There has been much discussion about North Herts’ District Council’s Draft Local Plan which has been put out for public consultation. There have been articles in and letters to the local paper opposing the proposals for the building in the district of 14000 houses by 2031 and unspecified thousands thereafter.
Kevin Fitzgerald (Honorary Director of CPRE Herts) wrote that “the disastrous and unjustified” proposals should be scrapped. The implementation of these proposals would destroy decades of work done to protect the district’s countryside.
In the response submitted by FOFC we question the basis of the requirement for the number of dwellings. We suspect these are not simply to satisfy local need but will attract London commuters. Too much pressure would be put on transport, roads, parking, health, education and all amenities by the building of so many houses. Local people do not want this expansion. According to the document there were 7 objectors to 1 supporter and we are supposed to have “democratically-accountable local control of development.” There were no perceptible benefits for current residents, particularly those of North Stevenage, who would see their way of life significantly and adversely affected.
Under these proposals, Graveley village would become part of Greater Stevenage, something the residents there strongly oppose. The proposals were developer-led: the sites identified are those most desirable to developers. In answer to a query about analysis of brownfield sites, NHDC admitted that they had not studied these sufficiently.
The idea of compensating for building on Green Belt land by allocating a site several miles away is ridiculous. It is by definition site specific and was designed to prevent coalescence of towns and be of benefit to local people.
The National Planning Policy Framework states that “once established, Green Belt boundaries should only be altered in exceptional circumstances.” Councillor David Levett, Portfolio Holder for Planning and Enterprise NHDC confirms this. “The Green Belt can only be built on in very special circumstances and meeting a housing need is not enough to qualify.”
There have also been articles and comments in the national press on the value of Green Belt and how it is threatened by development. Here are some quotations which FOFC fully endorses:
Tristram Hunt MP: “Sacrificing our natural and urban heritage might butter up the Home Builders’ Federation but it will not make Britain a better place to live.”
Simon Jenkins: “The Green Belt has been the star feature of British town and country planning for half a century. In one of Europe’s most congested countries, it has prevented urban sprawl, protected a vision of rural England and retained access to green spaces for urban dwellers that has been admired worldwide…Planning control is now the slave, not the master, of profit.”
Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government: “We will maintain protection for the Green Belt and the environment, as we are committed to sustainable growth.”
Most recently, three local Conservative MPs have expressed the opinion that a new garden city on land other than Green Belt should be built in the area instead of adding on to existing communities.
We delivered nearly a thousand flyers to highlight the threat to Forster Country and to ask people to respond to the consultation. Deadline for comments was 6th February. Even more important will be a similar response to Stevenage’s Plan; but that is not due to be published until October 2015. We hope that public pressure will, as it should, force the authorities to think again. As one of the last refuges for an overcrowded town in an overcrowded region Forster Country, which in 1995 was included in Green Belt, must be preserved.
The third annual lecture held in memory of John Hepworth, one of the original founders of the Friends of the Forster Country, was held in the Council Chamber of Daneshill House on Saturday, November 15th. This year John’s botanical interest was the focus and Trevor James gave an absorbing talk on the Flora of Hertfordshire which he had produced. Extremely knowledgeable though he is, his presentation was pleasingly informal and his concentration on locations that many of us knew kept our attention. He described the process of compiling a definitive academic work as well as highlighting some of his team’s more surprising finds.
Our thanks to Cllr. Simon Speller for sponsoring our use of the Chamber and to Mayor Sherma Batson and her consort for attending yet another of our events.
In spite of its international and local importance, the Forster Country had no sort of protected status and there were continual attempts to build on it. Since 1946, local people have been campaigning to save the Forster Country from development and to preserve it as a vital 'green lung' for north Stevenage. In 1988, John Hepworth (retired geologist) and Margaret Ashby (writer & lecturer) both of whom had been campaigning to prevent development in the Forster Country, joined forces to form the Friends of the Forster Country (FoFC), with the aim -
"TO PRESERVE FOR ALL TIME THE OPEN GREEN SPACE TO THE NORTH OF STEVENAGE KNOWN AS THE FORSTER COUNTRY."
In the years since we have celebrated Forster Country in many ways. Every New Year we mark Forster’s birthday with a walk. Every year we aim for a new celebration alongside our AGM. The Forster Country Walk was opened at one.
When the current series of Newsletters started in 2003, a writer warned us that although Forster Country seemed safe, it could be different if the next twelve years were as bad as the previous twelve. Forster Country has been threatened during those 12 years and certainly we feel now in 2015 that Forster Country is in a more precarious position than ever.
Please join us now. Don't leave it until too late and bulldozers smash through OUR countryside.