Stevenage’s Forster Country: Campaigners see ‘hope snuffed out’ as hold on 800 homes plan is lifted
PUBLISHED: 08:32 10 June 2020
A last-ditch effort to stop 800 homes being built on swathes of countryside with cultural and historical significance has failed, allowing “a vicious attack on our environment”.
Stevenage’s Forster Country is a conservation area north of Martins Way - between North Road and Weston Road. It includes Grade I-listed St Nicholas Church, Grade II*-listed The Bury and Grade I-listed Rooks Nest House - where author E M Forster spent his childhood from 1883 to 1893.
Hundreds of people objected to plans to build 800 homes and a primary school in Forster Country, with concerns including the loss of history and heritage, the risk of urban coalescence, the loss of the last remaining farmland in Stevenage, and the proposed development being unsustainable.
Stevenage Borough Council approved the planning application in February, but Stevenage MP Stephen McPartland successfully appealed to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick, to put a hold on the application and consider determining it himself.
It gave campaigners a glimmer of hope, but the Secretary of State has now removed the hold and said SBC’s decision stands.
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John Spiers, chairman of the Friends of Forster Country, said: “We are devastated. The glimmer of hope has been snuffed out.”
He says FoFC recognise local government sometimes has to make decisions “unpalatable to the community”, but this decision is wrong.
“Brownfield sites which could have been used instead have been held in reserve for yet more urbanisation of Stevenage,” John said. “The development will lead to huge environmental damage, and there is the question of physical and mental health - thrown into sharp focus by the COVID 19 pandemic, during which Forster Country has been a boon to hundreds of people. Building here will damage this facility beyond repair.”
Mr McPartland added: “The loss of Forster Country is a vicious attack by our local council on our environment, while it pays lip service to climate change and declared a climate emergency.”
Councillor John Gardner, executive member for environment and regeneration at Stevenage Borough Council, said: “Towns and cities across the country are given the challenge of planning to provide much-needed homes, including affordable homes, a high quality and sustainable environment, and provide land for businesses to grow and new jobs to be created.
“The Secretary of State has decided not to call this application in and instead leave this for Stevenage Borough Council to determine.”
The developer has not responded to a request for comment.
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