Land News

Valentine's passion over 'Prescottshire'

Hertfordshire Mercury 14th February, 2006

PASSION was injected into a St Valentine's Day debate on 'Prescottshire' when campaigners attacked developers eyeing up East Herts countryside for housing.

There was no love lost between Stop Harlow North (SHN) and developer Ropemaker Properties over proposals to build at least 10,000 new homes on Green Belt land between Hunsdon and High Wych.

SHN used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain papers which prove that Ropemaker tried to convince English Partnerships, the national regeneration agency, to delay its support of a 'gateway' scheme to boost Harlow's regional standing and look at even more homes for the site.

Group secretary Nigel Clark fumed: "We have grave concerns over the behaviour of the developer. They must be a great disappointment to the people of Harlow and their elected representatives."

The regeneration of Harlow this week was the focus of an Examination in Public (EiP) into Mr Prescott's regional housing blueprint, the draft East of England Plan.

Greeted by rapturous applause from his group's 70-strong band of followers at the Spirella Ballrooms in Letchworth, where there was standing room only, Mr Clark earlier condemned the plan as "unsafe, unsound, under-funded and extremely risky".

"There's been no justification whatsoever that a huge expansion is needed. An additional settlement [proposed by Ropemaker] will compete with the existing town [Harlow] and will exacerbate the problem [of decline] rather than solve it."

Mr Clark claimed the rate of development being suggested by the draft plan — which earmarks 79,600 new homes for Herts by 2021, with 20,800 in East Herts — is not achievable.

"What we really need is some social housing, not a development-led programme of market housing with a sop to affordable homes through planning deals with developers," he said.

Ian McDonald, speaking on behalf of East Herts Council, warned against the dangers of gift-wrapping parcels of land for potential suitors.

"This [the draft plan] is a commitment for the release of land without securing a commitment to improve infrastructure, which is a fundamental flaw," he said.

He also feared that a north Harlow development would compete against the existing town.

"The average wage [of people in the new settlement] will be 50 per cent higher. It will be a very distinctive social community which will need a new name, and I bet it won't include Harlow in the title," said Mr McDonald, prompting laughter and applause.

John Tiley, head of forward planning at Herts County Council, said: "Let's be more realistic about levels of development and get the conditions for growth right before we look into anything else."

Paul Brighton, of Savills, acting on behalf of Ropemaker, said it met with English Partnerships was merely an attempt to make a "constructive contribution" to discussions on the future of Harlow.

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