Keep Chiswell Green campaigners launch High Court bid to block green belt homes near St Albans

Keep Chiswell Green campaigners want to block plans for 721 new homes on green belt at Chiswell Green, near St Albans
Keep Chiswell Green campaigners want to block plans for 721 new homes on green belt at Chiswell Green, near St Albans -Credit:Joe Giddens/PA Wire

Campaigners want to take Whitehall to court in a final bid to block plans for 721 homes near St Albans. Housing minister Felicity Buchan, on the advice of an inspector and on behalf of Levelling Up secretary Michael Gove, granted planning permission for two developments on either side of Chiswell Green Lane in March.

But a barrister on behalf of Keep Chiswell Green has filed paperwork with the High Court, dated late April 2024. In it, Piers Riley-Smith said decision-makers had relied on a report produced more than a decade ago by consultancy firm Sinclair Knight Merz (SKM), instead of a more recent study by consultants at Arup, published in 2023.

"The secretary of state unlawfully failed to have regard to the Arup review," Mr Riley-Smith wrote. "Both the inspector and secretary of state place considerable reliance on the SKM green belt review in their decision. Both accept, in general terms, that the SKM green belt review was a material consideration which has been taken into consideration when reaching a view as the acceptability of the proposal in green belt terms."

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The 2013 SKM review identified land at Chiswell Green Lane as a plot "recommended for further assessment as a strategic sub-area". It found building on the parcel "would not significantly compromise the overall role of the green belt or compromise the separation of settlements".

Arup published its report after an inquiry into the Chiswell Green Lane cases took place, but before a final decision. It "superseded" the SKM review, Mr Riley-Smith said in his submission to the court.

Arup consultants found land south of Chiswell Green Lane - for 391 homes - "moderately" met the green belt's purposes. They found land north of Chiswell Green Lane - for 330 "discounted affordable" homes - "strongly" met the green belt's purposes. They concluded both sites were "important" to the wider strategic green belt.

"Neither the inspector nor the secretary of state recognised that the SKM green belt review had - both by the time of the inspector's report and the secretary of state's decision - been superseded by the Arup review which had reached a different view, namely that both appeal sites were not suitable for green belt release," Mr Riley-Smith wrote. "In general terms, the claimant would submit that the fact that the previous SKM green belt review was a material consideration which the inspector and secretary of state had regard to, makes the Arup review which superseded it a material consideration which they should have regard to."

The barrister said previous probes had established the principle in law that decision-makers must take into account all evidence which is "obviously material".

In the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities' letter, decision-makers wrote that the provision of housing - including the provision of 100 per cent affordable housing - carries "very substantial weight". The decision letter reads: "The secretary of state has considered whether the harm to the green belt by reason of inappropriateness, and the other harms he has identified, are clearly outweighed by other considerations. He considers that they are, and therefore very special circumstances exist to justify permitting the development."

Developers argued that: "The delivery of affordable housing has collapsed. Worse still, in refusing permission for the appeal application, 330 affordable homes in one quick hit, the council has given up on even attempting to address this affordable housing emergency." St Albans City and District Council originally refused planning permission for both applications.

Keep Chiswell Green argued that "far from contributing to and enhancing the natural and local environment, and 'protecting and enhancing valued landscapes, sites of biodiversity" in line with national policy, "these developments will turn 70 acres of green into concrete". They also said: "The annual St Albans Half Marathon, which attracts runners from across the country, is routed through this area of green belt, which is described as 'stunning' in independent reviews of the course".