As you are all able to see, Forster Country remains untouched. The storm clouds that are approaching have not yet deluged us. While there is life there is hope.
From our perspective it is unfortunate that the Stevenage Local Plan was formally adopted by Stevenage Borough Council (SBC) at a meeting on the 22nd of May. Immediately prior to this meeting we had sent a hand delivered letter to all Stevenage Councillors asking them to oppose the adoption of the Plan. Our reason was that the Plan intends building on Green Belt land in the face of recent evidence. This evidence from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) 2016 data shows that Stevenage will need 1,954 FEWER houses than shown by the 2014 data on which the Plan was based. This building also contradicts the approach taken by the Greater London Council which agrees with our understanding of the NPPF, and which quite rightly refuses to build a single house on Green Belt land. We said in our letter that the promise of strong protection of the Green Belt is enshrined in the manifestos of all the major political parties and for good reason.
We also said in our letter that the Stevenage Green Belt both can and should be saved. To stick to a plan that takes away the precious Green Belt when it can be avoided seems pernicious. The destruction of the Green Belt is not only unprincipled, it is unnecessary.
During the discussions at the SBC meeting adopting the Local Plan we understand that a suggestion to leave Green Belt until last was made. We hope that this will have made an impression. It is also true that any builder will have to be confident that projected housing will sell and it is possible that current market conditions may not be favourable for developers. At the time of preparing this article no planning application for building on Forster Country has been made.
We have also sent a letter to all prospective Conservative Party Leadership Contenders saying that the promise of strong protection of the Green Belt is stated in earlier Conservative Party manifestos. It asks will you, if elected leader, stick to the promises regarding Green Belt made at the time of the election of the Conservatives to Government along with any promises you may make during the hustings? Whether or not this could possibly have any effect on Forster Country is difficult to tell.
On a more positive note we have held, without prejudice, a meeting with SBC relating to the approximately 48-hectare area being designated as a country park within Forster Country. FoFC said that it would be well received if the country park could be named in honour of E M Forster to which the answer was “yes” with the additional desire to apply the names of Forster’s books where applicable including to streets within the housing development. We said that planning and creating a country park requires a design input, with descriptive documentation, specification of access paths, planting and furniture along with suitable drawings.
It was agreed that it would be good if FoFC could meet the potential developers (Bellway Miller (BM) for some discussion of the way forward for the country park. SBC agreed to organise this. FoFC said also that a volunteer force might be able to be established to work perhaps in conjunction with Countryside Management Services to help maintain the country park. SBC agreed with this and said that it is already happening in other parts of Hertfordshire.
So, we are still attempting a rear-guard action against the housing whilst simultaneously looking to retain a link with E M Forster should we eventually be left with the relatively small green area planned by SBC.