Residents and councillors warn small development could set 'worrying' Green Belt precedent
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2014
Residents and councillors who oppose a new housing development in Ickleford are warning that building on once protected Green Belt land could "set a worrying precedent" in the future.
The application in question would see five market houses built on land adjacent to Turnpike Lane and Manor Close in Ickleford. The properties would not be affordable housing.
On-site parking, landscaping, building of a pedestrian footpath and a designated communal space have also been confirmed as part of this development.
Although listed as part of North Hertfordshire's Green Belt, Ickleford had been defined as an "excluded village" as part of NHDC's 'Green Belt Review' in July 2016.
The council has proposed to adjust the settlement boundary and to remove the site from the Green Belt in the submission Local Plan.
Within the same document, the southern part of Ickleford was deemed to have made a "moderate contribution to Green Belt purposes as it helps prevent urban sprawl north of Hitchin."
According to the government's National Planning Policy Framework, Green Belt land serves five key purposes:
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- to check the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas;
- to prevent neighbouring towns merging into one another;
- to assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment;
- to preserve the setting and special character of historic towns;
- to assist in urban regeneration, by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land.
Developing land designated as Green Belt usually requires exceptional circumstances, but although rare, it is not impossible to build on.
As part of the emerging Local Plan 2016 -2031, this southern part of Ickleford has been designated 'white land' according to planning documents published by NHDC - meaning it is not afforded the same protections as that land within the Green Belt.
The application states: "Due to the combined factors of the land becoming land within the village settlement boundary under the emerging Local Plan, combined with the council currently being behind its five year land supply requirements, outweigh Green Belt protection."
Residents, parish councillors and other local representatives have all spoken out against the plans and argued the lack of once "sacred" Green Belt protection is concerning.
Ray Blake, chairman of Ickleford Parish Council, insists that any decision made on this development would be premature, considering the Local Plan is yet to be ratified.
He said: "It's just wrong for so many reasons.
"This has been ongoing for years, and I remembered having conversations with concerned residents and telling them it's Green Belt land, we've got nothing to worry about.
"Green Belt land is obviously supposed to be sacred, but over time you worry when it can just become white land - whatever that means.
"The developers assume that the Local Plan is a foregone conclusion, but it is far from a conclusive outcome. Until such a time as the Inspector approves the emerging Local Plan, this development site remains outside the Ickleford Settlement boundary."
The site in question also lies adjacent to Ickleford Conservation Area, on the former parkland of 17th century Ickleford Manor, with five Grade-II listed buildings in the immediate vicinity.
Sam North, Lib Dem councillor for Cadwell Ward, added: "We find ourselves yet again in a very difficult situation having to deal with another unsuitable development.
"I don’t think it is right that we should be neglecting our responsibilities to the environment, particularly when the housing need is expected to be met nearly two times over by the proposed Local Plan."
And resident Timothy Geldard warns that this decision could set a worrying precedent in the future.
"While I think most people appreciate the need for additional housing across Hertfordshire, this development is not only in direct conflict with multiple planning policies, but threatens to further dilute the rural character of the village and contribute to the removal of the fragile boundary between Ickleford and Hitchin.
"This is an opportunity for setting precedent that would remove existing Green Belt protection from other small rural sites that may lose it, should the Local Plan be approved."
The Local Plan saga has been well documented over the last five years, with hearings continuing and any final decision still yet to be made by Planning Inspector Simon Berkeley.
NHDC's planning committee will vote on the proposed development at a meeting tomorrow evening at 7pm. You can view the application in full here.