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Bishop's Stortford prepares for Green Belt battle over new district plan

East Herts District Plan BS section
East Herts District Plan BS section

Bishop's Stortford's Green Belt will be the key battleground as the fight to win approval for the East Herts District Plan begins this week.

Inspector Christine Thorby began hearing evidence about how the area should develop – including 750 properties on land which is currently protected - when the examination in public commenced yesterday (Tuesday).

The hearings in Hertford are the culmination of years of policy work, projections, predictions and detailed proposals – condensed into a 342-page core document - by members and officers.

Ms Thorby needs to be convinced that the council has come up with a robust and sustainable plan for homes and jobs across East Herts to 2033.

The key challenges for the district are: supporting a vibrant local economy and responding to the needs of businesses; a pressing need for more affordable housing; and the provision of transport infrastructure, education provision, utilities such as water, wastewater and energy and improved broadband provision to support development.

The plan must also confront East Herts ageing population and support its market towns – of which Bishop’s Stortford is the largest.

These challenges come against a backdrop of ever-increasing demand. East Herts has been formulating its strategy in consultation with the districts of Uttlesford, Harlow and Epping Forest.

Their so-called SHMA (strategic housing market assessment) concluded that the combined level of housing need across the four local authority areas was 46,058 homes for the period 2011 - 2033. For East Herts, the level of need was 745 new homes per year or 16,390 by 2033.

However, the Government released new household projections in July 2016, showing the population of East Herts is likely to be greater than originally expected by 2033. This would mean the level of housing need in the district has increased to around 19,500 new homes by 2033. The SHMA also predicts that between 435 and 505 new jobs will be created each year in East Herts.

To achieve these goals, the district plan identifies development land for both new businesses and extra homes.

For Bishop’s Stortford specifically, this means:

• A minimum of 2,529 homes at Bishop’s Stortford North, within the boundary of the A120 bypass. Building has already commenced at the new estate now known as Stortford Fields and St Michael’s Hurst.;

• At least 400 properties on the former Goods Yard next the train station, where Solum Regeneration is currently revising its proposals to revamp the transport interchange and create flats, a multi-storey car park and new hotel;

• An extra 163 dwellings at Patmore Close, off Hadham Road, on land previously reserved for a new secondary school by Herts County Council. A secondary campus to serve Bishop’s Stortford North residents will straddle the A120 bypass instead;

• The Causeway, where East Herts District Council now owns the Old River Lane site, will take 100 homes.

• A total of 150 units on the current Bishop’s Stortford High School site at London Road – if the school expands on a new site off Whittington Way;

• East of Manor Links has been earmarked for 50 homes;

• South of Bishop’s Stortford is the biggest new greenfield site for the next 16 years with 750 homes pencilled in for the Green Belt.

• Four to five hectares for new business within the development South of Bishop’s Stortford; 0.23 hectares at Millside Industrial Estate, 0.36 hectares at Southmill Trading Estate.

In all 300 homes are planned in Sawbridgeworth, 3,050 properties at Gilston Park, formerly known as Harlow North, with the potential for more than 10,000, and 500 across the villages.

The hearings are open to the public, but residents will be able to watch a live webcast, from the comfort of their own homes, as the arguments for and against the proposals are made.

During the first two weeks, Ms Thorby will consider strategic matters including housing requirements and delivery, employment retail and Green Belt release, scheduled to be discussed on Wednesday, October 11. Plans for Bishop’s Stortford will be discussed in detail from 10am on Tuesday, November 7.

Bishop’s Stortford Town Council has already registered its strong objections to the Green Belt breach.

It has told the district: “During the preparation of the Neighbourhood Plan for All Saints, Central, South and part of Thorley, a questionnaire was sent to every household in Bishop’s Stortford in late 2014 with specific questions about building on the Green Belt and site suitability for development. Out of over 1,700 respondents, 89.21 per cent were against the building on the Green Belt.

“The district council has not identified sufficient provision of infrastructure to facilitate the development to the South of Bishop’s Stortford and so we cannot support the prospect of any development to the South of Bishop’s Stortford.”

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