Residents’ update – November 2023

As you may know, your Neighbourhood Plan Group wrote to Secretary of State Michael Gove in March 2023 requesting that he “call-in” the decisions by East Herts Council that month to wave through the outline planning applications for 10,000 homes in Gilston, and instead put them to a public enquiry. 

You can download and read our letter here, where we underlined that we’re far from NIMBYs or a “protest group” trying to block the principle of this development. We’re essentially a collection of local residents who want this development to be the best it can be. We’re also a group founded by your elected parish councillors who have developed a Neighbourhood Plan backed by an overwhelming majority at referendum.

It’s sadly a fact that the plans from Places for People and Taylor Wimpey do not properly respect the principles on which the Green Belt land was released, nor the policies of your Neighbourhood Plan. The proposed affordable housing numbers have been slashed, while the plans also ignore the concerns of the existing community and pose a very real threat to local NHS services.

Disappointingly our call-in request has been refused by Mr Gove. The reasoning provided was: “The Government remains committed to giving more power to councils and communities to make their own decisions on planning issues and believe that planning decisions should be made at the local level wherever possible.”

Since we requested the “call-in” in March a lot has happened:

  1. A review has been undertaken of the Developers’ crucial financial viability assessment. The previous assessment led to the cutback of 1,700 affordable homes and contributions developers have to make to support the project, but the new review argues that there is an apparent disparity of as much as £411 million. That’s enough not just to reinstate the 1,700 affordable homes but also deliver a huge amount of additional community infrastructure.
  2. In May, the voters of East Herts kicked out the Conservatives and voted in a new coalition of Greens and Liberal Democrats to run the council. The residents of Hunsdon, Eastwick & Gilston were at the forefront of this electoral shift. The new administration has been in control for over six months and is no doubt still finding its feet. However, so far they have shown no inclination to influence the Gilston planning process, to reflect the disquiet of the voters with the old council’s decisions. Councillors can ask to be briefed about S106 obligations (the agreement between a developer and a local planning authority about measures that they must take to reduce their impact on the community) being agreed and verify that the best decisions are made in the interest of the local area, existing and future residents.
  3. Meanwhile, Places for People and Taylor Wimpey are pressing on with their plans for the Gilston Area. The next step is Masterplanning. This is the key opportunity in the process for our communities to engage and contribute to what the new villages and their surroundings will look like. The NPG will be pressing for the implementation of the housing policies in the Neighbourhood Plan but everybody should feel free to go along to see for themselves and give the developers your views. 

Within the Gilston Area, communities are very well-informed and have demonstrated time and again that they understand local issues and local character very well. You have always turned out in great numbers when there was a genuine will to listen and move forward. 

Local people care about their environment, and about what makes the area special. Change is inevitable, but it does not have to happen by making Gilston like everywhere else. The Neighbourhood Plan you voted for summarises many of the aspirations of the local community, and the consideration of its policies are a way to deliver the development quality the area deserves.

We invite residents to get in touch with council Leader, Ben Crystall, and also their local councillors and remind them that there are opportunities to improve this development.

We would urge you to remind Mr Crystall that it would be proper to bring back some of the key decision making to the council’s Development Management Committee, rather than giving it all up to Officers who aren’t so accountable to local people as your elected Councillors.

As your Neighbourhood Plan Group, we also call on Ben Crystall to re-examine the Financial Viability Case put forward by the Developers, in the light of the recent Review, and see why 1,700 Affordable Homes and other contributions have been lost to East Herts. Time is short for this to be done but it is not too late if they act promptly.

The opportunity for further scrutiny should not be passed by, and councillors have the power to ask further questions and ensure that, both for the current and all future viability checks, the accepted original assumptions are verified and put to the test.

The people of East Herts can still have a say, if you email:

Please don’t delay.

Anthony Bickmore – Chair, Hunsdon, Eastwick and Gilston Neighbourhood Plan Group

November 2, 2023

A fresh start and alternative vision for Gilston? Have your say!

Join us at 10.30am on Saturday, July 1 at The Plume of Feathers in Gilston

The Neighbourhood Plan Group is making a vital attempt to improve and change the proposed new housing developments by asking the Government to “call in” the planning application for review.

If this happens we need to give a real example of what we think “good” looks like

Whatever the outcome of the Call-in, a community-backed alternative plan should feed key inputs into the developers’ masterplanning for the project.

This event is being facilitated by planning and design experts Create Streets.

Why are we doing this now?

The recent change in the makeup of East Herts Council offers a real chance to get our voices heard.

It’s no secret that a driving reason for the electoral shift is your dissatisfaction with the planning process and outcomes for local developments, especially those planned in Hunsdon, Eastwick and Gilston.

Residents had no choice but to accept the District Plan, which provided for the release of Green Belt land for 10,000 homes, with the promise of a development of exceptional quality and 1,000 acres of community-owned space in return.

In the years since this decision was made, the developers have been allowed to go back on their promises when it comes to affordable housing, the mitigation of impacts on existing communities, and the timely provision of adequate infrastructure to new and existing residents.

Despite this the previous Planning Committee of the council waved through the Outline Planning Applications, overruling the Neighbourhood Plan that you voted for by an overwhelming majority.

Can we really change anything?

Your Neighbourhood Plan Group has petitioned the Secretary of State to “call-in” this decision, as we’ve not been happy with how the council has approached it. We’ll keep on pushing on your behalf for this to happen and let you know the results of these efforts.

The District Plan can’t be overturned, and it’s still much more likely than not that the development will go ahead in some form – but the shifting political landscape on both a national and local level has opened the door for a fresh look at the project.

We’ve been approached by the Create Streets research institute, who want to help us come up with and develop our thinking for what might be within a future Masterplan – as one that chimes with the Neighbourhood Plan policies, and one that actually delivers on those promises of seven distinct villages that respond to the Hertfordshire landscape, rather than a road-led suburban sprawl.

With your help, we want to develop this Masterplan – one that comes from you, the residents – to present to the new East Herts Council and, possibly, the Secretary of State to show that another way is possible.

Please come along, and bring your neighbours and local friends and family.

 – Hunsdon, Eastwick and Gilston Neighbourhood Plan Group

Local Elections 2023: Answers from candidates

Earlier this week, the Hunsdon, Eastwick and Gilston Neighbourhood Plan Group asked four questions of the local election 2023 candidates for Hunsdon Ward to let residents know their thoughts regarding the proposed Development of 10,000 houses in this Ward.

Below we have published the complete, unedited responses from Julia Davies (Liberal Democrats), John Dunlop (Green Party) and Salvatore Pagdades (Conservative Party).

We are currently awaiting responses from Hilary Durbin (Labour) and will add their answers to this article as and when they are provided.

Julia Davies (Liberal Democrats)

1. Have you supported the community on this Call-In and will you continue to do so, if elected. How will you do this? If you do not support us, please say why.

I do support this attempt to call in the planning application.  Now that the government has ended the minimum number of houses required each year I believe it could have some effect.  I have always opposed this enormous development which will totally change this part of East Herts.  When I attended the original meetings about the Local Plan which were held at Wallfields and Parish Councillors were invited to give their views there was not going to be development North of Gilston. The number of houses which is now planned is far more than was agreed and the proportion of affordable is much lower. 

As a Stanstead Abbotts Parish Councillor I have always protested about this development – not least because of the difficulties crossing the Stort and accessing Harlow Station.  In the last two or three years we have had the added issue that in the remaining green belt between Village 7 and Stanstead Abbotts there will almost certainly be a quarry.

2. If elected, how will you try to influence the delivery of the Gilston project over your term in office?

I would work hard to impress upon both District and County Councils that transport has to meet the needs of the whole family and that educational establishments and healthcare must be easily accessed.  I am particularly concerned that in their enthusiasm for fewer cars to be used that life will be very difficult for parents unless there is a huge improvement in the reliability of buses between Hertford, Harlow and Bishop’s Stortford.

3. Please tell us about your experience in shaping major developments.

My experience of planning is all related to the Stanstead Abbotts and St Margarets Neighbourhood Plan – I have chaired the Steering Group since the beginning in 2016.  We have just finished Regulation 14 and hope to be ready for a referendum by the end of the year.

4. What do you see as the biggest three risks and what are the three biggest gains from this development?

One risk is that there will be over-demand on the water supply which is vulnerable to the droughts we have recently been having reducing the level of the aquifer.

Secondly there is a risk that the sewage will not be treated satisfactorily if Rye House has to cope with so many more customers.

Thirdly the traffic using the A414 will vastly increase and there will be considerable pollution from the extra cars both during construction and afterwards.

Clearly the need for new housing has been identified and is crucial to reduce the numbers of homeless people.

There could be some revitalising of Harlow Town Centre which is in a rather sad state at the moment.

Hopefully the extra housing will ensure that a new hospital will follow which will be of benefit to us all.

John Dunlop (Green Party)

My name is John Dunlop, I am standing in the local elections on the 4th May 2023, to be your Green Party councillor. I have been asked by the Hunsdon, Eastwick and Gilston Neigbourhood Planning Group (HEGNPG) to give answers to the four questions (see below). Thank you for the opportunity to allow me to reach out to the community who have an interest in the Gilston area developments.

1. Have you supported the community on this Call-In and will you continue to do so, if elected. How will you do this? If you do not support us, please say why.

Absolutely, I have supported this Call-In by writing to the Conservative MP Julie Marson. I have also written to several newspapers and media outlets.

As a newly elected councillor representing the people of the Hunsdon Ward, a member of the Hunsdon, Eastwick and Gilston Neighbourhood Planning Group (HEGNPG) and resident of Terlings Park I will continue to support this Call-In by working closely with Parish councils and HEGNP Group by representing and promoting their views within the wider council.

2. If elected, how will you try to influence the delivery of the Gilston project over your term in office?

Prior to the East Herts Development Management Committee (DMC) meeting for Outline Planning Approval I discussed the main issues around infrastructure, transport, phasing and aesthetic with Ben Crystal our Green Party representative on the DMC. He subsequently voted against approval based in part on my requests and comments.

If elected, I would make it a priority to attend local meetings including Parish Council and NPG meetings to listen and understand the key issues and challenges for local residents and to talk to residents about the issues. With that understanding go back to East Herts Council (EHC) and raise these issues at both council and future planning meetings.

I would also want to ensure that I am on all master planning committee groups for each of the village applications so that along with HEGNPG I can provide a direct line between residents and planning officers and lobby for change whenever the community identifies that an alteration is needed.

It is also possible that I could be on the DMC, depending on numbers (the more Green councillors the better the chance), so that I can have a direct influence on the planning process, ensuring that there is proper scrutiny of all future decisions and push for change where needed.

3. Please tell us about your experience in shaping major developments.

This is my first experience in shaping a major development; I believe that my background puts me in a good place to influence events.

I worked in the Broadcasting Industry for 30+ years and have a good understanding of communications which is a key part of a Councillors role, ensuring the residents are fully informed and updated in helping to bring the community along with positive changes, and opposing those which need to be changed.

I also have a Galileo Master Certificate in Renewable energy, I come from a building family and grew up in the construction and agricultural industries and more recently qualified as a soil scientist. I have a keen interest in community as a volunteer for Harlow Foodbank, Bounty Club, PACT for Autism and Herts and Essex Community Farm. I will draw on experience of fellow councillors and the Neighbourhood Planning Group.

My aspirations and vision are to make this a place with a happy thriving multi-generation community, one where people want and feel proud to be, and which enhances the lives of those who are already living here.

4. What do you see as the biggest three risks and what are the three biggest gains from this development?

The risks and benefits of this scheme are two sides of the same coin. On the one side if the risks are not managed they will undermine some of the benefits; on the other side if the benefits are not ‘genuine’ or there is a lack of accountability they may be poorly implemented or absent, with very little avenue for redress.

The biggest risks as I see it are that:

  • The developer pulls out before key infrastructure is completed or fails to be held to account for their agreed responsibilities and legal obligations
  • Ambitious transport modal shift plans are dropped or fail and the whole area becomes snarled with traffic
  • EHC and Harlow do a deal to release further Green Belt land to expand HGGT, or that the organisation tasked with long term management of the site decides to put profit above community and sell off further land for building etc. . There are many risks with this development and with my experience of investment committees in other industries, this, as it stands, would not be approved. I am genuinely surprised that the current Council have chosen to expose themselves to so much risk. The biggest potential gains which will require change from the current plan are:
  • That the transport modal shift plan succeeds and there is a genuine shift towards sustainable modes which has a knock-on-effect for the area
  • That the planned green spaces and biodiversity net gain do deliver for the area and despite the dense housing, there are genuine improvements in accessible green spaces and environment around the built up areas which everyone in the ward can enjoy
  • The neighbourhood facilities, such as doctors surgeries, schools, shops, community clubs, promised improvements in infrastructure all come as promised and the current stresses on medical services, water, sewage etc are reduced locally.

Salvatore Pagdades (Conservative Party)

1. Have you supported the community on this Call-In and will you continue to do so, if elected. How will you do this? If you do not support us, please say why.

Whilst I have not been involved in the call-in process to date, I would support the local community if elected, because I believe it’s important that a development as large as this is properly assessed, and local residents’ concerns are addressed.

2. If elected, how will you try to influence the delivery of the Gilston project over your term in office?

If elected, I would work with local residents to ensure their views are represented on East Herts District Council (and to Hertfordshire County Council). This requires working collaboratively with the councils rather than combatively. I would also attend local meetings to listen to the views of the residents and update them on my work on the Council.

3. Please tell us about your experience in shaping major developments.

As a young person, I don’t have lots of experience in shaping major planning developments; but I do have experience of working with local groups and residents to represent their views and push for improvements. A recent example is where I’ve worked with councillors in Sawbridgeworth to object to a travellers site off High Wych Road.

4. What do you see as the biggest three risks and what are the three biggest gains from this development?

From my perspective, the three biggest risks from the development are disruption to existing residents; loss of green belt; and potential impact on environmental elements like drainage. The three biggest gains are: provision of more homes, which will help more young families get on the housing ladder; an improvement in local amenities and facilities; and improved transport links around the area.

Local Elections 2023: Questions for Candidates

East Herts District Council elections May 2023 – Hunsdon Ward

Four open questions from the Hunsdon Eastwick & Gilston Neighbourhood Plan Group to all candidates about the proposed Development of 10,000 houses in this Ward. As you will know, the EHC District Plan 2018 released hundreds of acres of Green Belt in the Ward for at least 3,000 houses up to 2033 and 7,000 afterwards.

East Herts Council has this year granted outline planning permission and increased the numbers pre 2033 to 4,700 houses. HEGNPG on behalf of their Parish Councils and other parties have requested the Secretary of State, Michael Gove, to “call-in” that decision so that the plans can be properly reassessed at a Public Inquiry.

  1. Have you supported the community on this Call-In and will you continue to do so, if elected. How will you do this? If you do not support us, please say why.
  1. If elected, how will you try to influence the delivery of the Gilston project over your term in office?
  1. Please tell us about your experience in shaping major developments.
  1. What do you see as the biggest three risks and what are the three biggest gains from this development?

Questions and responses will be published on our website and neighbourhood sites/local press.

Anthony Bickmore, Chairman NPG

24th April 2023

Calling in the Gilston Area applications?

We’re writing with a short message to update you on the latest important developments in the Gilston Area Villages 1-7 scheme.

We’re disappointed to report that the Village 7 application for 1,500 new homes was rubber stamped at East Herts Council’s committee meeting last night.

This was despite very strong representations from us here at the NPG, local councillors and local residents.

On your behalf, we highlighted that current Village 7 proposals go against the principles that originally secured the release of Green Belt land and are a premature and unnecessary addition to the whole Gilston project. We had said the same at the earlier Village 1-6 committee meeting, which was also waived through.

While stretching our NHS to breaking point, failing to deliver on affordable housing targets and resulting in inevitable traffic gridlock, these plans will add up to 4,700 homes in our area, 50% more than the target set out in the East Herts District Plan.

Nevertheless, it was waved through when Conservative Party councillors on the committee voted to pass it by 8-4 – something you may want to bear in mind when it comes to local elections on May 4 of this year.

In the first instance, we’ve written to our local MP Julie Marson and also directly to housing secretary Michael Gove, urging him to make good on promises to listen to local voices and “call-in” this decision.

That would mean the Secretary of State would refer the whole development of 10,000 houses to a public enquiry headed by a planning Inspector to make this decision of regional and national importance, and take it away from the local East Herts councillors who have simply waved through application after application.

We’ll keep pushing on your behalf to do everything we can to make sure our voice is heard and the developers and East Herts Council deliver on the serious promises made and responsibilities to local residents.