Latest local plan appeal for sites

29 Oct 2022

Hertsmere council have issued a new appeal for sites for future development. Residents will rightly want to know what this signifies.

Looking at the detail, we see some positives, some negatives, but most importantly, no change on the crucial issues.

The appeal means the council is advertising for landowners to put their sites forward for development into housing or commercial units.

This is part of the Local Plan - the blueprint for future land use. The Local Plan debate centres on how much greenbelt (and where) will be built over. Bushey Lib Dems oppose greenbelt development except in exceptional circumstances.

Dozens of sites have already been earmarked for construction in the council leaders’ draft Local Plan. It proposed 12,000 new homes plus numerous commercial outlets, which would destroy 3,000 acres of greenbelt. The intentions of leaders were clear: to make the borough bigger and richer, at whatever cost to our environment, and to embrace the government’s huge house-building targets.

The plan put three key Bushey greenbelt sites at risk: the fields north of Farm Way; Bushey Mill Lane fields; and land near Harts Farm off Little Bushey Lane (where developers are now trying to force through planning permission). All are environmentally sensitive.

Earlier this year, Conservative council leaders were forced to shelve the plan, in the face of overwhelming opposition by residents. But although the delay is supposedly to enable a redraft, as yet, nothing has changed.

Except that now the council want more sites to consider. In their press release, it seems that - in some ways - the emphasis has shifted. The appeal mentions sites “delivering only affordable homes” and “offering sensitive care”.

They’re also “particularly interested” in land “previously used for commercial or industrial purposes” (ie brownfield), and sites where environmental factors can be better handled: “that accommodate blue-green infrastructure, sustainable drainage systems, natural flood managements, [or] would ensure biodiversity net gain”.

We welcome the focus on affordable housing, brownfield sites, and environmental protection. But this announcement doesn’t go nearly far enough.

For one thing, it doesn’t rule out *new* greenbelt sites coming forward. And by implying that preference may be given to greenbelt where drainage, floods, and biodiversity can be managed, could even encourage landowners to try their luck.

Of particular concern here is Bushey Hall Golf Club. The course is closed and the owners, Veladail Leisure, are desperate to develop it. They failed in their bid to build a new Watford FC stadium on the site. In all likelihood, they will now resubmit it for the Local Plan - this time, for housing.

More broadly, none of the fundamentals have changed. Although council leaders are now asking for extra brownfield sites, we don’t know if this a minor sop to public pressure, or a sincere change of heart.

They’ve said nothing about what will be different in the new plan, or about challenging Hertsmere’s housing targets, which are 40% above national averages. They want to avoid showing their hand until after next May’s council elections.

Hertsmere Lib Dems have a clear strategy for what must happen next.

- Fighting government targets, to get a fairer deal for our community.

- A new Local Plan based on the principle of environmental and greenbelt protection, not economic growth.

- A full review of all available brownfield, empty homes, and redundant office space which can be repurposed.

- Scrapping vanity projects, such as film studios, which waste land and create few jobs.

- A plan based on meeting the need for social housing, not lining developers’ profits. We want 50% of all new homes to be truly affordable, with the council leading the way by accelerating schemes to do the building itself - taking it out of developers’ hands.

- Vastly improving local transport: more buses, cycle lanes, and upgrading roads.

- Residents’ consultations on building medium-rise developments instead of houses, to reduce footprint.