East Herts District Council’s decision to approve new roads as part of a ‘garden village’ development means it will be unable to provide as many affordable houses as originally pledged, say the local parish councillors who authored a Neighbourhood Plan for the development in 2021.
Last week the council approved the Gilston Villages outline application for 8,500 new homes on former Green Belt land, announced at the time as a beacon of outstanding design and sustainable development.
“The scheme will now only deliver 23% affordable housing against a promise of 40%, a loss of nearly 1,500 affordable homes,” said Hunsdon, Eastwick and Gilston Neighbourhood Plan Group, formed by the parish councillors of three small settlements.
The group says that promises to deliver landscape-led garden villages of local character have been dropped in favour of building “neighbourhoods with tiny corridors between each other in densities similar to a busy town like Bishop’s Stortford”.
Last week’s decision follows the council’s approval in February 2022 for the Stort Valley crossings – “massive roads that are over-engineered for what is required”, says the group.
The council’s development management committee report, on 28 February, states: “The original 2019 application proposed the delivery of 40% affordable housing (3,400 homes). However, in July 2022 the applicant advised the council that due to increased infrastructure costs it was no longer possible to support the proposed scheme in terms of the proportion of affordable housing proposed.”
The committee went on to reveal that “most increased costs have arisen from the need to ensure that transport mitigation measures are delivered (Central and Eastern Stort Crossing plus contributions towards off-site sustainable transport measures).”
In its report, the committee says only 23% of the new homes will be affordable housing. “This is in part a result of the increased costs associated with the delivery of the two crossing proposals due to the need to deliver full replacement sections of the existing rail bridges that were previously not identified as necessary.”
Essex County Council had requested the “earlier delivery of the two crossings as well as other highway improvements such as junction improvements at the Edinburgh Way/ Howard Way junction of the A414 in Harlow”, the committee says.
It admits that “delivering off-site transport mitigation early has a significant impact on the cash flow of the development, reducing the ability to deliver on-site mitigation such as affordable housing”. After viability revision, the new roads will no longer be delivered in line with need: one of the Crossings will only be delivered after 3,500 homes are built.
East Herts District Council said the new crossings will connect future and existing residents in the Gilston area to Harlow town centre while the enhanced Central Stort Crossing will prioritise “public transport, cycling and walking”.
The Eastern Stort Crossing will involve the building of a new road, plus walking and cycling paths, between Terlings Park and Pye Corner, linking Harlow to the new Gilston villages development. Hunsdon, Eastwick and Gilston Neighbourhood Plan Group, however, point out that active travel is indirect and inconvenient, via a bridge or staggered crossings, and the roads is designed as a dual carriageway with multiple lanes.
The outline application proposal includes plans for: sustainable urban drainage systems; vehicular bridge links; car parking (including multi-storey, under-croft and surface); new vehicular and pedestrian accesses into the site; new vehicular, pedestrian and cycle network within the site; and improvements to the existing highway and local road network.
The group’s planning advisor is Martina Juvara, masterplanning director at URBAN Silence. She told LTT: “It is very disappointing that in a situation in which the community is engaged and wants to see high quality, sustainable development suited to the local area, they are ignored.
“Furthermore, compliance with local plan and Neighbourhood Plan policy is abandoned in favour of construction of new roads with very significant consequences. This is not what Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities says the future of development should be.”
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