Local residents, Victoria Prever and Jonathan Channing, discussed their concerns and decided to take action. They established Keep Chiswell Green and a WhatsApp group which quickly expanded to nearly 200 participants. A steering committee of volunteer local residents was set up to fight the Cala Homes’ plans.
From the Cala webinar and ‘public consultation” exhibition, it was clear that the representatives of Cala Homes had never even visited the site they are planning to build on, despite the exhibition being held in a hall 5 mins’ drive away. When asked about the wildlife on the proposed site, one of the representatives responded, “well, there aren’t any elephants” !
However, investigation into opposing the Cala Homes development quickly raised lots of other issues – in fact there is a “perfect storm” from which greedy local land owners and developers are poised to benefit. There is another local planning application in progress on the site of St Albans Polo Club owned by ex-boxer, Steve Collins, with 330 new homes being proposed on that site. The original planning conditions relating to returning the Butterfly World to Green Belt after it ceased to operate as the Butterfly World have not been enforced, with the current owner suggesting 265 new homes could be built there. The local Council does not have an up-to-date Local Plan and is under pressure from the Government to meet an unrealistic house building target, based on out of date figures, and a “call for sites” by the local Council last Autumn has caused developers to think that their hopes of selling their Green Belt land at premium prices for housing might be a reality if they act quickly.
In fact the whole of the Green Belt around St Albans is under severe threat. It became clear that Keeping Chiswell Green was not just about the 391 new homes on the Cala Homes development, or even the Cala development and the proposed development on the Polo Fields, but the threat of nearly 3,500 homes on the triangle of Green Belt between Chiswell Green Farm, Miriam Lane and Noke Lane which still wouldn’t come anywhere near satisfying the local housing target.
“I moved to Park Street 20 years ago because I wanted to live in a village and I have been watching the unrelenting development of St Albans since”, said Gary Broadbent, a local well known for highlighting development in the area through his Facebook posts and videos.
“Even one major development in Chiswell Green will change the village from a medium-sized suburb of St Albans to a town in its own right. It will have to be renamed “Chiswell” as there won’t be any “green” left !” said Keep Chiswell Green secretary, Jonathan Channing.
“The Green Belt was protected in law to maintain the separation of settlements – to stop towns from merging into each other, to stop villages merging into towns – and this is being rapidly eroded. The Pandemic has also shown us that the Green Belt is so much more important to human populations that just separating settlements. So many of us relied on the Green Belt during the Pandemic to be able to get out, to exercise, to meet with others in a safe way, and access to the countryside was of great benefit to the mental health of local residents.” said St Albans native, Emma Voss, “ I have lived in St Albans all my life, and of course, I want my children to be able to live here if they choose to, but the Green Belt is their legacy, and that of their children and grandchildren, too.”
“Yes,” says KCG co-chair, Victoria Prever, “once the Green Belt is gone, it’s gone forever. We can never re-create it.”
Keep Chiswell Green is under no illusion that the fight against the developers and local landowners is going to be easy; around 1998, when land was sold by Alban Pearson to developer Charles Church to build the second half of Forge End, locals estimated the price to be around £90,000 per plot. Now in 2022, locals are expecting that Cala is likely to be paying Alban Pearson over £200 million to build 391 new homes, but at an average house price in St Albans of over £600,000, whatever the price is, it is clearly a price worth paying for Cala, and for Alban Pearson, who is in his 90s, a price worth waiting for. “When financial gains like this by individuals are compared to the loss to society now and forever of the countryside, it’s easy to think that alternative ways of considering land ownership, such as the Aboriginal concept that the land owns us, might have some justification” said long-time proponent of the Green Belt, Robert Bolt.
The Keep Chiswell Green steering committee has discovered that there is now a ground-swell of common opinion; the CPRE (previously known as the Council for the Protection of Rural England) has recognised that the threat to the Green Belt is so severe, it has called for a moratorium of all planning applications on the Green Belt until housing targets are re-assessed and a new Local Plan can be approved. MP Daisy Cooper has repeatedly raised in Parliament the inappropriate housing target that has been imposed on St Albans, while the Government talks at the same time about protecting heritage and the Green Belt. The Ver Valley Society has raised grave concerns about the huge and frequent amounts of raw sewage that is being dumped into local rivers because the current water systems are unable to cope with the waste being created by the existing population in the area.
“I believe that, by working with other groups who also want to protect the Green Belt and limit development to what is absolutely necessary, we can change the targets and stop the rampant destruction of the Green Belt that would result if we do nothing,” explained KCG co-chair, Shirani St Ledger McCarthy. “Some say that we can’t change these components of the planning process and that we need to try to exert influence to meld the new developments into our villages in such a way as to minimise the impact on the existing population and environment, but I believe the new developments are not inevitable. We live in a democracy and, in a time when so many peoples’ democratic rights are not respected, we should use our voices to speak up and make a change for the better.”