Brokenshire freezes Hertfordshire local plan adoption to consider green belt release

Communities secretary James Brokenshire has made a last-minute intervention to stop a Hertfordshire council adopting its local plan after a local Tory MP and countryside campaigners raised concerns about the document, including proposals to release green belt land.

Holding direction: housing secretary James Brokenshire. Pic: Chris McAndrew
Holding direction: housing secretary James Brokenshire. Pic: Chris McAndrew

East Hertfordshire District Council (EHDC) was last night due to hold an extraordinary meeting to adopt the plan. 

However, just five hours before the meeting, Brokenshire issued a holding direction to pause work on the plan while he considers whether to call it in.

Brokenshire’s letter to the council said he received requests to intervene in the plan from Stevenage Conservative MP Stephen McPartland, the Hertfordshire branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, three parish councils, Bishop’s Stortford Civic Federation and a local campaign group.

"The requests raise a number of issues including the proposed release of land within the green belt," he said.

In August, McPartland wrote to the secretary of State, claiming that a planning inspector’s decision that the plan was sound was wrong.

He said: "I would like to reiterate that I do not believe the draft local plan is positively prepared, justified, effective or consistent with national policy, especially with regard to the site at the east of Stevenage, known as ‘Gresley Park’."

The draft local plan proposes releasing the 37-hectare site, earmarked for 600 homes, from the green belt to help the council meet its five-year housing land supply requirement.

But McPartland said the council has the equivalent of 6.2 years land supply - an excess of 1,464 homes - and that "the inspector should have considered the initial advice of EHDC’s principal planning officer, who objected to the inclusion in the proposed site allocations".

In his letter, Brokenshire directed the council "not to take any step in connection with the adoption of the plan, while I give the issues raised in the letters further consideration" using powers introduced in the Housing and Planning Act 2016.

These inserted a new section to the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 to enable the secretary of state to direct a local planning authority not to take any step in connection with the adoption of a development plan document pending possible use of other intervention powers.

The first time such a holding notice was issued was in May 2016, which paused work on Birmingham’s local plan, also over concerns about green belt release proposals. That holding notice was withdrawn six months later, allowing Birmingham to proceed with adoption of the plan.

Responding to yesterday’s intervention, Linda Haysey, leader of EHDC, said: "I am, of course, very disappointed with this decision both because it has been made at such a late stage in the process and also because the plan was inspected by a senior and experienced planning inspector (appointed by the secretary of state) and the council has fully accepted all of her recommendations and suggestions."

The plan proposes a housing requirement of 839 new homes per year, or 18,458 new homes by 2033. 

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