“We can defend the Green Belt and still meet the government‘s housing targets” said Peter Lilley, MP for Hitchin and Harpenden. Speaking today at the Public Inquiry into the proposed West of Stevenage development, he showed that Hertfordshire is already well ahead of schedule in meeting its housing targets so there is no longer any need to build 5000 houses on the Green Belt.
Giving evidence to the Inquiry, Peter Lilley said: “My constituents overwhelmingly oppose building on the Green Belt west of Stevenage. They want more homes but they do not want them built on the Green Belt. They accept that we must therefore build elsewhere including sensible infilling, building on old business sites and some limited peripheral development.
“Our opposition to building on the Green Belt west of Stevenage isn‘t a ‘Not In My Back Yard‘ response. I certainly did not oppose a housing development at the bottom of my garden! And when I have spoken in favour of sensible development within built up areas as an alternative to building on the Green Belt, most people accept the case. We believe the Green Belt is vital to provide green lungs between built-up areas and to prevent towns like Hitchin and Stevenage merging into each other.
“In practice, Hertfordshire has always met its housing targets without building on the Green Belt and currently we are ahead of the government‘s housing target. Hertfordshire was required to build 65,000 homes in the 20 years to 2011: already after only 12 years 42,282 homes have been built and planning permission has been awarded to many more. So we only need to find sites for 7,275 homes in the remaining 8 years.
“Hertfordshire‘s Urban Capacity Survey identified sites for 15,000 houses in built-up areas for this period. Even the District Council, who are more cautious, expect to deliver 11,000 homes. So there is no need to build on the Green Belt. Originally West of Stevenage was included in the Structure Plan ‘as a precaution‘ in case sites did not become available. As is now clear, that ‘precaution‘ is unnecessary. It should be dropped.
“To go ahead would be damaging not just to this area but by creating a precedent – the biggest ever house building development in the Green Belt – it would also make it more difficult to defend the Green Belt anywhere.
“The motorway forms a natural boundary to the west of Stevenage. Indeed, there is a triple barrier with the motorway, the railway and the industrial zone in between. Once building is allowed to the west of this line there will be no natural stopping point. Moreover, those people living in the new development would be largely cut off from Stevenage by the A1(M), railway and industrial zone, so they would look to Hitchin and soon find back routes – or force roads to be opened – linking them to Hitchin. The traffic and the pressures of development would soon make the new development simply an offshoot of Hitchin.
“The Deputy Prime Minister defended his original approval of building on this site by claiming it was a result of local democratic choice through local councils. In fact, North Herts District Council is adamantly opposed to this development. So now is Hertfordshire County Council. The original inclusion of this site was steamrollered through the County Council by the then ruling Labour/LibDem coalition with a majority of one. They altered Standing Orders to prevent the full council voting on its final Structure Plan by putting it through a sub-committee. So only 14 out of 77 county councillors actually voted to support this measure. The electorate subsequently voted in a Conservative administration pledged to try to defend the Green Belt.
“In the twenty years I have represented a Hertfordshire constituency I have spoken at every previous public inquiry into proposals to build on the Green Belt. In every case, I am happy to say, the Inspector ruled against development on the Green Belt. Yet Hertfordshire has still met its housing targets set by central government. I very much hope that you, Sir, will likewise reject this proposal and leave us free to build homes on already developed land instead – so preserving this beautiful stretch of countryside for future generations.”