We urgently need you to do three things:
- Please click the button below to send an email to St Albans District Council to ask them to pause progress on the draft local plan until they have removed the use of the standard method to set housing targets
- Please forward this message to all your friends and family members and ask them to sign too. Signatories to the petition must live, work or study in the St Albans District.
- Please attend the Planning Policy & Climate Change committee meeting on Monday 10th July 2023 in the Council Chamber, Civic Centre, 7pm start, or log in to watch via the webcast here:https://stalbans.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/777290
The Draft Local Plan
In the meantime, we have another serious issue to tackle …. Over the last year, a team of planning officers (council staff) has been working on producing a new Local Plan for the St Albans District. This is the document that will set out how new housing and infrastructure will be provided in the whole of the District over the next 17 years to 2041.
The work of this team has been guided by a committee of elected councillors (the Local Plan Advisory Group – LPAG), including our own district councillor, Ajanta Hilton. The development of the new Local Plan has been guided by the policies set by LPAG.
It has also been supported by a Green Belt Review, conducted by external consultants, Arup. This review extended the land review carried out by consultants SKM in 2013, and Arup has now assessed each of the 600 sites in the District that were put forward for development by landowners under the “call for sites” process.
Following the local elections in May, and a restructuring of some of the committees, the LPAG committee became PP&C – the Planning Policy and Climate Change committee.
The component parts of the new draft Local Plan have been presented to LPAG / PP&C over the last year or so and the draft site selection was presented at the PP&C meeting on Monday 26th June.
Were our sites selected for development in the draft plan ?
We know that what you really want to know is “are our sites included ….. ??”
So, to cut to the chase, the Cala, Polo and Cherry Hill sites, and the 2 sites on Ragged Hall Lane are not currently included in the draft site selection. However, before we start celebrating, there are sites that have been selected for inclusion in the draft local plan that are pertinent to us and will cause significant traffic problems around the Noke roundabout and threaten the future of the Cala site. Additionally, there are sites in our ward which have not been included in the draft local plan but on which there are current planning applications, including the Cala and Polo sites, and which may yet be granted permission outside the local plan process (Cala, Polo, Ragged Hall Lane, Copsewood and Lye Lane).
So what’s the problem ?
The most serious problem is that SADC is proposing to build over 15,000 new houses on over 1,000 acres of our Green Belt over the course of the plan because they have decided to calculate how many new houses we might need by using what is called the Standard Method.
For those of you who may not know what the Standard Method is, it is a method devised by the Government for setting housing targets. The Standard Method uses ONS (Office for National Statistics) data from 2014 to predict what our population might be over the next 17 years and bases housing targets on these predictions. However, predictions based on 2014 data have proven to be inaccurate and have grossly over-estimated population growth.
Using the Standard Method gives the St Albans District a housing target of 15,096 new houses over the next 17 years – 888 new houses every year. Comparatively, using baseline data from 2016 or 2018, or from the census in 2021, housing need forecasts for the St Albans District indicate that we may actually need fewer than 220 new houses a year until 2041 – a total of 3,740 instead of 15,096.
As there is no land available in the St Albans District outside the existing urban settlement area other than Green Belt land, the Council is proposing to approve “brownfield sites” – land that has already been built on or developed – and then to permit building on over 1,000 acres of our Green Belt.
If we were to continue to use up the Green Belt at this rate, it would only take approximately 400 years before there was no Green Belt left in the St Albans District. 400 years sounds like a long time, but to put this into perspective, Ye Old Fighting Cocks pub was built in its current form over 1,000 years ago and there are buildings still in use today in the UK that are 1,400 years old.
Does SADC have to do this ?
No ! Over the last few years, there has been much debate about the Standard Method and a wide recognition, even at Government level, that the Standard Method is out of date and produces inaccurate projections of population and housing need. It is also causing many councils to have to build on Green Belt land which is supposed to be protected.
Many of you will have heard the current Secretary of State, Michael Gove, say that we must protect our Green Belt and that the Standard Method produces a housing figure which is advisory, not compulsory – that councils do not have to comply with the Standard Method if the only way of achieving this quantity of building is to build on Green Belt. It is anticipated that Mr Gove will make these changes to the National Planning Policy Framework (the NPPF – essentially the rule book for planning and development) and strengthen protection for the Green Belt. As a result, it is believed that over 50 councils have paused, delayed or withdrawn their local plans in order to be able to incorporate these anticipated changes into their own local plans and to protect their Green Belt. St Albans District Council should be following a similar route – designing an alternative local plan that uses up-to-date housing projections and protects our Green Belt.
Does it matter if we built more houses than we need ?
Yes ! Contrary to the view put forward by SADC, building more houses in the area will not reduce house prices. House prices in St Albans are a function of so much more than just supply and demand (good schools, families moving out of London, good railway access to London and road access to the road network, green open spaces, access to the countryside etc).
More importantly, inclusion of a site – even in a draft version of a local plan – means that this site is subsequently assumed by developers and their legal representatives to have semi-approved status already. Even planning officers and planning inspectors can be influenced by this erroneous assumption.
It is therefore critical that we do not allow sites to be included unnecessarily, particularly when we know that these sites have not been assessed for their suitability from the perspectives of traffic and transport, infrastructure, and sustainability. The sites that have been included in the draft local plan have actually only been assessed against very limited criteria – essentially the Green Belt purposes. As a result, if we allow the draft plan to proceed to the consultation stages, we will find ourselves with many more sites than we need, all claiming suitability or some sort of favoured status, and pressurising the planning department and local residents to agree to more new houses on the Green Belt.
What should we do about it ?
At the next meeting of the Planning Policy and Climate Control committee on Monday 10th July, our elected councillors are being asked to approve the draft local plan to proceed to the first stage of public consultation (called Regulation 18 consultation). We must impress on our elected councillors that this is not appropriate – that using the Standard Method to determine housing need will lead to the destruction of over 1,000 acres of our Green Belt – when we have an alternative option, namely to calculate our actual housing need from up-to-date population projections and to minimise the amount of our Green Belt that will have to be sacrificed, as other councils are doing.
Keep Chiswell Green has been working with other local campaign groups and societies to determine how best to convey this message to our councillors. We had wanted to initiate a petition to SADC but the delay involved in SADC accepting our application is so lengthy as to be prohibitive (the meeting will be over and the public consultation started before SADC has decided whether to approve our petition).
KCG is also working with other local campaign groups and societies to host a number of public meetings over the next two months to give local residents more information about the local plan and to offer residents the opportunity to ask questions. Please look out for further communication about the local and these public meetings in particular.
Thank you !