Fight to halt 'incursion' on to Green Belt in North Herts

PLANS to build 6,500 homes on land around Graveley and Great Ashby have been described as the biggest incursion on the Green Belt in the country . SNAP – the Stevenage and North Herts Area Plan – is being developed in a bid to reach a Government-set targ

PLANS to build 6,500 homes on land around Graveley and Great Ashby have been described as "the biggest incursion on the Green Belt in the country".

SNAP - the Stevenage and North Herts Area Plan - is being developed in a bid to reach a Government-set target of building 16,000 homes in Stevenage and North Herts by 2021.

Current proposals include building 1,500 homes between North Road in Stevenage and Graveley, and 5,000 homes to the north of Great Ashby, as well as a link road running from the North Road junction to the new development, between Graveley and Chesfield.

Residents are concerned the development threatens coalescence of Graveley, Chesfield and Warren's Green with Stevenage, and will create an urban sprawl.

There are also concerns about the destruction of Green Belt land and of ancient woodland, a lack of infrastructure, and an increase in traffic. The proposed sites are also home to wildlife, including rare butterflies and a dormice colony.

A meeting was held by members of action group GASP - Graveley Against the Stevenage Plan - at Graveley Village Hall last week.

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Conservative Peter Lilley and Lib Dem Nigel Quinton, both parliamentary candidates for the Hitchin and Harpenden seat, addressed the packed hall of villagers, declaring their opposition to the plans.

Mr Lilley said any development would result in the need for another primary school in Great Ashby, and "there will be pressure and demand to build more roads". If the plans go ahead, he said, "it's going to change the nature of this area".

He added: "This proposal, if it goes ahead, will be the biggest incursion on the Green Belt in the country which I have been able to identify."

Mr Lilley said the fact planning permission has been granted for 3,600 homes to be built west of Stevenage will be problematic.

"Once we have created the precedent of building on the Green Belt, it's more difficult to defeat building on the Green Belt than it has been in the past," he said, "but it's important not to give up."

Mr Quinton added: "We need to protect our Green Belt. Stevenage is not a dense settlement. We can make it more densely populated, without damaging its character, rather than expanding ever outwards."

James Fraser, a Conservative member of Labour-controlled Stevenage Borough Council (SBC), said North Herts District Council is "essentially opposed to building on the Green Belt", whereas SBC "has zeal to go ahead".

He added: "They have spoken about it as if it is a done deal.

"We must write letters and have our voices heard, but how do we get through to people who are that blinkered? Those against west of Stevenage were flatly ignored."

A spokesman for Stevenage Borough Council said: "The East of England Plan requires Stevenage BC and North Herts DC to build 16,000 new homes in and around Stevenage between 2001 and 2021. The plan specifically requires development to the north and west of Stevenage.

"The development is not just housing and will also include schools, shops, parks, roads, community buildings, etc. The decision for both councils is how the development should be split between west and north.

"Both councils carried out consultation in 2007 and there will be further public consultation exercises to allow people to have their say later in 2010 and 2011.

"Both councils are still working towards agreeing the contents of SNAP and the first round of consultation is expected after July at the earliest. The plan will be informed by public comments. If people are still dissatisfied, they will have the opportunity to make their views known to an independent planning inspector who will then make the final decision."

For more information about the plans, and how you can get involved with GASP, call GASP chairman Jack Rigg on 01438 726755 or email him at rigg.jack@yahoo.co.uk

RESIDENTS against plans to build 350 homes on Green Belt land known as Roundwood, to the north-west of Great Ashby, have started a poster campaign.

Developers Croudace have submitted a planning application for the development to North Herts District Council.

Residents' main objections surround concerns about the destruction of Green Belt land and established hedgerows, an increase in traffic, and an increased pressure on amenities and infrastructure.

Protesters have begun displaying posters in the windows of their homes. Lee Downie, a member of NHDC, said: "If the development goes ahead, where are the children going to go to school? All the surrounding schools are at maximum subscription already."

He also said the planning application is "premature", claiming: "We don't need to be deciding on Roundwood until we have decided on SNAP."

To view the planning application, visit www.north-herts.gov.uk

To comment on the plans, write to the planning department at North Herts District Council, Gernon Road, Letchworth GC, SG6 3JF.