Councillors and residents have claimed a Hertfordshire authority could pass proposals to build over the greenbelt “under the noses of a distracted population”.
There are just days before a public consultation on Dacorum Borough Council’s draft local plan ends, but there are concerns that people aren’t yet fully aware of what they could involve.
The local plan is a document every local authority has to submit to outline how they will meet housing targets over the long term, as well as plans for building community facilities and infrastructure.
Dacorum is now gauging opinion on their proposals that would confirm projects right up until 2038.
The current proposals within the Emerging Strategy for Growth will see 16,899 homes built across Dacorum.
However, there has been criticism that some areas are being hit with huge increases in homes.
Hemel Hempstead will see 10,688 new homes built, with 2,236 in Berkhamsted and 2,731 in Tring.
For some residents, that means their village could essentially be lost amongst a new wave of homes.
Find the latest planning applications in your area using the widget below:
‘Our village is being written out of existence’
Lara Pringle, a Liberal Democrat councillor for Northchurch, said that one worry for the council is that central Government in Westminster can take over any plans that are struggling to get passed or don’t meet targets.
However, she said that more care needed to be applied when trying to plan for the future.
She added: “Dacorum is an exceptional situation in my view, and the view of many, in that our greenbelt is on the edge of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and that needs to be protected for generations to come.
“Northchurch has got a church that’s 1,000 years old, is an ancient settlement that actually predates Berkhamsted, and we have our own parish council and the local borough council who has written up this plan haven’t even recognised its existence – they’re just calling it west Berkhamsted.
“They’re putting a lot of the development proposals for Bekrhamsted in Northchurch, which will add about 50% to the population.
“If this development goes ahead, Northchurch will not really exist in its current form.”
Cllr Pringle has been leading an effort to raise awareness about the plans, especially amongst those who don’t realise the consultation is underway.
The councillor will raise a motion in the council meeting today (February 24) to withdraw the consultation, review it and then restart once restrictions have been lifted.
If you’re looking for a way to stay up to date with the latest breaking news from around Hertfordshire, the HertsLive newsletter is a good place to start.
The daily update will deliver the top news and features to your inbox.
We choose the most important stories of the day to include in the newsletter, including crime, court news, long reads, traffic and travel, food and drink articles and more.
Signing up to the newsletter is simple. All you have to do is to click here and type in your email address.
It’s one of the many ways that you can read the news that matters to you from HertsLive.
She added: “I think enough is enough, there’s clear evidence that there are many, many people who are completely unaware of this and the significance of what is being proposed, will blight the countryside for generations to come.
“It seems incredibly unfair to do this under the noses of a distracted population.
“Many people in our local area have been affected by Covid as across the country and have a lot of very serious things to worry about, a lot of parents are homeschooling while they’re trying to work, and I don’t think people have the time to do this the justice it deserves.”
Campaigners are also concerned that the current plans may not actually reduce the housing need in Dacorum, with a number of developments centred around bigger four-bed homes, which won’t go towards taking people off the housing waiting list or onto the property ladder.
Cllr Pringle added: “The whole consultation seems to be driven by the interests of developers who want to get their hands on greenbelt land, which is obviously a lot more profitable for them to develop than brownfield sites; which are more suitable for building social and affordable housing near population centres where people are less likely to need to use cars and so on.
“There’s a real concern about the impact of this on ruining our countryside, on creating a huge amount of congestion on our roads, there are no proposals to invest in transport infrastructure, or any physical infrastructure.”
The councillor and local residents have produced a document that covers everything from the danger to the chalk streams, to that lack of infrastructure, and the ecology of the area.
‘We need an extension – if not a rewrite of the plans’
Graham Bright, of the Grove Fields Residents Association, has also written to the council along with six other community groups to oppose the consultation.
The Chiltern Society, Chiltern Countryside Group, Grove Fields Residents Association (GFRA), Berkhamsted Residents Action Group (BRAG), Kings Langley & District Residents Association (KL&DRA), Berkhamsted Citizens and Tring in Transition have come together as the ‘One Voice’ alliance as the consultation comes to an end to make their case for the re-evaluating the plan.
An open letter to the Leader of the Council, Councillor Andrew Williams said that they don’t believe the council has made it clear how they will work with developers to mitigate the loss of greenbelt land, and have said more brownfield sites should have been used away from the Chilterns.
They have also raised doubts about the need for more than 16,000 new houses, and there should be a “primary focus on affordable starter homes.”
Graham argues that there has been a lack of consideration about how these areas are expected to cope with such a large increase in population.
Graham added: “We’re not trying to just hoist houses onto Hemel Hempstead, because one of the things that’s really lacking in the local plan is addressing the road infrastructure question certainly for Tring.
“They’re proposal that you can increase the traffic entering by 55% – by 55% more houses 55% more people 55% more cars – [with] no improvements to the road infrastructure at all, but by adding cycle paths and pedestrian crossings only – that’s the road infrastructure solution for 55% growth in Tring.
“I’m a keen cyclist and a keen walker. If it was a two, three or four per cent growth in Tring you might say, ‘OK we’re getting more people out of their cars onto the bikes or walking so therefore that might work.
“But if you’ve got a 55 per cent in people and you’re saying you need no increase in road infrastructure – that’s going to be gridlock.”
Graham argues the huge growth in Tring threatens the market town character, and that the timing of the consultation means that many people won’t realise just how serious of a threat it is.
He added: “Whether you support what our resident’s association stands for, or not, even if you want loads of houses, we tried to do our bit to raise awareness because I think it’s important that people have that say.
“I think doing this during a lockdown when there’s lots of things on people’s minds – whether elderly or not eldery – people have been preoccupied by, up until recently, soaring infection rates and soaring death numbers.
“The idea of putting effort and energy into a housing consultation probably hasn’t been anywhere near the top of anyone’s list.
“At the very least, we need an extension and ideally, I think, a rewrite.”
The residents groups have been advised by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), who are also concerned about the irreversible impact the development will have.
Elizabeth Hamilton, a volunteer at CPRE Herts added: “The green belt is meant to be protected except in exceptional circumstances or very special circumstances, and it’s up to the council to prove that those circumstances exist and CPRE’s case is that they don’t.
Elizabeth noted that Dacorum don’t need to accept the housing target at face value because there are unique constraints on the area, such as the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the size of the green belt.
The group also say that this is not just a case of not wanting to build homes, but that the current proposals would not solve problems with Dacorum’s housing demand.
Elizabeth said: “Dacorum obviously does have a problem with affordable housing, and people on the housing list and so on – but they need to build small, relatively cheap houses.
“If you give a developer permission to build on an area of green belt, the chances are you’ll end up with three, four, or five bed houses, priced way out of the reach of the people who are most in need of housing, and also in the wrong place.
“If you’re starting out in life or at home with kids some of the time, you want places to be accessible.”
The CPRE are also concerned about the impact on climate change and whether Dacorum have considered the impact of the plans.
Elizabeth argues that putting large amounts of housing in places where driving is necessary would make hitting the net zero carbon target “nearly impossible”.
The consultation runs until the end of February, when the plans could then be shaped by the public’s opinion.
What have the council said?
A spokesperson for Dacorum Borough Council noted that the extension until February 28 was already an extension so the consultation had run for 13 weeks, which is “more than double the legal requirement”.
They added: “Since the start of the pandemic the Government has made it clear that Local Plans should continue to be progressed during this period and has introduced further guidance to maximise the use of digital methods to enable this to happen.
“To help our residents we have published an article in the Dacorum Digest, displayed public notices in the Hemel Hempstead Gazette and Online Hemel Today, sent out notification (by letter or email) to all those registered on the Council’s Local Plan database, hosted a permanent virtual exhibition where residents can view the documents and leave a message for officers and produced a local plan video explaining the consultation.
“We have also made arrangements for residents to access the documents (by appointment) at the Forum and to loan documents from Hemel Hempstead, Berkhamsted and Tring libraries.
“Government guidance does allow libraries to remain open to provide access to IT and digital services and the County Council have put in place measures to issue loans on request. We have also made documents available to each of the Borough’s Town and Parish Councils.
“Officers have been contactable in the usual way via email and phone and we have received a high number of calls and emails which suggests a high level of awareness of the consultation.
“The Local Plan seeks to approach the naming of the proposed Growth Areas in a consistent way i.e. to refer to them in relation to the existing settlement (e.g. East Tring, South Berkhamsted). The Plan does seek to ensure that all new developments reflect local character and context and we would development in the West of Berkhamsted to respect Northchurch.
“On the numbers the Council is required to meet the level of growth set out in the Government’s Standard Methodology. Government has recently confirmed that the basis of this calculation will remain the 2014 Household Projections. Accommodating this level of growth will be very challenging and will require the use of land outside of our existing towns and villages.
“The Council encourages everyone to have their say on the Plan. The deadline for the consultation is 23:59 on 28 February 2021.”
To find out more information on the plan, visit Dacorum Borough Council’s website.
There is an online form to respond to the proposals, or a comment form can also be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org or by post to Strategic Planning, Dacorum Borough Council. The Forum, Marlowes, Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire. HP1 1DN.