A ground-breaking ceremony has been held at the controversial Forster Country housing development in Stevenage.

Bellway North London and Miller Homes will build up to 800 homes at the development, which will also include a local centre, a primary school, and a country park.

Work has now begun on constructing the first phase of the project after detailed planning consent was granted by Stevenage Borough Council earlier this year, despite opposition from many residents.

The Friends of Forster Country campaign group sought to stop development on the land, and has received support from actress Emma Thompson. Hundreds of residents objected to the plans.

Forster Country lies within the St Nicholas Conservation Area and includes author EM Forster's childhood home Rooks Nest House, Grade I-listed St Nicholas Church and Grade II-listed The Bury.

In the first phase, 118 homes will be constructed for private sale and 71 will be "affordable", according to the government definition of the term.

The houses will range in size from two- to five-bedrooms, and show homes are expected to be available in spring 2024. The development as a whole is expected to take up to five years to complete.

Ali Maruf, managing director of Bellway North London, said: “The ground-breaking at Forster Park celebrates our joint project with Miller Homes which has local community, heritage and sustainability at its core.

The Comet: Around 800 homes will be built as part of the development on Forster Country.Around 800 homes will be built as part of the development on Forster Country. (Image: Bellway)

“To mark the start of construction, we gathered together on the land near Rooks Nest House, where the renowned English writer EM Forster grew up, and which inspired his novel Howard’s End.

"This is truly a beautiful part of the world, and we have named our development Forster Park in his honour.

“We are committed to an overarching focus on sustainability, which complements the site’s natural surroundings, as well as Bellway’s ethos.

"Existing trees and shrubs will be retained wherever possible, alongside the addition of generous new planting.

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"Green open spaces and ponds will be thoughtfully designed and implemented to help support local wildlife.

“This first phase will see us not only deliver new homes – which will all have electric vehicle charging points – but also a new local centre with commercial space which could be used to house a convenience store.”

Detailed applications for a further 115 homes within phase one and the 93-acre country park are to be considered by the council at a later date.

Ali added: “With regard to the wider scheme, we are proud to be teaming up with Miller Homes to create a brand-new neighbourhood that will bring huge investment to improve local infrastructure and services.”

Gavin Jones, regional operations director at Miller Homes South Midlands, commented: “We are excited to announce that our work has now begun on Forster Park.

“Together, we will also be making contributions of over £1.1 million to the local community, including support for healthcare, schools, transport and infrastructure, and sports facilities."