New hope for campaigners as technicality sends 800 countryside homes back to planning

PUBLISHED: 16:11 11 September 2020 | UPDATED: 16:37 11 September 2020

Campaigners said they would resume their fight against 800 homes on Stevenage's countryside, after a technicality meant the plan would have to be reconsidered by councillors.

Campaigners said they would resume their fight against 800 homes on Stevenage's countryside, after a technicality meant the plan would have to be reconsidered by councillors.

Archant

Campaigners say the fight is back on to preserve 75 hectares of countryside, threatened by a housing development.

Anne Conchie, from Friends of the Forster Country, said the group had not given up on its hope of saving the countryside from development.Anne Conchie, from Friends of the Forster Country, said the group had not given up on its hope of saving the countryside from development.

Permission was granted in February for 800 homes on land known as Forster Country, as it was the inspiration for E M Forster’s novel Howard’s End.

Councillors approved the plan despite hundreds of objectors saying air quality, roads and endangered species would suffer.

But Stevenage Council has now confirmed the application will come back before councillors in the coming months.

Anne Conchie, from Friends of the Forster Country, said: “We didn’t give up in February when the committee said yes and events have proved us right.”

Friends of the Forster Country organised a walk on the site last month, to demonstrate its popularity and recreational value. Picture: Brendan Falvey.Friends of the Forster Country organised a walk on the site last month, to demonstrate its popularity and recreational value. Picture: Brendan Falvey.

But she added: “I won’t say it’s a done deal – but it’s a difficult challenge. The system won’t work in our favour.”

The north Stevenage development is a cornerstone of the council’s Local Plan, which removed the land from the green belt to meet government housing targets.

A spokesperson for the developers said in February that new trees, a country park and “excellent” footpaths and cycleways would offset environmental damage and improve biodiversity.

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But Stevenage MP Stephen McPartland called it a “devastating attack on our local environment”.

After February’s decision, Mr McPartland convinced Robert Jenrick – Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government – to intervene.

Mr Jenrick placed a temporary block on the plan, which was lifted in June – but by then the February permission no longer conformed to planning rules.

It had been granted under a set of planning rules known as Section 106 rules, which were replaced in April by a new scheme called the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL).

Kevin FitzGerald, from the Herts Campaign to Protect Rural England, said he believed there were legitimate planning reasons to turn down the application. Picture: Herts CPRE.Kevin FitzGerald, from the Herts Campaign to Protect Rural England, said he believed there were legitimate planning reasons to turn down the application. Picture: Herts CPRE.

As such, the application must now go back to the planning committee.

Campaigners said they would lobby councillors to reject the plan, claiming new data showed Stevenage’s projected housing need had dropped significantly since the Local Plan was created.

They also claimed new evidence showed previously developed sites could be used instead.

Kevin FitzGerald, from the Herts Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), said councillors were “perfectly entitled” to reject the proposal on legitimate planning grounds.

He said: “It’s a buffer to a New Town, it’s countryside on the doorstep, it’s a green lung, it’s available for recreation - these are perfectly reasonable planning reasons. But the omens aren’t good. It’s quite a battle.”


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