Politicians told to put aside party political differences in order to protect Green Belt

First published in News St Albans & Harpenden Review: Photograph of the Author by , Senior Reporter

Emotions were running high as residents and politicians clashed over a proposed planning development in Marshalswick.

About 100 people met in the community centre in The Ridgeway to discuss the Oaklands Housing Development last night (Wednesday).

The proposed development would see 350 homes sited on Green Belt land south of Sandpit Lane, which is currently owned by Oaklands College.

On hearing the plans a group of residents set up the “No Oaklands Housing Action Group” to fight against the development.

In a statement a spokesman said the group was not against the provision of affordable housing, but argued St Albans residents would see none of the benefits but suffer all of the consequences.

They added: “It will be much more attractive for residents of Hatfield, Welwyn and Stevenage. Yet the loss of landscape, quality of life, Green Belt, infrastructure and environmental impact will be felt entirely by local residents.”

The group is collecting a petition, which is currently 500 signatures strong, to show residents’ opposition to the proposal.

John Foster, Marshalswick parish councillor for Sandridge, said: “I’m a persistent defender of the Green Belt. The thing that makes my town attractive is that it is surrounded by beautiful countryside.

“As a town it is important that we keep that Green Belt around us because it prevents urban sprawl. Why can’t we say to government that St Albans is up to capacity?”

The development has been put forward as part of the council’s new “strategic local plan”, but no specific developer has come forward to build there.

The plan details the district’s housing target for the next 17 years, by setting which sites can be developed into homes.

The existing plan was set up in 1994 and is one of the oldest in the country, but will soon be superseded by the government.

Local politicians want to introduce a new plan to protect St Albans against uncontrolled development in the future, including the allocation of 350 homes in Marshalswick.

Beric Read, district councillor for Sandridge, spoke during last night’s public meeting to explain the council’s position.

He told residents that the council needs to update the district’s strategic plan in order to keep control over future developments.

He said: “At the moment we have got an old plan but it is a good plan. It has been working and we have been defending the Green Belt.

“Councillors have to make difficult decisions sometimes. This is long-term management. Government rules mean that we have to unfortunately build on the green Belt."

He explained that the council could only select sites that have already been consulted on.

He said: “I don’t want them built here but the only alternative at the moment is that we don’t have a plan and this would mean that defending against developers building a lot more houses on the Green Belt would be much more difficult."

“I’ve got two unpopular options that I’m not happy with – this is the lesser one.”

However, residents at last night’s meeting said that there are other areas in the district which would be more suitable.

The spokesman from No Oaklands added: “We urge our elected representatives to put party political differences aside and work towards a collective solution that does not destroy our Green Belt land and preserves our city’s character, landscape and environment for all our citizens.

“As a district we are at capacity in terms of infrastructure and sustainability.

“We believe that all our representatives should be lobbying the coalition government and the Department for Local Government and Communities to put the principles of localism into practice.”

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