Hitchin residents have spoken out about the proposed Highover Farm development ahead of a crunch meeting later this week.

On Thursday, October 12, North Herts Council's planning committee will decide whether the controversial 700-home development should be allowed to proceed.

In July, the committee decided to defer a decision on the application, citing concerns about the potential impact on Hitchin's roads and transport infrastructure.

The land, bordered by Stotfold Road on the Letchworth side and by Grovelands Avenue on the Hitchin side, has been set aside for development in the Local Plan for North Herts.

The planning application has received more than 200 comments from residents, with 207 writing to object to the development and two writing in support. A petition opposing the development has been signed by almost 1,200 people.

Many objections focus on the traffic data and assessments presented to the planning committee.

The developer, David Wilson, submitted a transport assessment stating that the impact of the development on local roads would not be "severe", and Hertfordshire County Council's highways team has also accepted the proposed development, subject to conditions.

However, their views have been questioned by campaigners who say that residents would be reliant on cars, creating more traffic in the area.

The site - as measured from the Stotfold Road entrance - is 2.3 miles from Hitchin railway station and 2.1 miles from Letchworth Garden City railway station.

Richard Wilcox, a member of the Highover Farm Action Group, said: “Throughout this process we have had no confidence in the reports and traffic impact forecasts ... And thankfully nor have the councillors.

"In July they voted to defer the decision on whether to grant planning permission after we showed that the optimistic forecasts in the Transport Assessment were based upon data that was out-of-date and unrepresentative.

"The developers and the Highways Department have since produced a supplementary transport report, and once again it paints an overly optimistic portrait based on questionable data and methodology.”

Justin Richards, a Hitchin resident, has criticised a proposal to create a wider footpath under Woolgrove Road rail bridge by reducing the width of the road, and introducing a signal-controlled system that would allow vehicles under the bridge in one direction at a time.

He said that it risks causing "mayhem" and would "undoubtedly exacerbate congestion ... and cause a tailback up to the busy industrial estate junction just 40 metres or five car lengths away".

Campaigners have previously criticised the narrowness of the path under the rail bridge, which lacks safety railings and would be used by people travelling from the proposed new development into Hitchin. 

Kathryn Humphrey, another Hitchin resident, added: “As residents who have to travel on the Cambridge Road every day – it’s the town’s vital eastern artery - we know just how congested the road is already, how much of a crawl it makes getting in and out of town at peak times, and increasingly how often it descends into gridlock.

"We live in a market town, not London, and we don’t want the pollution or congestion that so much additional traffic will bring.

"The roads are bad enough now. Adding another 700 car-dependent homes into the mix at this location is irresponsible and could only be agreed by a planning committee that doesn’t have to use these roads and doesn’t care about air pollution.”

Jenni Back, who also lives in Hitchin, added: “This is a significant moment for Hitchin. And what happens next is going to depend on who the councillors believe about what is already happening on Hitchin’s roads – the residents or the developers working with the Highways Department.”

Cllr Elizabeth Dennis, who represents Hitchin Walsworth, said: “North Herts Labour & Co-operative councillors are committed to delivering the right homes in the right places for our communities and for our district.

"We know the real challenges of our aging infrastructure. At the last Planning Committee [meeting], members asked the developers a number of questions to fully understand how this development impacts our existing communities. 

"Hitchin needs real investment in sustainable and active travel networks to encourage people to travel sustainably when fossil-fuelled cars aren’t necessary.

"Developments like this are a real opportunity to deliver vital housing and infrastructure for our communities, but we must make sure that they benefit our district and keep pace with the needs of our communities.”