Leaked letter could put Hitchin housing plan on hold

A LEAKED ministerial letter could put the brakes on plans to build on hundreds of hectares of Green Belt. Time is running out for residents to have their say on where thousands of homes could be built in North Herts - but in a leaked letter a shadow mi

A LEAKED ministerial letter could put the brakes on plans to build on hundreds of hectares of Green Belt.

Time is running out for residents to have their say on where thousands of homes could be built in North Herts - but in a leaked letter a shadow minister has urged the council to delay any major development schemes until the Tories get into power.

As things stand under Labour, North Herts District Council (NHDC) must build 6,200 houses in the district by 2021 to comply with the Government's East of England Plan and a public consultation on 126 possible sites ends on September 14.

Put forward by landowners and developers, the sites range in size from less than a quarter of a hectare to almost 400, many on Green Belt land. The vast majority of sites in the district are located around Hitchin and would more than double the size of the town if approved.


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This follows an earlier planning phase last year when an original 159 sites were proposed. After September 14 councillors will choose their preferred options from the combined total of 285 sites, which will be subject to a final public consultation.

But Caroline Spelman, the shadow communities secretary, has written to every Conservative council, including NHDC, urging them to delay major commercial and housing developments. She wrote that if the Tories win the next election they would "revoke, in whole or part" all of Labour's regional development strategies.

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Reacting to the letter, Tom Brindley NHDC portfolio holder for planning and transport, said: "I received this letter with interest and the Conservative group are discussing its implications. With every expectation of a Conservative government within the next nine months, there may be an opportunity to reconsider the real local housing needs which many people think are rather less than those proposed in the East of England plan. "

Steve Barley, spokesman for West Hitchin Action Group, who are opposed to a massive development proposal which would destroy almost 400 hectares of Green Belt land to the west of the town, reacted with mixed feelings to the letter. "We think the targets are far too high and Hitchin has an unfair proportion of that target. We welcome any sensible target setting, but it's politicians talking - it's difficult to say one party is any better than another."

He said the group will be collecting signatures against the proposals at a stall in Market Place, Hitchin for the next two Saturdays.

While concerned residents in St Ippolyts and Gosmore, which could be swamped by development on Green Belt land if proposals are approved, held a meeting in St Ippolyts last night (Wednesday), to petition council planning officers.

Reacting to over 500 responses to the proposals so far, Cllr Brindley said he was "very pleased". He said: "It is important that when we come to our preferred options document we can accurately reflect the views of North Herts residents, for or against individual sites, so please respond."

To view the latest proposals and have your say, go to www.north-herts.gov.uk, or respond by emailing ldfconsultations@north-herts.gov.uk or in writing to NHDC, LDF Team, Council Offices, Gernon Road, Letchworth GC, SG6 3JF.

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