Daily tailbacks and a road that “all but the bravest cyclists” avoid need sorting if 700 new homes are built in Hitchin, councillors have heard.

North Herts Council set aside land for the new builds at Highover Farm, off Stotfold Road, in its Local Plan last November.

Developer Barratt David Wilson has come forward with an application to build on the site.

But at a planning committee meeting on Thursday, July 6, councillors voted to defer their decision until a later date – with fears traffic planners have failed to consider Hitchin’s transport needs.

The Comet: How plans for 700 new homes in Hitchin could be laid out. How plans for 700 new homes in Hitchin could be laid out. (Image: Planit-IE/North Herts Council)

In the plans, after discussions with Hertfordshire County Council’s highways team, the developer was due to contribute £3.38million to sustainable transport – with cash for a continuous cycle route along the A505 “sustainable spine”, along with a Hitchin station eastern entrance, cycle parking, and an improved town northern loop bus.

Council leader Elizabeth Dennis, who does not sit on the committee but spoke as a community advocate, said she has “grave concerns” about this deal.

She said: “£3.3m isn’t a lot of money when you think about all the strategic infrastructure needed for this site”.

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Cllr Dennis added: “This is not a 15-minute neighbourhood.

“This is a neighbourhood that’s almost two miles from critical facilities in the town.”

She warned the distance between Highover Farm and nearby town centres could mean an extra 1,300 cars in the area.

Richard Wilcox, a public speaker, said the A505 low railway bridge is a particular concern – where there are no cycle lanes and only a narrow public footpath on one side of the road.

“Other than primary schools, there are no key services on the Walsworth side of town,” he said.

“No supermarket, doctor’s surgery, dentists or secondary school.

“Consider the walking distances from the centre of the development to these key services – 1.5 miles to Sainsbury’s or the closest doctor’s surgery or dentists, and 1.9 miles to the secondary school in Bedford Road.

“Then, there are those railway bridges which are a great deterrent.

“They put off all but the bravest cyclists and mobility scooter users from Walsworth.

“If this development goes ahead as proposed, its residents will be heavily car-dependent which is bad news for Hitchin’s already congested roads and in direct conflict with sustainable transport goals.”

The Comet: Highover Farm Site AnalysisHighover Farm Site Analysis (Image: Planit-IE/North Herts Council)

Cllr Mick Debenham, who sits on the committee, said: “One piece of roadworks, and the whole of Hitchin goes into gridlock.

“It’s on a knife edge.”

Cllr David Levett said: “When I was looking at this earlier, I came in here tonight thinking this is a reasonably good application – it meets a lot of things.

“Some of the things I’ve heard tonight have made me think again.

“I have absolutely no problem with 700 homes here.

“It’s in the Local Plan, it meets the requirements, the housing mix is good, and the outline design looks good.

“What I have an issue with is the access.”

Cllr Levett pointed to a national planning rule which sets out development can be refused if there is a “severe” impact on the road network or highways safety.

As part of the planning process, the developer submitted a transport assessment, which is dated 2019.

Hertfordshire County Council’s highways team has also seen the application and submitted a 24-page letter in response, accepting the proposals subject to conditions.

Oliver Sowerby, of Hertfordshire Highways, attended the meeting and said it is “very clear” there are “pinch points” in the area.

“It’s not particularly pleasant walking underneath those railway lines,” Mr Sowerby said.

“A substantial sum of money needs to be set aside to do something about the pinch points and that is reflected in my report.”

Shuttle working – using traffic lights to alternate the flow beneath the bridge – is one idea which is being considered.

Mr Sowerby added traffic assessments would have been completed to “industry standard”, taking into account not just this development but projected growth elsewhere.

“Traffic flows on the network are post-lockdown 10 per cent or so reduced,” he said.

“I’m content the assessment is robust.”

Speaking on behalf of the developer, Sarah Smith said: “The presentation of this application to the committee has been a very long time in the making.

“The owners of this site over the years have worked through the appropriate and recognised planning process in agreement with your officers.”

Ms Smith added the application “fully accords” with the district’s Local Plan – with 40 per cent affordable housing, land for a primary school, allotments and roughly 30 per cent biodiversity net gain – and the asks from the county council’s highways team.

She said the intention is for a “beautiful and sustainable development that everyone can be proud of.”

The committee voted to defer the application seven votes to one.