Harts Farm inquiry update

29 Jun 2023

Bushey Lib Dem councillors Chris Shenton and Maxie Allen have given evidence to the public inquiry into the proposed Harts Farm development.

Developers Redrow want to build 310 homes on the site, which is greenbelt land off Little Bushey Lane. 

The public inquiry is being held by the national Planning Inspectorate, who will now decide the application after Redrow appealed over Hertsmere council's handling of the case.

Bushey Lib Dems say the inspector must refuse the appeal, for these reasons:

  • There are no Very Special Circumstances which justify the destruction of a huge swathe of greenbelt land.
  • Residents are overwhelmingly opposed to the development, and their views must be respected.
  • The site is environmentally sensitive and a flood plain.
  • Development on this scale would likely generate 1,000 extra daily car journeys on Little Bushey Lane.

These were among the arguments made by Cllrs Shenton and Allen in their statements to the inquiry, on 29th June 2023.

The text of their statements is below.

Cllr Chris Shenton's statement to the inquiry

The 3343 objections from Residents to Harts Farm weren't NIMBY objections. Residents believe it is the wrong development in the wrong place. By contrast, the newly built Rossway Drive development right next to Harts Farm received less than 50 objections.

I’m a newly elected councillor for Bushey St James and also the council’s portfolio holder for Finance and Budget which makes me a member of the cabinet.

This site is in Bushey Park ward, but at its closest the site is less than 150m from my ward.  I also live in one of the roads adjoining the site to the south.  I have 23 year old twin sons who have lived in Bushey all their lives so we as a family are keenly aware of the affordability of housing in the town. Of course we would love them to be able to afford to live here, especially before they inherit their parent’s estate.

I would like to talk to you about my experience in campaigning in the recent election. I spoke to several hundred residents, mostly in my ward but also in Bushey Park and the issue of inappropriate development on green belt land was undoubtedly their main concern.  There is a strongly held view that there is a need for more affordable housing and also that we should be building on brownfield sites first.

As appellant notes in their opening remarks, the previous draft Local Plan was shelved. That’s because there were just short of 20,000 objections submitted to its consultation. 

I’m sure that there will be people, from the government down, who will say that they’re all NIMBYs, but I’d point out the contrast between 2 planning applications to challenge that lazy assertion. Rossway Drive which is immediately to the north of Hart’s farm is a new development with planning approval in 2014 and 2018. Those 2 applications received less than 50 objections between them.  Hart’s farm received 3343 objections, but there was 1 comment supporting. 

These people are not opposed to development, just inappropriate development and they expect their elected representatives rather than huge developers like Redrow to be the arbiters of what is appropriate.

The appellant argued in their opening statement that Hertsmere is “preserved in aspic” and by implication the oppressed residents of the borough need to be rescued by a developer with revenues in excess of £2bn. It’s not a picture I recognise so I checked the numbers from the census returns.  Since 1981, Hertsmere has grown by 23.7%, against 23.4% for England as a whole.

Between the last 2 censuses, Hertsmere grew by 8% as against 6.7% for England.  It is simply not true that Hertsmere has not moved with the times.

We are though the 3rd most unaffordable local authority in England, a fact that gives us no pleasure.  Camden (2nd) includes Hampstead Heath – why not build on that to improve affordability? Westminster (1st) includes Hyde Park – likewise.

That would be ridiculous of course. Just because somewhere is hard to afford and developers could make a handsome profit, doesn’t mean we should be building over any bit of green land.  And besides, 300 more houses, the majority for “market rate sale” would have minimal effect on housing affordability in the borough.

This new council administration is keenly aware of our responsibilities to produce a new local plan and it is our most urgent priority; but I think it is a bit unfair to criticise an administration that has been in charge for less than 2 months for the failure to produce a local plan that is not actually overdue yet.

The appellant tells us that the Council is years away from producing a new local plan but as a cabinet member that is not my belief or expectation. The administration is fully committed to producing a new local plan that meets the genuine needs of the community, especially in affordable and social housing and it seems to me that this application is an attempt to pre-empt that.

We have legal, regulatory and moral responsibilities to make land available for housing and we are committed to doing so. But our priorities are those of the residents who gave us that job; appropriate development in the right place and of the right type.  This application offers very little to Hertsmere residents which is why it was unanimously rejected by the previous council’s planning committee and over 3000 residents. It seems to me to be merely a me-too development whose main purpose is to enrich the developer; there are no very special circumstances whatsoever.

Cllr Maxie Allen's statement to the inquiry

This proposal is a reckless destruction of greenbelt, on a flood plain - yards from resident's front doors on a road we see flood on a regular basis. It would achieve little of benefit, beyond yielding profits for Redrow.

This inquiry has already heard in depth about the many material factors which, put together, make an inarguable case for this application to be refused.

On most of these, in fairness, I can add little further insight. 

We’ve heard in great detail about the flood risk: I’ll leave that to the professional flood experts.

We’ve heard about the real and definitional harm to the greenbelt: I’ll leave that to scholars of the NPPF.

And we’ve heard suggestions that this development would generate more than a thousand extra daily car journeys on the narrow and already over-stretched country lane which is Little Bushey Lane. I’ll leave that to highways specialists.

But what I can tell you about is what happened here seven weeks ago, on Thursday 4th May. The day Hertsmere went to the polls to elect a new borough council.

During the campaign, both candidates and officials endeavoured to explain to residents why these elections mattered - and why people should bother voting.

The borough council doesn’t look after highways or schools. But it is responsible for housing, refuse, commuter parking, parks, leisure - and planning. Including the local plan.

Residents went to the polls knowing they were choosing representatives to make planning decisions on their behalf, reflecting their views. They also knew they were electing councillors who would draw up the new, revised Local Plan - to decide how local housing need should be met.

And what happened? The outcome was little short of a political earthquake  - and it made national headlines. 

The incumbent ruling party, the Conservatives, lost nearly half their seats and with them, control of the council.

Why? Ask any candidate, from any party. Look at the leaflets. Glance through residents’ comments on local Facebook groups, over the last eighteen months. And if we’d recorded them, you could replay the thousands of doorstep conversations. 

This was an election primarily about the future of our greenbelt - the greenbelt placed in jeopardy by the draft Local Plan devised in 2021 by the-then Conservative leaders. The Local Plan which received nearly 20,000 objections from residents, forcing it to be shelved. The Local Plan which included this site, known locally as Harts Farm.

Here in Bushey Park, which includes Harts Farm, I spoke to 564 residents on their doorsteps. The vast majority told me the exact same thing. 

They’re not NIMBYs. They welcome positive change. They recognise the need for appropriate development and genuine social housing. But they also place huge value on the protection of their local environment, the preservation of their fields and farmland, and for a sustainable, liveable, local infrastructure. 

They understand what Very Special Circumstances mean. And they see this proposal for what it is: reckless destruction of greenbelt, on a flood plain - yards from their front doors on a road they already see flood on a regular basis. And they believe it would achieve little of benefit, beyond yielding profits for Redrow.

Above all, they expect their voices to be heard.

Bushey Park had been one of the very safest Conservative seats. The well-respected and long-serving incumbent councillors had enjoyed a majority of around nine hundred votes.

On 4th May, they lost that majority, all three of them - not through personal failings but principally because their party had placed Harts Farm in danger. And in turn because we - who were elected to replace them - had pledged to do our very best to save the site.

This is why, surely, Bushey Park saw a turnout of 40.3%, the highest in the borough and significantly above the local election averages. I myself received the most votes of any of the 39 candidates across Hertsmere. That wasn’t due to any particular personal qualities on my part. It was probably because I listened to residents. I understood why they feel so strongly about Harts Farm and why they expect their view to matter. And because I helped articulate a way forward.

You may say - the appellant will surely say - that none of this is a material factor. But tell that to the people I represent. Because if this application is approved, it means this: the elections counted for nothing. Their votes counted for nothing. Democracy counts for nothing.

There is no point voting for a planning authority. There is no point voting for a new Local Plan. Because residents’ views are irrelevant and the decision will be taken out of their hands.

So when you make your decision, I encourage you to consider this: the integrity of local democracy is at stake.