Much has happened since our last Report. As you no doubt know, the Stevenage Local Plan was passed by the Inspector in the Autumn of 2017. Stephen McPartland, Stevenage MP requested Sajid Javid to have the Plan put on hold, pending the possibility of having it called in.
We are now communicating with both Stevenage Borough Council and North Herts District Council. We have held meetings with Stephen McPartland, Stevenage MP, and Stevenage Borough Council (Zayd al Jawad, Head of Planning & Engineering and John Gardner, Deputy Council Leader & Leader for Housing). I believe that our two main hopes now lie with our contention that the local plan examinations are not being conducted correctly and the possibility that the whole Stevenage Plan is called in. As many of you know, we have also objected to the outline planning application by Bellway / Miller to build on Forster Country and have asked local people to do the same in a leaflet distributed to around 1,000 homes.
Our meeting with Stephen McPartland in early January shed light on the situation. He said that he has already done considerable work to prevent the Stevenage Local Plan going forward. He has put it on hold by a request to Sajid Javid. This is quite unusual and it cannot be on hold indefinitely but will be released depending on communications between the Minister and the MP. Being on hold is in a sense better than being called in as nothing can happen in respect of the Plan whilst it is on hold. When it is released from being on hold there is still the possibility of asking for it to be called in which would cause the whole process of devising a plan to start again. He said that any objections to the current planning application should be based on the current Green Belt situation and not as if the Local Plan has been adopted. Petitions are of minimal value as they are treated as one objection, so petitioners are best to act individually.
Our meeting with Stevenage Borough Council we believe was intended by them to discuss with us the plans for Forster Country on the basis that the development will proceed. SBC said that the housing is needed for the people of England but that it cannot proceed while the Local Plan is on hold. We said that we regard the Inspector’s report as unsafe, unsound and unfair. We raised the question of the permanence of Green Belt as stated in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). We also said that the Icon building possibility had not been properly addressed and that traffic congestion, coalescence, rights of way and certain infrastructure issues had not been assessed correctly.
We have now attended a number of the NHDC Local Plan Examination Hearings and have spoken forcefully, particularly on Green Belt and Transport. Following this we have written a strong letter to the NHDC Inspector, saying that we are not happy with the minimal allowance for us to put forward our case on the permanence of Green Belt. We feel that more can be done by CPRE, who have large funds at their disposal, to defend the Green Belt and we are in touch with them. We would like them to use Stevenage as a test case to challenge the intention of releasing land from the Green Belt against the NPPF. We will also be writing to the Ombudsman about the unfair process and to Sajid Javid asking for the Local Plan to be called in.
A significant problem with our stance is that Green Belt is being taken for housing all over the UK. We feel that discussions are taking place behind closed doors with the intention of ensuring that the Green Belt permanence paragraph in the NPPF is ignored.
On a brighter note, the Stevenage Local Plan is still on hold and it does at least retain a small area of green space extending just under half a kilometer to the north of Rooks Nest House.
We remain hopeful that our arguments have had some effect and that Forster Country can still be saved.