Ward Cllrs for Elstree, Morris Bright and Dr Harvey Cohen, have released the following statement with regards to the planning appeal starting this week regarding plans to build 74 homes on Elstree's greenbelt in Hartfield Avenue:
We have lived in the area for 35 years and the site is well known to us both. It is in one of the main accesses and egresses to Borehamwood – the largest town in Hertsmere, which itself has expanded by some 30% in recent decades.
Following the shelving of Hertsmere brough council’s draft local plan in April 2023, Councillors were all too aware that there would be a raft of speculative applications on green belt land. However, we also knew that there are still very clear rules in place in Hertsmere that protect the council, its towns, and communities from green belt applications. Indeed, all recent appeals after our planning committee have rejected green belt applications have been dismissed by the planning inspectorate. All stated Very Special circumstances which could not be proven, when compared to the substantial weight given to the harm of the inappropriate development.
Hertsmere’s green belt rules remain watertight and we believe that this should continue until the publication of the Borough’s Local Plan.
The NPPF clearly states that the correct method of altering Green Belt boundaries (and therefore permitting development within them) is via a Local Plan and its procedures for public and stakeholder consultation.
As the inspector is well aware, Hertsmere has already produced a Reg 18 draft Local Plan and went out to consultation with this. The new joint political administration in place since May 2023 are pushing forward with a new Local Plan. In fact, at the next meeting of the Member Planning Panel due to sit this very week, potential sites are being presented by officers to the all-party Panel – the draft Local Plan is timetabled through the LDS for this spring.
We hope the Inspectorate would therefore agree that the correct, transparent, and consultative way to decide which Green Belt sites, if any, are released for development, are arrived at through the correctly proscribed process – a Local Plan, which is progressing accordingly in Hertsmere.
As we are all aware, and as established in case law, the VSC test in the NPPF Para 152 is a stricter test than the exceptional circumstances test in Para 145. That is because the fundamental aim of Green Belt policy is to keep land permanently open. The expectation is that the Green Belt boundaries should only be reviewed or changed when plans are being prepared – and even then, the council is not required to review green belt boundaries – so we request to let the correct process, which is well underway, look at the best places for housing borough wide with the correct infrastructure for the future of the brough. Piecemeal development with no interconnecting infrastructure exacerbates existing issues rather than remediating them.
When this application was considered by the Hertsmere planning committee, almost 200 comments had been received from local residents expressing concern and only 1 in favour. These concerns came primarily from the residents of Elstree. Remember that Elstree has just 15% of the population size of adjoining Borehamwood. That is a high response rate and a clear indication that this application was not welcomed. But being unwelcome is not enough on its own for the committee to turn it down. As former leader of the authority and planning cabinet member respectively we both fully understand that. The decision by our councillors and the recommendation of our experienced officers was based on planning law.
Our officers clearly decided that 74 houses in this location was not just unsuitable for the borough in general but potentially damaging for Elstree and its verdant nature in particular.
The Elstree and Borehamwood Town Council agreed with our officers and planning committee that there were no VSC and that the application represented inappropriate development within the Green Belt.
While potential flooding issues and highways matters are not the subject of the appeal, we must express surprise that the Lead Local Flood Authority withdrew their objections. Anyone who resides locally has seen and been affected in recent weeks, months, and years, by the effects of very heavy rain and severe flooding issues around our borough and especially in Elstree on Hartfield Avenue. So, the views of the LFA do not reflect reality. We are told week in week out by the scientific experts this weather is set to get worse in the years ahead. Flooding issues will not go away.
Likewise we are concerned over the Highways report into this inappropriate development.
It is shocking that the Highways department of the County Council, who are the only consultee on the highways and traffic issues, could have no objection. The area of Elstree and Borehamwood has one of the largest Jewish Communities in Europe, with Elstree one of the largest concentrations of this Jewish population. The day chosen by the Highways Authority to conduct their traffic survey was a major Jewish Festival, a day when many jews do not travel anywhere by car. When questioned on this, they chose to conduct a second survey – this time out of out of school hours.
We have many pupils (a higher percentage than many other boroughs) who travel by car to private schools and out of district schools. Even many local schools are not reachable by foot.
We must question the results and data used. We know and indeed have photographic evidence from using Deacons Hill Road, Elstree, a road with a steep incline to its junction with Barnet Lane and which adjoins Hartfield Avenue, that from around 7am till 9am there is severe congestion and gridlock down this road and Barnet Lane and the roads of it such as Furzehill Road - the main road in and out of Borehamwood. This pattern of congestion repeats itself from around 3pm till 7pm. There are no realistic mitigating public transport measures, yet the proposed development is not within walking distance of any public transport, schools, medical facilities, or shops.
Yet, councillors on the planning committee – comprising elected members from across the borough – could not question these facts as they had to rely on the evidence from the County, even though the evidence is clearly flawed.
Residents wanted to question the results yet cannot afford to commission an independent survey.
We believe the existing congestion will be exacerbated and have further major effect on all roads surrounding Deacons Hill Road and Barnet Lane, adding to already poor air quality at certain times of the day.
We politely ask he Inspectorate to consider our submission along with all the other relevant comments by others who are giving evidence and submitting concerns especially the officers of Hertsmere brough council whose views should be given heavy weight being the ones with legal duties and responsibilities in their roles.
Cllr Morris Bright MBE (Elstree borough councillor 1999-date and Leader, Hertsmere Borough Council 2007-2023)
Cllr Dr Harvey Cohen (Elstree borough councillor 2009-date and Cabinet Member for Planning, Hertsmere Borough Council 2016-2023)