Defeat for last-minute motion on Local Plan housing in North Herts

The motion at NHDC's extraordinary meeting on the Local Plan was defeated. Picture: Tom Coates / NHDC

The motion at NHDC's extraordinary meeting on the Local Plan was defeated. Picture: Tom Coates / NHDC - Credit: Archant

Councillors last night decided to vote down a last-minute motion that could have seen significant changes to future housing in North Hertfordshire’s Local Plan.

At an extraordinary meeting of full council, called for by the Liberal Democrat group, 39 councillors debated the Local Plan’s housing provision during a heated discussion.

During a three-hour meeting, that at times stoked the passions of those involved, councillors eventually voted to reject the motion that would have seen a council-led re-evaluation of the projected housing need in the district.

Several notable Labour councillors, including leader of the council Martin Stears-Handscomb and portfolio holder for IT and finance Ian Albert, voted against the proposed motion forwarded by their co-operative colleagues in the Liberal Democrats.

Proposing the motion as one of the 10 Lib Dem councillors, Cllr Sam Collins began with a speech.

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He said: “I’m fully aware that this meeting is inconvenient, and slightly awkward for some of you, but I think this is perhaps one of the most important meetings of this council for some time.

“What we discuss here tonight, and the decisions we take now, will impact our area not only up until 2031 but for generations to come.

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“We cannot shy away from this because it may seem difficult or challenging, this is our responsibility as councillors to do what is right for the future of our district and the residents we represent.”

The motion proposed by the 10 Lib Dem councillors stated the council must recognise that as the proposed housing need for the district has reduced, as predicted by the Office for National Statistics, then the Local Plan should too be scaled back.

Cllr Collins’ speech also referenced the fact councillors from all political parties previously had mixed opinions on the Plan’s size and scope – with concerns raised about vital infrastructure such as schools, doctors surgeries and transport provisions.

The introduction also touched upon the potential impact on the environment, with Cllr Collins referencing potential water shortages, reduced air quality in towns such as Hitchin and the planned “tearing up” of the Green Belt and North Hertfordshire’s countryside.

READ MORE: How will NHDC’s Local Plan impact my area?

The evening’s atmosphere was tense, despite it being a virtual meeting of Full Council, as councillors from all political parties continued to interrupt one another.

Councillors then withdrew to a private room for an hour, where they received legal advice on the motion without members of the press of public invited to listen.

Those watching the YouTube live stream were exasperated by their decision to discuss in private.

Carolyn Cottier said: “This is BS. They should be voting in full view of us all. Why do they need to hide?”

Another user added: “What a joke. Secret meetings not involving the public. This is going to backfire for sure, grab the popcorn folks.”

At its peak, more than 110 members of the public tuned in to the extraordinary meeting last night.

Of course, last night’s meeting was not the first bump in the road for North Hertfordshire’s Local Plan.

The council’s expenditure on the Local Plan already exceeds £700,000 – excluding the time planning officers have put in.

In July 2019, planning inspector Simon Berkeley wrote to the council to highlight “issues and reservations” with the Local Plan.

The subsequent public hearings that were planned for March this year had to be postponed due to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

That same month, the ONS released a 2018-based local authority population projection that indicated “significantly lower growth” in North Hertfordshire than previously thought.

In total, the projected figures for homes (11,500) has reduced by 11 per cent since the last published projection in 2016 (12,900).

No new date has been set for the Inspector’s latest round of hearings.

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