances.

 

  1. The pressure to change the Green Belt boundaries has only come about because planners have failed to find any other sites to build on easily. The council has a duty to cooperate with neighbouring areas where they are unable to fulfil their own housing requirements. This is not a duty to accept those extra houses at any cost. If a sacrifice has to be made it should be revisited on the original area where the shortfall was identified rather than irrevocably left with the neighbour.

 

There are two key decisions that should be reconsidered very carefully.

  1. Luton’s Local plan, which is itself only at the consultation stage, identified that it was unable to meet its own housing requirements, in part because it is deemed too expensive to build on their own brownfield sites. North Herts has agreed to take on 2,100 of Luton Borough Council’s housing. So, we have to find 2,100 houses elsewhere within North Herts.
  2. The council have had a tough time working with Stevenage Borough Council over a site in the west of the A1. Rather than tackle the issue they have taken the easy way out by saying that they will leave this site for Stevenage’s possible future needs. So we lose space for 3,100 houses that could have been used for North Herts needs.

 

So that is a further 5,200 houses that have to be found in other parts of North Herts.

 

  1. In order for this suggested Local Plan to be accepted, the planners have removed Green Belt from around Baldock. This contravenes 3 of the 5 functions of the designation of the Green Belt.
  • To assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment;
  • To preserve the setting and special character of historic towns; and
  • To assist in urban regeneration by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land

The remaining 2 have been upheld by redesignating parts of the land between Hitchin and Luton as Green Belt. These being

  • To check the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas;
  • To prevent neighbouring towns merging into one another;

This is welcomed but does not mitigate the decisions that have been made in relation to Baldock.

  1. The allocation of houses is extremely disproportionate across the District.  While Baldock gets 30% of the total, Hitchin & Letchworth (both more than three times the size of Baldock) only get 11% & 17% respectively.  While the population of Baldock will double in the period 1991 – 2031, Letchworth will increase only by 16%.  This is simply not fair and will destroy the character of a beautiful Georgian Market town.

 

Your constituents voted for you because they have faith in you and trust you to do what is right.

Destroying grade 2 agricultural Green Belt land is simply not right.

We urge you to reject the Local Plan on 27th November.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

Save Rural Baldock Group

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