TWO KICKS IN THE TEETH IN ONE DAY
“Very disappointing – but not unexpected” is the way local Stevenage Liberal Democrats described the two decisions, announced in a letter on 2.6.2020, by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Conservative Robert Jenrick MP, not to Call In the two recent, controversial planning applications.
This means that both Gresley Park and Forster Country developments can go ahead.
Both planning applications were passed in February.
The application for over 600 houses and associated facilities at Gresley Park, immediately east of Gresley Way, Stevenage, is on land under the planning control of East Herts District Council (EHDC) and was voted through EHDC on 5.2.2020 by all the Conservative, Green and Labour councillors present voting for it.
The plan for Gresley Park has been vehemently opposed by local Liberal Democrats since it was first announced by Pigeon Developments in early 2016. The residents of the Stevenage Borough Council wards most affected by it (Chells and Manor) made it abundantly clear that they agreed with their local Lib Dem borough and county councillors - they did not want Gresley Park! Amongst other things, it is likely to put an enormous strain on local roads, it will mean loss of the Beane Valley amenity and it will mean the residents of Gresley Park will look to Stevenage for their facilities like schools and health provision, putting an unacceptable and unfair burden on them.
Many others also opposed Gresley Park via the informative and factual Gresley Park Interest Group Facebook site, run by local campaigner Stephen Sypula.
Although it is not in their territory, Labour dominated Stevenage Borough Council (SBC) welcomed the development and supported it – a fact uncovered by the Liberal Democrats who scrutinised hitherto unpublished letters and e mails between EHDC and SBC – and only later, following huge local pressure from the Lib Dems - did SBC hold a special meeting and publish too late some weak objections.
County and borough councillor Robin Parker said: “Like all councils, EHDC have been given a housing provision target by the government, and EHDC are using the technique of dumping their housing requirements and consequent problems on the very edge of Chells and Chells Manor, so that they achieve their targets with minimal disruption to their own area.”
Robin – and the local MP and possibly others – wrote to the Secretary of State months ago, asking him to Call In the application, so that it could be looked at afresh by government inspectors and possibly a different decision arrived at. This week’s letter from Robert Jenrick means that a Call In will now not happen.
Robin Parker said “Sadly, all that EHDC need to do now is to finalise their relevant Section 106 agreements and then issue the final consent Decision Notice, which will probably happen in a month or two. Unless a Judicial Review is instigated – which can only investigate the process of the decision, not the decision itself – and which would cost tens of thousands of pounds – then, unfortunately, Gresley Park is a done deal.”
“It is a kick in the teeth from the government, EHDC and SBC to the thousands of local campaigners who were motivated to oppose this awful plan.”
The application is for around 800 houses north of Stevenage on farmland designated Forster Country, named after author Edward Morgan Forster, who moved there aged 4 in 1883 and wrote Howards End based on the area. The application is by Bellway Homes and Millar Homes and is on land under the planning control of Stevenage Borough Council (SBC).
It was opposed by hundreds of objectors, including Historic England. The objections to development on Forster Country go back at least 20 years, with hundreds of campaigners against development involved over the years.
Lib Dem borough councillor Cllr. Graham Snell, who is a member of the SBC Planning and Development Committee, and who voted against the application said: “A major objection is the enormous strain that the new houses would put upon existing infrastructure.”
Fellow Committee member Cllr. Tom Wren, who also voted against, agreed, adding “The extra traffic on North Road which will be generated by the development is set to cause problems which have not been adequately addressed in the application.”
[A roughly equivalent area to the north is under the planning control of North Herts District Council and is designated for development under their emerging Local Plan, but no application is live for that yet.]
The application was given approval by SBC on 4.2.2020, with all the majority Labour councillors present voting for it; all the opposition Liberal Democrats (Cllr. Graham Snell and Cllr. Tom Wren) and Conservatives voted against it.
Following the granting by SBC of the planning permission, requests were made to the Secretary of State, Robert Jenrick, to Call In the application, so that it could be looked afresh by government inspectors and possibly a different decision arrived at. This week’s letter from Robert Jenrick means that a Call In will not now happen.
Robin Parker said “Unlike the Gresley Park application, it is not as simple as SBC now just issuing the Decision Notice. Since the original vote to grant planning permission, SBC has introduced a Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) system. So, my understanding is that the decision will need to go back to the SBC Planning and Development Committee to be re-assessed. This may be in July or September. However, although the Committee could overturn the decision, this is unlikely because the officers’ planning advice in favour of the development would remain the same.”
“Unless a Judicial Review is instigated – which can only investigate the process of the decision, not the decision itself – and which would cost tens of thousands of pounds – then, unfortunately, building on Forster Country is now virtually certain.”
“It is a second kick in the teeth in one day from the government and SBC to the thousands of local campaigners, including local Lib Dems, who were motivated to oppose destroying Forster Country.”