Stevenage MP makes 11th hour bid to stop planning approval for 800 homes in Forster Country
PUBLISHED: 10:33 04 February 2020 | UPDATED: 10:35 04 February 2020
With just hours left before borough councillors are expected to approve a planning application for 800 homes to be built on swathes of historic open countryside in Stevenage, the town's MP has asked the housing secretary to step in and put a halt to the proceedings.
Developers plan to build 800 homes and a school in Forster Country, which is in a conservation area north of Martins Way - between North Road and Weston Road. It includes Grade I-listed 12th century St Nicholas Church, Grade II*-listed The Bury and Grade I-listed Rooks Nest House - where author E M Forster spent his childhood from 1883 to 1893.
More than 450 people have lodged objections to the proposal with the planning authority Stevenage Borough Council, and more than 1,600 people have signed an online petition.
Concerns include the loss of history and heritage, the risk of urban coalescence, the loss of the last remaining farmland in Stevenage, and the proposed development being unsustainable.
But Stevenage Borough Council's planning experts have recommended outline planning permission is granted, and members of the Planning and Development Committee are set to meet tonight to make a decision.
In the experts' report it says: "The built development will be restricted to the western part of the site, with the eastern part to become a publicly accessible open space/parkland. It is considered the proposal would not result in inappropriate development.
"The layout of the site would result in less than substantial harm to the designated heritage assets. This harm would be significantly outweighed by the public benefits of the proposed development.
"With the introduction of improvements to the highway network, the development would have an acceptable impact which would not prejudice the safety and operation of the existing road network."
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Stevenage MP Stephen McPartland is vehemently opposed to the plan and at the 11th hour has asked Robert Jenrick - the Secretary of State for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government - to call in the application.
If the application is called in, an inspector will be appointed to carry out an inquiry into the proposal and the secretary of state will take the inspector's findings into account when making a decision on the application.
In a letter to Mr Jenrick, Mr McPartland writes: "I fully support the concerns raised by the Friends of Forster Country and residents.
"I have stood, and will continue to stand, by my constituents who will be detrimentally affected by the decisions of the local authority, who are failing to adequately adhere to national policy.
"I am concerned as to the detriment of the environment which, in our current climate, should be given the utmost consideration. A balance must be struck between sustainable development and adequate protection of our local environment.
"I have previously objected to this development on several grounds and there is little support for this plan among the local community.
"My argument is threefold - firstly, the lack of consideration for the local public health services, secondly the extreme pressure placed on the road infrastructure, and thirdly the complete disregard to the destructive and damaging impact on the environment.
"Stevenage Borough Council has continued to press ahead with the application process, making it clear it is ignoring the valid concerns raised by myself, thousands of constituents and the Friends of Forster Country. This proves that not only is Stevenage Borough Council willing to ignore the contraventions of national planning policy, but willingly disregarding the recommendations and views of local people.
"I would urge you to call-in the application and ensure the much-loved Forster Country is protected for future generations and even returned to the Green Belt."
The Comet has contacted the council for comment and is awaiting a response.