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

Edge Home Wood

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.”