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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- East Herts Council Leader Ben Crystall (email@example.com)
- Deputy Leader Mione Goldspink (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Executive Member for Planning Vicky Glover-Ward (email@example.com)
- Chair of the Planning Committee Yvonne Estop (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Councillor John Dunlop [Hunsdon Ward] (email@example.com)
Please don’t delay.
Anthony Bickmore – Chair, Hunsdon, Eastwick and Gilston Neighbourhood Plan Group
November 2, 2023