Stevenage Liberal Democrats described as “very disappointing – but not unexpected” the announcement this week by the Conservative Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, that he would not to ‘call in’ two recent, controversial planning applications for housing developments in Gresley Park and Forster Country.
In February 2020, East Herts District Council (EHDC) approved an application for over 600 houses at Gresley Park, immediately east of Gresley Way, Stevenage, with all the Conservative, Green and Labour councillors voting for it. The Liberal Democrats have vehemently opposed this plan since it was announced in 2016. Residents of Chells and Manor Wards who are most affected by it, have made it abundantly clear that they did not want Gresley Park.
This development will obliterate the Beane Valley amenity and is likely to put an enormous strain on local roads. Gresley Park residents will also expect facilities like schools and health provision to come from Stevenage, putting an unacceptable burden on them.
People also opposed Gresley Park via the informative and factual Gresley Park Interest Group Facebook site, run by local campaigner Stephen Sypula.
Labour-dominated SBC welcomed the development and supported it – a fact the Lib Dems uncovered by scrutinising hitherto unpublished letters and emails between EHDC and SBC. Only later, following pressure from the Lib Dems, did SBC hold a special meeting and publish some weak objections.
County and borough councillor Robin Parker said, “The Government gave EHDC a housing provision target and EHDC have dumped their housing problems on the edge of Chells and Chells Manor, so that they achieve their targets with minimal disruption to their own area.”
Robin Parker, the local MP and possibly others, asked the Secretary of State to ‘call in’ the application months ago. Robin said, “Sadly, Gresley Park is a done deal unless a judicial review is instigated. This is a kick in the teeth by the Government, EHD and SBC to the thousands of local campaigners who opposed this awful plan.”
Bellway Homes and Millar Homes made an application to build around 800 houses north of Stevenage on farmland known as Forster Country, where Stevenage Borough Council (SBC) control the planning.
Lib Dem borough councillor Graham Snell, a member of the SBC Planning and Development Committee, voted against the application. Graham said, “A major objection is the enormous strain that the new houses would put upon existing infrastructure.” Fellow committee member councillor Tom Wren, who also voted against, added, “The extra traffic on North Road that will be generated by the development is set to cause problems which have not been adequately addressed in the application.”
Stevenage infrastructure will also being threatened by the land next door being designated for housing development by neighbouring North Herts District Council.
SBC approved the Forster Country development in February 2020; all the Labour councillors voted for it while all the opposition Liberal Democrats and Conservatives voted against it. The Secretary of State had also been asked to ‘call in’ this application, but this week’s rejection means this will not happen now.
Robin Parker said, “Since SBC originally granted planning permission, they have introduced a Community Infrastructure Levy system. My understanding is that although the Planning and Development Committee will re-assess this decision, they are unlikely to overturn their original decision because the officers’ planning advice in favour of the development would remain the same. Unless a judicial review is instigated, then building on Forster Country is now virtually certain. This is a second kick in the teeth in one day by SBC and the Government, to thousands of local campaigners, including local Lib Dems, who opposed destroying Forster Country.”
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