Designs for 358 homes at Stevenage's Forster Country - which a councillor described as “really boring” - have got the green light.

Stevenage Borough Council has signed off on two planning applications which cover some of the finishing touches of proposed homes north of the town.

The Hertfordshire authority laid the legal foundations for up to 800 homes – a bolt-on to the post-war New Town – in its local plan which borough councillors agreed to adopt in 2019.

They granted outline permission for the scheme including primary school provision and public open space in a decision dated September 1, 2022.

The Comet: The planned "local centre" as part of the North of Stevenage development

At a meeting on Thursday, October 26, councillors looked at designs for 243 homes and a neighbourhood centre which Councillor Stephen Booth described as “extremely boring”.

Stevenage Borough Council’s planning committee approved plans for the 243 houses and flats in February, but developers Bellway and Miller went back to the drawing board and resubmitted the application.

According to a committee report, the revised scheme features a new public plaza and a decking area overlooking some open space.

The report sets out the main street and local centre will use “modern design principles” – with buff brick and white render, grey roof tiles and windows without sills.

Houses in the “green edge” of the development would be “traditional in appearance” with bay windows, red brick and stone window sills.

Cllr Booth, who sits on the committee, said there is a “lack of variety” in the building façades.

He pointed to a part of the October meeting report which references Historic England’s comments.

“They remain concerned that the density and general design and appearance of the development would have a negative impact upon the character of the conservation area and its setting,” officers wrote.

But Cllr Graham Lawrence (Con, Woodfield) suggested that failure to grant the application would mean planning permission for the old design would remain in place.

“In my opinion, the scheme we are looking at now is much improved from the previous scheme,” he said.

Committee chair Cllr Michael Downing agreed the new designs represent “an improvement to the original plans in terms of design”.

He said: “We are now at a stage where we have to recognise [the 800-home development] is going to happen and this is the best we are going to get.”

Anne Conchie, of Friends of the Forster Country, spoke in opposition to the second application – for 115 homes as part of the same 800-home masterplan, including 28 “aspirational” homes which are detached, set back from the road, and feature at least four bedrooms.

The Forster Country is named after Howards End author E. M. Forster, who set part of his novel in the “swelling forms of the Six Hills” of Stevenage, where he grew up.

Ms Conchie said at the meeting: “We did not want this to happen but we have accepted it is going to happen.”

She said the designs must be of a high quality to “make the sacrifice worthwhile”.

Ms Conchie added: “If you are going to use [the Forster Country to build homes], if that must be, then at least build really good houses.”

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She urged the authority to keep the “sloping meadow” which E. M. Forster described in a biography about his great-aunt Marianne Thornton.

Emma Thompson, who starred in a 1992 film adaptation of Howards End, has previously urged the authority to protect the area’s heritage.

She said in 2022: “To destroy countryside with such a heritage and of such value to the economy in terms of tourism is sheer madness.”

Responding to Ms Conchie, Jamie MacArthur of Bellway Homes said both his firm and Miller are “five-star housebuilders”.

The committee approved both applications, green-lighting full plans for North of Stevenage Phase 1.