What price affordable housing in the Green Belt!

14 March 2024

By Chis Berry, Planning Manager, CPRE Hertfordshire

The waters of the River Stort are getting a bit muddy in pretty rural East Herts where in 2019 the formerly Tory controlled East Herts District Council agreed the largest release of Green Belt in the country for their Local Plan to accommodate speculative “garden villages” (11% of their Green Belt). The developers duly made applications for 10,000 “homes” with the promise that 40% of them would be “affordable”. After a while, EHDC’s Development Management Committee duly resolved to approve them all in February and March 2023.

But before the ink was dry on the resolutions, the developers applied to reduce the proportion of affordable housing to 23% quoting the usual viability arguments. EHDC wilted under the pressure and nodded that through as well.

The Council changed in May last year, arguably in large part due to opposition to the biggest Green Belt release in England, and consultant studies supported by CPRE Herts and others have indicated the developer’s viability calculations to be faulty. These suggest excess profits of over £400 million, providing plenty of scope for the original affordable housing.

Sadly the new Green/Lib Dem controlled council is ploughing on without reviewing the new evidence and could be on the point of issuing the planning decision notices allowing this massively damaging development to go ahead and there is talk of a legal review. There is also a host of further unaddressed problems too, related to water supply, environmental damage to globally recognised chalk streams (only found in Herts), transport infrastructure and strikingly banal initial housing layouts designs, amongst others.

If this huge development is to go ahead, it should at least be worthy of its use of Green Belt and an exemplar project, promoting the highest level of sustainable and environmental principles. So far, so boring, and so much for “garden villages” and affordable housing. Local people could reasonably be wondering why did they bother to change the Council?