Residents have slammed plans for thousands of new homes in one of Hertfordshire’s most idyllic market towns.
Dacorum Borough Council is currently in the process of drafting its new Local Plan which will map out all the housing and infrastructure projects up to 2038.
The plans will see as many as 16,895 homes built, with around 35 per cent of those deemed to be affordable housing.
But while the council has said around 50 per cent of homes will be based in existing built-up areas, a significant amount of infrastructure is expected to be built on greenbelt land.
And it’s Tring, a town at the foot of the Chilterns widely regarded as one of the most scenic areas in the county, that will see a marked difference if the plans are approved.
The town currently has a population of around 12,000 people and would see up to 2,730 new homes built on the greenbelt, with worries that it would lead to a 55 per cent increase in the population.
There are two new schools and one major employment site pencilled into the plans, but they show a huge ‘growth area’ to the east of the town – something that’s caused significant concern amongst local residents.
Graham Bright, the chair of Grove Fields Residents Association, now represents 375 local people who believe it could permanently affect the appeal of Tring, Hertfordshire.
While Hemel Hempstead will see 10,650 homes built, Berkhamsted will take on 2,230 homes – 500 fewer than Tring. The surrounding towns of Bovingdon, Kings Langley and Markyate could also receive over 200 houses each if plans are approved.
Graham said: “Tring does bear the brunt. When you translate the current Local Plan in Dacorum into what they’re proposing it leads to a 55 per cent population growth for Tring.
“[There’s a] nine per cent population growth for Dacorum during that time, so why does Tring has to have that size of growth? Hemel Hempstead and Berkhamsted have low-20 per cent and then the other smaller towns that are more like Tring get 10 per cent.
“That seems unfair if we’re trying to maintain any kind of market town character for Tring.”
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“There’s an opportunity for regeneration – but these plans don’t hit it”
There are fears that Tring simply doesn’t have the capacity for such growth in a relatively short time, and that infrastructure has not been considered.
Graham added: “Hemel Hempstead is built with great infrastructure for population growth, whereas Tring is an old market town with narrow roads going through its High Street.
“There’s no clarity at the moment in the draft Local Plan what will be committed to in terms of helping a town the size of Tring to grow that much in terms of road changes, in terms of public transport.
“They’ve put a whole bunch of stuff in there about they’ll put some cycle paths in – and that’s great I’m all for cycling – but it’s not going to stop people getting in their car from all of the areas that they’re proposing to build in the greenbelt and driving into a town centre which is an old market town built for horse and cart, not for a 50 per cent increase in traffic.”
The concerns extend to the types of houses being built, almost exclusively on the outskirts of Tring.
It’s feared that instead of helping the housing shortage by converting properties into smaller dwellings, it’ll instead lead to larger houses for families who can afford it.
“I’m in favour of building houses or apartments and flats that are affordable,” Graham said. “But the proposal is to build lots of extensions of detached and semi detached houses out into the greenbelt.
“Whereas the opportunity for regeneration is to look at more central developments where we’ve got shops or banks that have closed – put more affordable dwellings in there that people can afford.
“There’s an opportunity for regeneration but these plans don’t hit it, because these plans are about building basically new housing estates with £500,000 houses in them that aren’t affordable, and built on greenbelt where there could be more of a regeneration approach looking at it from a brownfield site approach.”
The issues stem from disputes about how many houses Dacorum should be building in total.
Neighbours St Albans have had similar issues in recent years with a Local Plan being thrown out for failing to meet its targets in a feasible way.
The Government is currently in the process of preparing a new white paper on planning and is emphasising the need to re-purpose town centres, use brownfield sites and ‘level up’ the north – all would mean Dacorum’s target could shrink.
That, and the changing needs of people following the coronavirus pandemic, means that Graham believes pressing ahead with the plan and public consultation is a “waste of taxpayer money and the public’s time” whereas in 12 months there could be more clarity on how local authorities should prioritise housing.
Neighbouring councils in Buckinghamshire have decided to postpone the process until more clarity is available, however Dacorum has chosen to continue.
That is despite the council unanimously passing a motion asking the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to revise the total, and urging MPs to support the council’s position that the figure is too high.
The consultation is available online on the Dacorum Borough Council website until February 7, 2021.
However, with restrictions likely to be in place for that duration, it has raised potential issues surrounding accessibility, especially for older people.
To counter that, the council has created a ‘virtual’ exhibition to explain the proposals.
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It’s believed that the consultation could provide an outlet to show the public’s dissatisfaction with the target.
However, that’s something Graham is skeptical about and he said it could inadvertently corner Dacorum.
He said: “[The consultation] is just a waste of taxpayers’ money and the public’s time.
“Even if you get loads of the public saying ‘we don’t agree’, it’s not really given [central Government] any factual evidence to rebuff it, it just means public opinion is against it.
“It doesn’t really give you any factual reasons why you shouldn’t build on the greenbelt, it just means we’ve set the ball rolling on something that won’t stop and the greenbelt will be built on.”
What has the council said?
Dacorum Borough Council has insisted that this is purely an early stage to gauge the public’s opinion, and decisions are being made to ensure the plan is sustainable and manageable.
In response to concerns about the process, Cllr Graham Sutton, Portfolio Holder for Planning and Infrastructure, said: “The Council is required in law to produce a Local Plan setting out its proposals for the development of the Borough, to meet projected needs for new housing, commercial space to deliver new jobs, and delivery of key public services, facilities and infrastructure.
“Our current plan, the Dacorum Core Strategy, was published in 2013 which looked ahead across the period to 2031 and is due for review. Importantly, since then the Government has committed to delivering a step-change in the delivery of new housing and brought in a new national standard method for calculating future housing needs for each Borough and District in England.
What do the plans aim to deliver?
While Cllr Sutton acknowledges green belt land will need to be released, the council has said that Tring’s character can be protected during the plans and infrastructure is being put in place to meet the demands.
The portfolio holder added: “Regarding Tring, we want to make sure that if the town is to take new growth, it is well provided with infrastructure. Our draft plans would deliver a new secondary school, plus primary schools, new business premises, open spaces and sports pitches.
“Tring is a historic market town. Our aim is to work constructively with the local community and developers on the design, layout and content of major new developments both in Tring and across Dacorum to deliver new places where local character is respected, and enhanced.
“The draft Local Plan requires that masterplans for new developments are produced where these issues can be addressed. We have also developed a new design guide for major development sites which provides a clear approach to the design of new areas in the context of local characteristics.
“We have also prepared a comprehensive Infrastructure Delivery Plan to accompany the new Local Plan and help ensure that essential infrastructure is provided in the right place and at the right time. This has been published alongside the Local Plan and is online using the link below.
“What’s most important at this stage though is that we want from local people what their views are. The Plan is draft only, and we are seeking views now until 7 February 2021.
“Because of Covid-19 restrictions and the Christmas and New Year period, we are allowing a ten-week period for consultation – which is an additional four weeks from the statutory requirement of six.
“Producing a Local Plan is a statutory responsibility of the Council, and the Government has advised that the preparation of Local Plans, which have to be in place to make sure much needed new , high quality housing is provided in a timely way, should not be delayed.
“People can go to www.dacorum.gov.uk/localplan where they can read and comment on the draft Plan online. We have provided a virtual exhibition room with live chat with Council Officers.
“Our website also gives details on availability of the Plan at local libraries and The Forum, Hemel Hempstead, in line with Covid-19 restrictions.”
“The Council, whilst setting out its own local strategy for how it foresees Dacorum being developed in the future, is expected to plan to meet this level of growth.
“Latest proposals from the Government show that we need to plan for 922 new homes each year.
“Our new Emerging Strategy for Growth, which we are now seeking the views of the community on, puts forward proposals on how to achieve this by creating high quality new places in which people will want to live in.
“The proposed locations have been selected for their sustainability advantages, to help meet the challenges of climate, and where new supporting infrastructure can be provided.
“We propose to do this by:
- Bringing forward new homes on sites at Hemel Hempstead, Berkhamsted and Tring, already agreed in our current plan;
- Facilitating our ambitious regeneration programme of brownfield land, especially in Hemel Hempstead Town Centre and at Two Waters, Hemel Hempstead where we have already published masterplans, and on sites in our published Brownfield Land Register;
- Recognising the important contribution made by the Council’s new build programme for new Council homes;
- Taking account of smaller sites which come forward;
- Proposing major developments at Hemel Hempstead through the Hemel Garden Communities programme, Berkhamsted and Tring, with smaller developments at King’s Langley, Bovingdon and Markyate.
“Dacorum has had an excellent track record in facilitating the regeneration of brownfield land over the past 20 years or so, but it is a limited resource.
“To achieve this step-change in housing delivery over the next 18 years to 2038, it is necessary to release some land from the Green Belt around our towns and villages.”
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