Gilston Villages: Christmas deadline for comments on changes to proposed 8,500-home development provokes criticism
Changes to plans for 8,500 new homes in the East Herts countryside north of Harlow have prompted calls for consultation to be extended.
Without more time from planning authority East Herts Council, opponents have until 5pm on Monday December 21 to wade through a 3GB “data dump” of hundreds of files and thousands of pages detailing Places for People’s proposals.
The developer has revised its outline application for 8,500 new homes and details of two new River Stort crossings as part of the Gilston Park Estate, formerly known as Harlow North – its vision for six new villages to the north of the Stort Valley. A seventh community of 1,500 properties is planned by Briggens Estate, and revisions to that scheme are expected soon too.
As Christmas approaches, the Hunsdon, Eastwick and Gilston Neighbourhood Plan Group (HEGNPG) is formally seeking an extension to give residents a “fair chance” to comment.
Chairman Anthony Bickmore said: "The revisions to these applications were expected months ago and have just been uploaded to the internet a few weeks before Christmas during a lockdown.
"To give concerned residents just four weeks to wade through thousands of pages and diagrams just isn't fair.
"Covid regulations mean paper versions are not allowed, so there's the added difficulty of having to download and scrutinise many of the complicated plans and diagrams on small household screens."
He continued: "What's more, this data dump has coincidentally hit us right in the middle of the independent examination of our own Neighbourhood Plan.
"We're also hearing that the landowner for Village 7 is about to submit its own revisions for plans to build another 1,500 homes.
"And the Harlow and Gilston Garden Town board has chosen the last few weeks before the new year to push out a batch of other consultations."
He added: "Local people deserve a fair chance to have their say on these changes that will have such a huge impact on their everyday lives. This simultaneous bombardment of applications and consultations and the added complications of the coronavirus will stop that from happening."
Green Belt designation of the area around Gilston and Eastwick was removed when the East Hertfordshire District Plan was adopted.
Due to closure of council offices and social distancing measures, East Herts Council is not providing hard copies of consultation documents. Instead, all the submission documents are available on the internet. Anyone who requires an alternative way of accessing the reports should call 01279 655261.
As the council is not able to hold face-to-face exhibitions, officers will be available to answer questions via two Zoom sessions, on Wednesday December 2, from 6pm to 9pm, and Saturday December 5, 10am-1pm. To take part, register your interest by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
More information on the applications and the Harlow and Gilston Garden Town can be found at http://www.eastherts.gov.uk/gilston.