Planning permission, but how will builders get there? Committee defers decision over Pirton and Holwell works traffic

Members of the Holwell Against CALA Traffic Action Group protest in February. Picture: Danny Loo

Members of the Holwell Against CALA Traffic Action Group protest in February. Picture: Danny Loo - Credit: Archant

Developers set to build 78 homes in a village near Hitchin have no way of getting construction traffic to the site after a decision on the route was deferred last night.

Heavy vehicle access to the site on the eastern edge of Pirton had been proposed to go through either that village, nearby Holwell, or both – and North Herts District Council’s planning control committee have chosen to wait while ideas such as a dedicated temporary road are looked into.

The late-night vote followed a heated and well-attended discussion at Letchworth’s Spirella Ballroom, with both Pirton and Holwell representatives objecting to CALA Homes’ plan to direct construction traffic through narrow and winding village lanes 60 times a day for up to three years.

Numerous submissions against the developers’ preferred option of going through the middle of Holwell were received in the 48 hours before the meeting, with many villagers citing disruption to the district council’s online planning portal.

Holwell Parish Council and the Holwell Against CALA Traffic Action Group (HACT) pointed out that the route went past villagers’ front doors – with no pavement – as well as four working farm entrances, a farm shop, a recreation ground, a church and more.

HACT’s John Burden said: “The sensible option would be to build an access route avoiding both villages, but this has been deemed too expensive. Who are we talking about? A multinational company.

“To direct traffic through Holwell is so absurd as to not waste time writing about. Any reasonable person would reject it out of hand.

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“The width of the Holwell route is often less than 4m, but HGVs are more than 2.5m wide. It’s as though CALA trucks are the only road users and they only come one way.”

The committee, chaired by Councillor David Barnard, agreed with the villagers that neither route was suitable for works traffic.

Mr Barnard, the last to speak before the vote, said: “There’s no satisfactory route – both Holwell and Pirton are completely unsatisfactory. So we have a construction site with no access.

“What I’d like to see is a deferment to allow the developer, Highways and other groups to further investigate in particular the possibility of putting in a temporary road.

“Anybody who’s driven that route, particularly through Holwell, knows you wouldn’t get a lorry around there – there’s no way. So I don’t see how construction traffic can go through there.”

Councillor Martin Stears-Handscomb earlier took a similar line, saying the proposed ‘mitigation measures’ were vague, the planned HGV laybys were impractical and that it endangered lives to send construction traffic through either Holwell or Pirton.

He concluded: “It just horrifies me. I don’t want on the conscience of this committee or anybody else the death of any people on that route. If we defer, I would hope we look at the option of an alternative route if that’s the only way we can do it safely.

“If it costs a little bit of money but it saves lives, then it’s the right thing to do.”

Planning control committee vice-chairman Fiona Hill repeatedly pressed council officers on whether the owners of relevant land had been sounded out regarding a temporary road for the works traffic.

At the third time of asking, district council development and conservation manager Simon Ellis replied: “We’ll take everything into account on all options and all possible mitigation measures.”

Philip Wright from CALA Homes stressed that Herts County Council and North Herts District Council planning officers supported the route through Holwell, and suggested that refusing works access would ‘amount to a revocation of planning permission’.

He added that it would be ‘an abuse of power’ to expect CALA to provide a new route on land outside its control, and that any damage done would be repaired at CALA’s cost.

“The question the planning authority must consider is whether it’s the best that can be achieved for what has already been granted,” he said.

“Mitigation measures agreed with Herts County Council help to make the construction route acceptable, and we’re introducing a booking system to ensure that deliveries don’t arrive outside the agreed timetable.

“There are seven or eight mitigation measures that we have tabled. This is the most suitable route for construction traffic.”

A vote for deferment was carried by a majority.

The committee granted outline planning permission in March for CALA Homes to build 78 homes east of Royal Oak Lane in Pirton – with a reserved matters application approved last night including switching a roundabout at the development’s entrance to a Y junction.

Councillor Claire Strong, Pirton Parish Council’s Diane Burleigh and Holwell Parish Council chairman Yvonne Hart had spoken against approval, with Mrs Burleigh saying CALA had made improvements but that there were still too many homes in the plan.

“Integration is key for us,” she said. “Simple changes would address the issue. We are keen that people have homes, not just houses.

“We’re not asking for much – take out a few houses. The way to deal with the issue with numbers and density is to address layout, appearance and scale.

“It isn’t going to take much more to get this completely right, and we do urge you to refuse at this time.”

Concerns were also raised over a perceived lack of green space in the development, with Mike Lake from CALA countering that a lot of the planned gardens were ‘huge, actually, especially on the southern end’.

He said: “A change of density throughout the village is inherent to any village, and this is a very well-designed and well-conceived scheme.

“It has two areas of open green space inside and let’s not forget the one near the entrance. I’d say to be fair CALA have moved a long way on the scheme to deliver, and help North Herts to deliver housing on the five-year constraints imposed by central government.

“This is a reserved matters application – we did come in with 82 and have dropped to 78. I think CALA have worked extremely hard and have worked with local people as hard as we possibly can to come up with a scheme that I am proud of.

“This does help deliver a scheme in a difficult location but we’ve worked hard and listened, most importantly, to people and acted on most of what they’ve asked us to do.

“We are working with one hand tied behind our back in effect. We’ve tried to acommodate almost every comment that’s been thrown at us.”

When Mr Stears-Handscomb enquired whether it might be possible to ‘tweak’ the plan after approving it, Mr Ellis said no.

“CALA Homes and officers have attempted to address the conerns that were articulated in March,” he said. “That’s what they’ve attempted to address and I think they’ve done that successfully.

“You can throw around numbers regarding density in different ways, but the key point is you need to consider the design and layout in the round and whether you consider the design appropriate to the area.”

Councillor Mike Rice’s motion to grant reserved matters approval, conditional on entry to the development being through a Y junction rather than a roundabout, was carried by a majority.