‘A complete lack of sympathy’ – Baldock and Letchworth groups react to North Herts District Council’s approval of draft Local Plan

North Herts District Council offices in Letchworth.

North Herts District Council offices in Letchworth. - Credit: Archant

Groups campaigning to preserve Green Belt around Baldock and Letchworth have reacted with dismay to the appoval of the North Herts draft Local Plan on Wednesday night.

Save Rural Baldock said the North Herts District Council vote of 32 councillors in favour, seven against and five abstentions ‘does not truly reflect the amount of concern’ about the plan – which calls for up to 14,600 new homes, including more than 3,500 on Green Belt around Baldock.

All five councillors from Baldock and neighbouring Bygrave voted against, arguing that their area stood to receive an unfairly large proportion of new housing.

Councillor Jim McNally, of Baldock Town ward, stressed that Baldock was set for an 80 per cent increase in size under the plan, while Hitchin, Letchworth and Royston were set to grow by 11, 15 and 25 per cent respectively.

“How would you feel if your towns were expected to assimilate such vast numbers?” he asked.

“How would your constituents feel? Baldock accepts the need for development, but not at the cost of destroying communities like Baldock.

“Such development should be fair and equitable, with the burden spread evenly across the district.”

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Issues such as congestion and lack of infrastructure were also raised.

Anthony Burrows, acting chairman of Letchworth-based Save the World’s First Garden City, said the group was totally opposed to any building on Green Belt land anywhere in North Herts.

“If you finally vote to allow building massively on our Green Belt, any inspector is entitled to assume that you have no objection in principle to building on it,” he told councillors before the vote.

“Can any councillor tell us where there is any development in your plan which is not the urban sprawl which for decades has been considered the very opposite of good planning? Moving or increasing the amount of Green Belt so that the sprawl can be constructed is cynical.”

He added: “We are shocked that your plan shows complete lack of sympathy with the people of Baldock.”

The Local Plan will be submitted to the council cabinet for approval in September, following further work by the planning department.

If approved there will then be statutory six-week public consultation this autumn before the plan is submitted to the Secretary of State by March 2017.

A Save Rural Baldock spokeswoman said: “The vote of 32 councillors in favour, seven against and five abstentions does not truly reflect the amount of concern that remains about the content of the latest version of the new Local Plan for North Hertfordshire.

“It is vital that all North Herts residents read the plan and submit their comments to the consultation. Previous consultation comments will only be submitted in summary.

“Once views have been collected and sorted they will be sent to the inspector who will pass or fail the plan, returning it to the planners to adjust if necessary. The plan may then be adopted.

“If the inspector fails the plan altogether then the planning department would have to start again or see the government step in and write one for the county which might be even less sympathetic.”

Councillor David Levett, responsible for planning at the district council, said: “This is an opportunity for new homes to be provided for the future generation.

“The plan takes into account infrastructure, employment and retail opportunities to achieve this.”

The papers are available at north-herts.gov.uk – search for ‘Local Plan’.