Stop The Luton Invasion: Battle lines

THE COMET is joining the fight to halt Luton s expansion onto Herts Green Belt and we want your help. Last week Beds councillors outlined their preferred option to expand Luton by building 5,500 new homes as well as two major bypasses – on a huge swath

THE COMET is joining the fight to halt Luton's expansion onto Herts Green Belt and we want your help.

Last week Beds councillors outlined their "preferred option" to expand Luton by building 5,500 new homes as well as two major bypasses - on a huge swathe of prime Hertfordshire countryside.

The joint planning committee from Luton Borough and South Beds District councils rejected options closer to home and instead opted for proposals to build across the county line on 10,000 hectares of neighbouring fields, woods and hamlets. The equivalent of 20,000 football pitches.

The proposals aim to meet part of the councils' Government housing targets for 2031 outlined in the East of England plan. But they have been met with anger by Hertfordshire politicians who slammed them as politically motivated and rushed through without the necessary evidence.

The leaders of both North Herts District Council (NHDC) and Herts County Council (HCC) as well as the MP for the threatened area have said they will fight the plan at every stage of the process. And protests will also be ongoing from action group Keep East of Luton Green.

Opponents argue not only will precious Green Belt land be lost forever but the development will have a huge effect on traffic in the wider area. Hitchin in particular will see an increase in cars crossing through the town from the A1(M) to the new Luton bypass. This in turn will create knock-on effects elsewhere.

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And although residents in and around Luton have been asked what they think of plans for the area, it is only now that people in Herts can have their say. A six-week public consultation process is due to begin in mid-April - although a date is yet to be fixed.

Reacting to the paper's decision to fight the development, Peter Lilley, MP for Hitchin and Harpenden, said: "It is excellent news that The Comet is giving its powerful support to the campaign to prevent Luton 'colonising' North Hertfordshire. It is vital that we protect one of the most beautiful parts of our countryside which should in any case be sacrosanct as it is in the Green Belt."

Cllr F John Smith, leader of NHDC, said: "We fully support The Comet in its campaign to protect the Green Belt in North Herts. The people who live in the small villages which will be engulfed by this development face having their way of life changed for ever. Neighbouring villages are wondering whether they will be next and we are all worried about the wider effects of increased traffic and congestion which will have a serious effect on Hitchin and beyond. All of us will lose a swathe of lovely countryside, including the residents of Luton.

"NHDC is wholly in favour of sustainable development, which is one of our priorities. We have already had to plan to accommodate no less than 16,500 extra houses - about the size of another Hitchin or Letchworth - as our contribution to the targets set in the East of England Plan. For that we will probably have to sacrifice a lot of green countryside along the A1(M), but we will keep most of the rest contained within our present towns and villages. Now, enough is enough.

"We shall oppose these latest proposals at every stage of the way with all means at our disposal. However, it will be an enormous advantage if public opinion is on our side, and on the side of the local villagers who need our help. That's why we will back The Comet and hope, through its pages, to make it known through the various stages of the planning process how individuals can help stop this invasion of our precious countryside."

Robert Gordon, leader of HCC, said: "We have repeatedly expressed alarm at the scale and pace of development being considered for Hertfordshire and are glad to support The Comet's campaign against this substantial overflow from Luton.

"The county and district council advised the joint committee responsible for this proposal that it did not have sufficient evidence to come to the view that growth into Hertfordshire is among the best options for meeting the growth of Luton. We asked for any decisions to be postponed until the necessary evidence was forthcoming. Unfortunately, the joint committee chose to ignore the authorities' advice and forged ahead regardless.

"I strongly urge our affected communities to join with the county and district councils in opposing these proposals to build on this beautiful part of Hertfordshire."

To voice your opposition, log on to our website www.thecomet24.net, click on the Stop The Luton Invasion button and sign up to our petition. You can also add your comments which we will post on the site.

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