Campaigners’ joy at housing reprieve for Hitchin Priory Fields site

Campaigners against development at Priory Fields took part in a walk of the Green Belt site in July

Campaigners against development at Priory Fields took part in a walk of the Green Belt site in July - Credit: Archant

Campaigners are celebrating after the shadow of possible development on Hitchin’s prized Priory Fields was dispelled.

There was widespread dismay when the ‘irreplaceable asset’ described as the lungs of Hitchin – a popular spot for walkers – was listed as a potential site for housing.

Land at Priory Fields – spanning 120 acres of arable fields and meadows between Charlton and Gosmore, and south of Park Way – had been earmarked for 1,000 homes.

But it has not now been included in North Herts District Council’s ‘preferred options’ shortlist for its draft Local Plan for future housing development through to 2031.

A council document confirmed: “The Priory Fields site is not included in the allocated sites.”

The news follows a guided walk of Priory Fields in July, when more than 300 people of all ages came together to oppose any future proposals and to highlight the threat to the area.

A spokesman for the Hitchin Town Action Group, which organised the walk, said: “It’s very encouraging to know the council has removed Priory Fields from the list of sites being considered for housing in their draft Local Plan.

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“The guided walk around Priory Fields which we organised in July – pictured above – drew 300 people, showing the strength of public feeling for retaining this as a recreational resource for the town.

“Our user survey of the area in early October showed how popular the area is for walking, cycling, dog walking and general enjoyment of the beautiful landscape towards the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

“Priory Fields is great value as Green Belt – and is an area of beautiful and accessible countryside of importance to the quality of life of local people. It’s an irreplaceable recreational asset for Hitchin and retaining it as Green Belt is the right decision for the town.”

Councillor David Levett, responsible for planning and enterprise at the council, said: “Priory Fields has not been suggested for inclusion in the draft Local Plan-Preferred Options, to deliver the level of housing the district is trying to accommodate.

“Those sites which are being put forward are currently assessed as offering better opportunities and other supporting infrastructure, with less impact on designations such as wildlife sites, conservation areas and air quality management areas than Priory Fields.”