See this article from the Herts and Essex Observer: Government announces support for major ‘Harlow North’ development at Gilston
Mark Prisk Esq MP
House of Commons
3 January 2017
EAST HERTS DISTRICT PLAN
No doubt you were as surprised as I was to read yesterday’s announcement by Housing and Planning Minister Gavin Barwell that Harlow and Gilston are to accommodate a Garden Town of 10000 dwellings.
The site is in the Metropolitan Green Belt. Ministers – not least Mr Barwell himself – have made it clear repeatedly that Green Belt boundaries are intended to be permanent and should be altered only in exceptional circumstances. Any such alterations should be made through the preparation or review of the local plan and should gain the support of the local community. All this is set out in the National Planning Policy Framework which has among its intentions the desire to get local people and communities back into a planning system from which they have felt excluded for far too long.
In this context it should be noted that the East Herts District Plan has yet to be approved by the Council in final form for delivery to the Planning Inspectorate. No date has yet been set for consideration of the plan at an Examination in Public, and the plan cannot be adopted until the independent Inspector has reported on it. So far as I am aware, the proposed settlement does not command the support of the local community, or indeed its MP – yourself.
I am afraid that it does little to inspire confidence in the planning system when the Minister responsible for upholding it has effectively taken the decision on one of the most important aspects of the District Plan himself, in advance of the independent scrutiny to which it is supposed to be subject. But since it appears that this loss of Green Belt to development has now been predetermined by the Minister, it becomes all the more important that other proposed changes in the plan to Green Belt boundaries should be resisted.
As you will be aware, Bishop’s Stortford has been forced to absorb by far the greatest share of all the new housing in East Herts for the past 30 years, and the District Plan proposes to perpetuate the policy of ‘stuff it in Stortford’ for another 20 years. Indeed, over the plan period, it is suggested that Bishop’s Stortford should take 50% more dwellings than the number proposed for the Gilston area. These proposals include development south of Whittington Way on the so-called Bishop’s Stortford South site.
This site too is in the Metropolitan Green Belt. Development of part of the site was refused in 2012 following an appeal to the Secretary of State, and every professional opinion, including that of the consultants who reviewed all the Green Belt sites for East Herts Council, has confirmed that it should remain undeveloped and in the Green Belt. The local community remains resolutely opposed to its development – a petition organised by the Civic Federation at the end of last year raised over 2000 objections in less than a month. Even without this development, Bishop’s Stortford faces the prospect of taking some 3500 more dwellings with no enhancements to the physical or social infrastructure of the town which is creaking under the demands arising from the existing population. In its early stages, a new settlement at Gilston, for which no supporting infrastructure has been planned, can only add further pressure on the facilities at Bishop’s Stortford. All, of this makes it absolutely vital that we keep the Green Belt boundaries which we currently enjoy and that Bishop’s Stortford South remains free from development.
You may not have seen the Civic Federation’s response to the District Plan. I am therefore attaching to this letter the full statement of out objections, a summary of those objections and the letter to East Herts Council accompanying the petition to which I have referred above. The Civic Federation trust that you will take any further opportunities open to you to comment on the plan and that, having considered our objections, and the Government decision to develop a garden town at Gilston, you will object vigorously to any proposal to remove Bishop’s Stortford South from the Green Belt and release it for development.
Reply from Mark Prisk MP
Thank you for your email and for the copy of your submission to East Herts Council concerning the draft Local Plan.
I won’t rehearse all the arguments I have set out in my letter to the Council on the policies contained in the Plan, the full copy of which can be found on my website at www.markprisk.com
However let me just address the issue of Green Belt. The national rules, as you will know, cite that such land can be released by a local authority but only in exceptional circumstances. So the onus will be on the authority, when the plan goes before the Inspector to demonstrate exceptional circumstances. I have made it clear to the Council that they will have to prove the case, both for Gilston and therefore for Stortford South. There are different circumstances on each site, but the Green Belt test is the same.
However let me also say that I want to see a local plan adopted as soon as possible. The absence of a plan leaves the whole district vulnerable to speculative development, so there is a difficult balance to be struck here. That is why I am trying to improve and amend the plan and am not seeking to undermine the whole thing and put the process back months, if not years. So we face a dilemma here which will not be easy to resolve.
For me at the heart of the issue here is the balance of homes and infrastructure. They have to be brought forward together and that I think is where the real battle will arise in the months to come.
With best wishes
Mark Prisk FRICS MP
(Hertford & Stortford)