Letchworth action group relies on covenants to preserve their streets
- Credit: Archant
A Letchworth action group is calling on the Heritage Foundation to protect residents over plans to build on a former school playing fields – by using covenants that have been in place for decades.
Norton Action Group formed following an exhibition detailing illustrative plans for the former Norton School playing fields, which showed Herts County Council’s intentions to build 42 houses there – with only one access route for cars branching from Croft Lane.
It has now come to light that there are at least two covenants put in place by the Heritage Foundation’s predecessor, First Garden City Limited, on the land which restricts the county council’s plans.
The Heritage Foundation sold the land to the council in two parts, the first in 1948, and the second in 1969.
The covenant that is active for the land sold in 1948 states that it should not be used “for a purpose that is detrimental to the neighbourhood, or that prevents or in any way restricts the use of the premises for educational purposes”.
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It also states that the construction of any buildings is prohibited, except buildings necessary for the purpose of education.
The action group is now hoping that the Heritage Foundation will opt to keep this covenant in place, and therefore conserve Croft Lane and Cashio Lane. The narrow roads and little traffic in these streets is something resides hope to keep as part of the character of the area, however, should these plans go through, they fear that the roads will need to be widened to provide access.
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There are also concerns about the strain an extra 42 families will have on amenities such as doctors surgeries and schools.
In a statement, the action group said: “Increasingly local residents question the motives of the Heritage Foundation and their objective to protect the assets and citizens interests as set out by Act of Parliament.
“The HF have – over many years – zealously applied the restrictions within covenants under the restrictive management scheme to prevent residents altering their property, adding features and building additional homes on double plots.
“Now the HF, where covenants exist on land they own or have previously sold, dismiss covenants thus allowing Herts County Council to lever the asset by many millions of pounds, for example, Norton School’s playing fields.
“Putting to one side the loss of this value to the garden city, it illustrates the double standards that are applied dependent on who owns the land.
“This hypocrisy is at the core of residents angst.”
A spokesman for the Heritage Foundation told the Comet: “In recent weeks information came to light which showed there were restrictions on the land that was transferred to Herts County Council in 1948.
“This update was shared with our trustees, governors and with local residents as soon as we became aware of this. We also informed the county council who were aware of the covenant. We are now reviewing legal advice and will be happy to update you once we know more.”
In cabinet reports made by Herts County Council following the closure of the school in 2002, it was stated that at the time it was not expected that the land had significant development potential due to a number of factors such as the potential importance of the playing field as a community resource, the loose knit low density nature of the surrounding development, limited width of the access strip from Cashio Lane and the inability of Croft Lane to handle significant additional traffic. It also cited the adjoining Croft Lane conservation area which includes several listed buildings and the possible need to retain the playing field for educational use.
A county council spokesman said: “We would like to reassure the residents that it is quite usual for land that was acquired by the county council in garden cities and new towns to bear covenants that restrict how it can be used. These covenants are a matter of public record at the Land Registry.
“However, as the needs of the community evolve and change over several decades, it is sensible to consider putting the land to a new use. This can be decided by the local planning authority and if permission is granted, the covenants restricting usage can be removed or changed according to an official process.
“In such circumstances, and if appropriate, compensation will be paid to the owners of land. If there is a dispute, a legal tribunal can resolve matters.”