‘Rollback’ warning over precious Hitchin Green Belt sites

Councillor Richard Thake.

Councillor Richard Thake. - Credit: Archant

Fears are rising over possible plans to force more homes on a prized beauty spot in Hitchin – and elsewhere.

Priory Fields – described as an ‘irreplaceable asset’ spanning 120 acres of arable fields and meadows between Charlton and Gosmore – may be back in the firing line as a potential housing site.

The area, known as the lungs of Hitchin, was de-listed in North Herts District Council’s ‘preferred options’ shortlist in October but may again be earmarked for building, according to one Hitchin councillor.

Councillor Richard Thake said: “Sites which have been previously discounted may be reconsidered.

“It can’t be ruled out at this stage there will be dwellings proposed for Priory Fields, because we may have to revisit one or more of the original proposals.

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“I am warning people the first draft of the local plan is not set in stone – nothing can be ruled out until we have a sustainable plan in place.

“The London plan has been found to be sound. However, they have only 42,000 new homes year-on-year instead of the required 49,000 – a shortfall of 7,000 homes year-on-year to be found in dwellings outside London – which will include North Herts, Hitchin and elsewhere.

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“This is 140,000 over the 20 years of the current plan – meaning North Herts will have to prepare for a lot more homes.

“There is a real possibility the Green Belt in and around Hitchin will be rolled back considerably.

“In fact I would say in the strongest possible terms it will be a certainty – unless you can prove the figures for new housing are wildly inaccurate.

“It’s a ludicrously convoluted and complicated situation. The stupidity of the current regulations means even if, for example, a new settlement near Ashwell is proposed, because it’s ‘over the border’ in south Cambridgeshire, any new housing figures included wouldn’t be counted against North Herts numbers.

“The situation is not good and people have to realise the fact – somewhere has to meet this ripple-effect shortfall and North Herts is very much in the firing line.”

Councillor David Levett, who is responsible for planning matters at North Herts District Council, said: “Priory Fields hasn’t been suggested for inclusion in the draft.

“The sites being put forward offer better opportunities and other supporting infrastructure, with less impact on wildlife, conservation, and air quality management areas than Priory Fields.”

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