13 March 2017
Hitchin map from HCC website showing proposed Highover development (HT1)
New homes in Walsworth
by DJN for the NorthHerts&Stevenage Green Party
700 new homes at Highover Farm
(planning advice requested for 700 properties: called a “screening option”)
In 1984 North Hertfordshire County Council granted conditional planning permission to RJ Chennells of Highover Farm for 64 properties comprising a mix of houses and maisonettes, with additional estate roads. The proposal wasn’t taken any further at this time, and planning permission was refused for similar developments in 1976, 1977, 1981 and 1986.
However, in August 2016 the Local Planning Authority was asked whether a large mixed-use development would require an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). The Council confirmed that a development of this scale (approximately 700 properties plus new shops and a school) would require an EIA to be submitted. The land is greenbelt and part of the “landscape character area” of North Hertfordshire. The EIA would be needed because the development will have a considerable urbanising effect on the greenbelt between Letchworth and Hitchin.
The Western boundary of the plot is the London to Cambridge railway line and the Eastern boundary is Stotfold Road. It will use nearly 100 acres of agricultural land (40 hectares). Access to the proposed site will be via Highover Way, Stotfold Road and Cambridge Road. The emerging new NHDC Local Plan identifies seven sites in and around Hitchin for 1,009 new homes, and the site at Highover is by far the largest with 700 properties.
No planning application has been submitted yet for Highover, although the landowner’s agents are in communication with the Council. It is expected that a planning application will be submitted in late 2017 or early 2018.
85 Dwellings at College Site
(planning permission granted in 2016)
The vendor is North Herts College, regarding their Centre for the Arts site at the Walsworth crossroads, and the buyer is Crest Nicholson, housebuilders. The proposal is for six apartment blocks of 1 or 2-bedroom flats with two terraces of 2-bedroom houses and one terrace of 3-bedroom houses. There will be provision of 120 parking spaces and vehicular access from Cambridge Road, Willian Road and Hampden Road. Instead of provision of Affordable housing a small payment will be made to the Council.
The development is on a brownfield site and will follow demolition of existing buildings, which is in accord with Green Party policy. Traffic management, waste storage management, an archaeological investigation and flooding defences (including permeable pavements) are scheduled to precede development as part of the LPA (Local Planning Authority) conditions imposed, although there is still a question mark over how the development will blend into the historic surroundings of the Walsworth crossroads. Points to note are:
New Houses on the old Hitchin College site
Housing in North Hertfordshire
The NPPF (National Planning Policy Framework published by central government in March 2012) influences local planning decisions. It has a presumption in favour of sustainable development, and stipulates that 5-years’ worth of sites must be identified by each Council. The availability of sites is generated by “landowner intent”; in other words, sites are put forward by vendors, rather than being selected by the Council. A housing assessment report for N Herts predicted that people moving into the area, plus employment growth, will result in the need for between 10,700 and 16,900 new homes, 75% of which may be built on greenbelt land.
Additional Green party comment:
A large amount of additional water will be used both in construction and in on-going use of both sites, especially the proposed Highover Farm development. Hertfordshire is already an area of high water stress as defined by Central Government.
What if the houses are not wanted? Projected need might change or not be borne out in reality. Therefore it’s important that housebuilding is step-wise, allowing finished ones to be sold before building new. This is in sympathy with the GP Policy of “demand management”, “to construct new buildings only when needed”.
Brownfield before green: Construction should follow this pattern. The Highover development should only happen when all brownfield sites within Hitchin are developed and sold. This is because there might not be as many houses needed/sellable as projected, in accordance with GP policy LP 101 “…as little environmental impact as possible” also LP302 “To hold back all new development on agricultural land…”
Recycling/re-use of aggregates/building materials to a) save natural resources such as sand and gravel, b) save landfill and c) save energy according to GP Policy LP 201. This is not mentioned at all in the plans.
Urban conservation: Urban areas often contain valuable wildlife habitats that protect and encourage biodiversity. See GP Policy LP420 “urban conservation”. Loss of habitat in the form of trees (or anything else) should be compensated, replaced or mitigated.
Provision of additional wildlife “helps” need to be in the plans for both sites, eg swift/bat/other nest boxes, hedgehog paths, fruit or nut bearing winter food, countryside management policies of leaving wildness in the form of seedheads and uncut hedges and wildflower planting for bees. The creation of green spaces should be considered which could encourage a particular British plant or animal species (including bees and butterflies).
Use of SuDS (sustainable suburban drainage systems): The use of water-permeable surfaces/paving allows water to re-enter the aquifer, and eases surface water flooding – this should be used wherever possible for driveways, car parks, pavements, and other commercial hard landscaping. Plans to mitigate flash flooding and drying of the underlying land are included with plans for the College site development. Other ways of absorbing excess water are trees, Flood Storage Reservoirs and other SuDS, such as green roofs, infiltration trenches, filter drains and filter strips, swales (shallow drainage channels) and detention basins/purpose built ponds and wetlands.
Design: Houses/other buildings should be built to defined green specifications with regard to energy/insulation, water efficiency and saving, carbon footprint during construction and on-going use (LP 300 and LP 500 to 504).
Affordable housing is not described in either plan. There is a crisis of soaring private rents and impossible house prices, as social housing continues to reduce. Planned new developments, such as that at Highover Farm, may perpetuate inequalities, which stem from a lack of investment in public housing and unfairness in access to resources, particularly land. Specifically:
Greenbelt sites are preferred by developers for speculative building, as there are fewer costs associated with demolition/site clearance (and sometimes decontamination and profits are therefore greater. Also, brownfield sites can’t give the huge economy of scale that greenfield sites can.
The Green Party offers sensible and coherent alternatives to building on greenbelt land, including better use of existing housing, the maintenance and improvement of existing properties, the division of larger houses into smaller units if appropriate and utilising commercial property.