THE decision by a High Court judge to overturn Welwyn Hatfield's target of 10,000 new homes safeguards threatened Green Belt land in many parts of the borough.

Mr Justice Mitting ruled in favour of Hertfordshire County Council and St Albans District Council opposing the Government’s East of England plan, which would have seen 10,000 homes built in Welwyn Hatfield and a further 12,000 homes in Dacorum.

Critics feared the large-scale developments would exacerbate problems in two already congested areas and absorb hundreds of acres of Green Belt land.

Although the precise areas were never specified, campaigners feared the most obvious vulnerable open spaces included land near to the Commonswood Nature Reserve on the south side of Welwyn Garden City and Panshangar Airfield.

St Albans District Council joined the fight against the proposals, fearing that additional homes could impinge onto the St Albans border and threaten Green Belt land which separates the city from neighbouring Hatfield.

Reacting to last Wednesday’s decision by the High Court judge, Welwyn Hatfield MP Grant Shapps said: “This ruling reveals the extent of the Government’s failure in housing.

“Their insistence on top-down, headline-grabbing, Whitehall-based housing targets did not consider the needs of local communities like ours, let alone our lack of infrastructure, axed QEII Hospital services or the deletion of our Green Belt.

“It’s time for the Government to follow our lead, scrap these arbitrary central house building targets and work with communities like ours to incentivise house building by giving us something back in return.”

The judge threw out the plans, insisting that “inadequate consideration had been given to the environmental effects of expansion” and that “the decision had been taken to erode the Green Belt without alternatives being considered”.

But hitting out at the High Court decision, Labour Parliamentary candidate for Welwyn Hatfield Mike Hobday said: “I’m unhappy that local residents that need local housing are further away than ever of being able to find and afford a home of their own.

“It’s understandable why the High Court has been critical of the inspector’s decision but regardless of how it’s done, it’s crucial that more homes are built for people to live in.

“Councils like Welwyn Hatfield don’t solve the problem for those people who are desperately looking for a home of their own.

“We have to balance the needs of people who have their homes with the needs of people who want them.

“The court’s decision takes those people in desperate need of a home right back to square one – that’s deeply frustrating.

“Of course it’s important that councils do not give planning permission for housing in inappropriate areas but you can build a lot of homes without threatening the environment.

“Welwyn Hatfield has seen 4,000 homes built between 2001 and 2008, there hasn’t been a major compromise of Green Belt in the town in order to do that.

“We can certainly build more without damaging the Green Belt.”

Mr Hobday highlighted the former site of Roche pharmaceutical manufacturers in Broadwater Road as having potential for development without causing harm to areas of protected land.

Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Hazel Blears will now have 28 days to lodge an appeal against the ruling.