Residents demand rethink as “unviable” application for 8,500 new homes is rubber stamped

Residents from Hunsdon, Eastwick and Gilston have demanded a rethink after East Herts District Council’s Development Management Committee approved plans for 8,500 new homes on former Green Belt land yesterday (February 28).

The plans for six so-called “garden villages” have been strongly criticised for their failure to deliver on the promises made by the developers Places for People when the land was released from the Green Belt back in 2018.

In particular, the scheme will now only deliver 23% affordable housing against a promise of 40%, a loss of nearly 1,500 affordable homes.

Councillors nodded through the application despite only having a minimal amount of time to read hundreds of pages of documents that were being revised as recently as the day before the meeting.

Promises to deliver landscape-led development of high quality garden villages have been dropped in favour of building “neighbourhoods” with tiny corridors between each other in densities similar to a busy town like Bishop’s Stortford.

In addition to the loss of affordable housing, residents have slammed the planners and developers for their failure to provide adequate health facilities to cope with the influx of 35,000 people to the area.

They have also hit out at the dominance of car travel in the scheme, as seen by the approval for Stort Valley crossings back in February 2022 – massive roads that are over-engineered for what is required.

Commenting on the the need for a rethink, Anthony Bickmore, Chair of Hunsdon, Eastwick & Gilston Neighbourhood Plan Group said:

“Given that the developers tell us the project is unviable, this is the right time to rethink this scheme to ensure that what is delivered meets the needs of the area. 

“We were promised a high-quality development with essential affordable housing in garden villages that respect the existing landscape

“Those promises have been binned as soon as convenient and development instead sanctioned at building heights more familiar with London than villages in the Hertfordshire countryside.

“That should worry everyone in the country who lives near the Green Belt or cares about the preservation of our landscapes and community. We need to make sure we don’t sleepwalk into a suburban sprawl being created on former Green Belt land.”

Commenting on East Herts District Council’s failure to provide adequate time for members of the Committee to read and understand the application details and the time given to the residents to address their concerns at the meeting he added: 

“Local Councillors represent residents, but they seemed reluctant to even hear our voice in a public forum for any length of time.

“We held our own 90-minute meeting a week ago where we listened to a packed hall of local residents speak for as long as they needed.

“The speaking arrangements for the DMC kept being chopped and changed right up to the last minute. The reports for the application were hundreds of pages long but Councillors had only a short period to read them properly and even then they were substantially amended and re-published the afternoon before the meeting.

“We actually sympathise with the councillors, who haven’t been given the time or resources, and do not have the procedures or capacity to deal with what they admit is the largest development they have ever approved.

“Councillors have been railroaded into approving the application and delegating vital oversight, monitoring and enforcement to officers who sort out the all important details with the developers away from the public gaze or reference back to elected councillors.

“If a development of this size can be approved with scant regard to local concerns in East Herts there’s no reason why it won’t happen anywhere else in the country.”

He added: 

“This is a very major project with lots of sensitivities. Master plans and design codes need to be developed in consultation with the community, not decided after the fact behind closed doors.

“East Herts has a policy of requiring sites to have effective Master Planning but here is willing to allow the Developers to precondition the Master Planning process.

“What’s more, local infrastructure needs to be delivered and serious traffic and health impacts addressed in advance, not once thousands of people have already moved in.

“Our triple award-winning Neighbourhood Plan is a part of the Local Plan which residents endorsed with a landslide vote but it is being sidelined by the developers and planners.”

Community Meeting – Important Update on the Gilston Area Development Villages 1-7

Saturday, February 18, 2023 – 10am-11:30am at Gilston Village Hall

Your Neighbourhood Plan Group invites you to a meeting at Gilston Village Hall for an important update on the Gilston Area Development.

We’ll be presenting the latest news on Places for People’s application for six “garden villages” of 8,500 homes, which East Herts Council will decide at their Development Management Committee meeting on February 28.

We’ll be letting you know what’s happening and how the Hunsdon, Eastwick and Neighbourhood Plan Group is fighting your corner, including a recap of our recent response to this application where we objected to the revised application, which we don’t think should be approved as currently submitted.

At the event, we’ll also be updating residents on the current situation for the Village 7 application for 1,500 homes, which threatens to adversely affect our whole neighbourhood unless it is properly integrated with Villages 1-6, and the necessary infrastructure is provided in advance.

Please bring your local friends and family along. Refreshments will be provided.

 – Hunsdon Eastwick and Gilston Neighbourhood Plan Group

NPG submits response to further revised Villages 1-6 application

The Hunsdon, Eastwick and Gilston Neighbourhood Plan Group (NPG) has issued its response to the further revised planning application for Villages 1-6 ref: 3/19/1045/OUT .

You can download and read the full response here. 

The NPG has objected to the revised application and does not believe it should be approved as currently submitted, stating:

The national priorities that led to the site allocation in the Local Plan and discussed extensively at the Examination in Public five years ago have fundamentally changed. There would now be a presumption against the release of land from the Green Belt and housing targets would be required to take into account local constraints and concerns.

The changes introduced by the applicant’s Viability Assessment (VA), even after East Herts Council’s  commendable efforts in renegotiation, result in such a poor outcome – on affordable housing, social infrastructure, sustainable transport, diversion of land value capture to roadbuilding, concerning parameter plans, and lack of healthcare provision – that the current  development concept should be rejected and rethought.

In the event that the officers’ report recommends approval of the application, we urge the inclusion of the additional conditions below to ensure “the right type of development in the right place” as advocated by the Government through Michael Gove, Secretary of State for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. 

  1. Strategic Landscape Master Plan: Should be prepared before the start of development or approval of first Village Master Plan.
  2. Parameter Plans: Should be improved as the current plans are not based on detailed assessment and could result in an inappropriate form of development
  3. Advance Planting: Planting of green corridors and buffers should take place in the first planting season immediately following the approval of the Strategic Landscape Master Plan.
  4. Active travel: A network of walking and cycling routes connecting key destinations should be agreed in advance of the  occupation of the first houses.
  5. Design Codes: An overarching code should be submitted and approved prior to the start of development and approval of individual Village Master Plans.
  6.  Mitigation of Traffic Impacts: Development and first occupation units will not be permitted until a detailed assessment of the cumulative impacts of traffic on existing communities and adequate mitigation measures are made.
  7. Other necessary infrastructure: burial grounds, flood mitigation, community facilities, sport and play facilities, support for local communities to deliver priority projects.

The latest response should be read in conjunction with the previous  representations submitted by the NPG, including to the General outline planning application (January 2021, the detailed planning application for the two crossings (February 2022) and the viability appraisal for the Gilston project (September 2022).

The NPG also notes the expectations set out by Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities in his letters to Council Leaders and MPs (1st and 5th December 2022), and expects the officer’s report to the DMC to reflect the Government’s guidance  that sensitivity to local concerns, local character and beauty should be overriding factors  guiding the planning process.

Additionally, the NPG has broadly welcomed the Gilston Area Stewardship and Governance Strategy document and supports the concept of a single community body incorporated as a registered charity in perpetuity for the Gilston Area Development, though we express disappointment that a number of our suggestions following previous drafts were not included in this version.

Principally, the document leaves far too much detail to the s106 agreement which the Council is negotiating privately with the developers and will be presented as a “done deal on completion”.

We also have concerns regarding the membership of the board of trustees of the charity, a failure to acknowledge the early delivery of  community ownership, and the imposition of full council tax charges on new residents despite the District Council refusing to adopt some services.