Plans for almost 100 homes on Hertfordshire farmland have been thrown out.
M Scott Properties asked St Albans City and District Council for permission to build 95 homes west of A5183 Watling Street in a 2022 application. But at a meeting on January 15, 2024, councillors voted to refuse planning permission with fears the benefits of new homes will not outweigh green belt harms.
They also agreed experts had not demonstrated the highways capacity exists to support new builds 200 metres (219 yards) from the Park Street roundabout where three A roads meet.
“The green belt matters,” said Liberal Democrat councillor Nuala Webb, who did not sit on the planning committee but attended as an advocate against the development.
“This open land has only survived until now because people before us who saw themselves as custodians of the land fought to keep it.
“Generations of councillors, MPs and activists first brought in the [Restriction of] Ribbon Development Act of 1935 to prevent urban sprawl and coalescence.
“This was strengthened by the (Metropolitan) Green Belt Act 1938 which stopped Hertfordshire disappearing into Greater London as Middlesex has done.”
Cllr Webb, who represents Park Street ward, added a new Strategic Rail Freight Interchange will lie on greenfield land on the other side of the village after Hertfordshire County Council and two other landowners sold the plot to industrial property giant Segro.
“No wonder the residents of Park Street are so afraid of losing this much-loved land which they see as defining to their village,” she said.
A report by council planning staff summarised a series of concerns around the loss of agricultural land, low traffic count data, traffic pollution, “people [who] don’t need to live in St Albans” and wildlife.
It references an independent green belt review which warned housebuilding on the parcel “would have a significant impact on the separation between first and second tier settlements and local levels of visual openness”.
Independent councillor David Mitchell, who represents Redbourn and sits on St Albans City and District Council’s planning committee, said building “up” in St Albans “is the answer, rather than building out and out and out” into farmland.
He said: “I don’t think we need 1960s tower blocks but I’ve seen good examples of four, five, six, even eight-storey blocks which are very well done.
“I think it’s more about the quality.
“There’s a lot more thought that goes into design these days.”
Liberal Democrat councillor Liz Needham, of Batchwood ward, suggested the committee refuses planning permission on the grounds “very special circumstances for building on green belt do not exist in this area”.
Before the meeting, council officers had recommended elected committee members approve planning permission because harms to the green belt were “clearly outweighed by other considerations” – including that the development would provide affordable housing, open space and play space which could be secured using legal agreements.
Sandridge and Wheathampstead councillor Sharon Hollingsworth, who is also a member of the committee, said: “We need more housing and I’m not entirely sure where it’s going to go.
“If not this site … it’s got to go somewhere.
“We haven’t got sufficient brownfield sites and we can’t particularly build up because no one wants high-rise.
“We need more social housing and we need more affordable housing.
“I’m not sure this quite meets the criteria of what we need but we can’t keep just saying ‘no’ to building on green belt.”
The Liberal Democrat councillor added: “I don’t like ideas of developing in green belt but we’re in St Albans, we’re surrounded by green belt, it is the land that we have.”
Richard Martin, of M Scott Properties, referenced traffic studies at the January committee meeting.
He said: “The development’s trip rates assume a worst-case scenario for traffic generation.
“The traffic from the proposed development is proposed to increase throughput at the Park Street roundabout by up to 0.7 per cent in the AM (morning) peak.
“There have been lots of public comments stating a higher baseline data should be used.
“If this were the case, the relative impact of the development would only decrease.
“[National planning rules] state the impact must be severe for planning permission to be refused.
“The impact here is well below one per cent which is obviously not severe – it is negligible.”