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St Albans looks to green belt to ease housing shortfall

A Hertfordshire council has proposed to remove land from the green belt to provide sites for 4,500 new homes in its draft local plan documentation.

St Albans City and District Council is currently consulting on its draft strategic local plan (SLP), which is intended to guide development in the district until 2031. The draft SLP has estimated that the district's housing need is for 8,720 new homes by 2031, proposing an annual average provision of 436 homes.

According to a document (16-page / 1.7 MB PDF) prepared for participants in the SLP consultation, 1,075 homes have already been built in the district since 2011, and a further 4,050 are expected to be brought forward on known sites; on "'windfall sites' that we don't know about yet"; and through the neighbourhood planning process. However, the document said that locations needed to be found for "an additional 4,000 new homes".

Noting that "over 80% of the district lies within the green belt", the document said the draft SLP has been prepared "on the basis of removing land from the green belt to accommodate the projected need for additional homes in full (4,000 homes)".

Four sites within the green belt have been identified in the draft SLP, with an estimated capacity to deliver a combined 4,000 homes. These were listed as: two sites to the east of Hemel Hempstead, with the capacity for 1,500 and 1,000 homes, respectively; a 1,000-home site to the east of St Albans; and a site to the north west of Harpenden, with an estimated capacity of 500 homes.

The Council said that it had taken specific legal advice on the question of whether the 'exceptional circumstances' required for the alteration of green belt boundaries existed in the district, but that it had "not yet made up its mind".

However, the Council noted that "if we do not provide for all 4,000 new homes, we will need to explore opportunities to divert development to other areas. Whilst there is a legal requirement, known as the 'duty to cooperate', for other councils to discuss this with us, neighbouring areas face much the same pressures as we do and may well ask us to accommodate some of their needs."

Secretary of state for communities and local government Eric Pickles last month noted in an appeal decision that there was "an acute need for housing ... in the district" and that the Council was unable to identify a deliverable five year supply of housing land.

The consultation is open until 23 November.

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