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Your Town Needs You!

Nothing less than the quality of life in Berkhamsted is at stake as the town prepares a response to the Hemel-based local authority’s latest housing targets. But are its tactics flawed?

Illusion of choice

Local Plan figures Dacorum Borough Council’s (DBC’s) new Local Plan aims to provide hugely increased numbers of new homes. Its existing target is 430 a year across the borough up to 2031; under the new scheme, a total between 602 and 1,100 each year until 2036 is proposed. A figure of 756 a year is being widely quoted as the so-called ‘Locally Assessed Need’. The population of Berkhamsted might grow by more than 20% as a result. Two town meetings, at the Town Hall last week and the Civic Centre on Wednesday, heard many persuasive objections to the scheme. But any objections are seriously undermined if DBC’s basic competence is not challenged first. The Local Plan is legitimised if Berkhamsted’s response takes it at face value.
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Plan of attack

Berkhamsted Citizens deliberating The legitimacy of the Local Plan can be attacked on at least four grounds: 1. Where do the numbers come from? As they apply to Berkhamsted, one former councillor described them as ‘a bit dodgy’ and argued that Berkhamsted was being penalised for meeting earlier targets by being given disproportionately high new ones. 2. And why start with the numbers anyway? Better, surely, to start with communities, and look at where growth could be accommodated, and what changes might be necessary. 3. There’s precious little planning in the Local Plan. What about infrastructure, utilities, services, employment, recreational spaces and the needs of all communities, now and in the future? The absence of detailed proposals under these headings makes it impossible to evaluate any of the Local Plan’s options. 4. DBC’s record in considering the interests of Berkhamsted and Tring is not a distinguished one. Where housing targets are concerned, it doesn’t do too well in Hemel either. Land on the doorstep of Leverstock Green is earmarked for 2,500 homes, whose residents will surely use Dacorum facilities and infrastructure - but the number will count towards St Albans District Council’s target.

Deal or no deal?

Map of sites proposed in Local Plan Berkhamsted Town Council’s guidance to people attending the 22 November meeting said: ‘There are difficult decisions to make. If the Borough does not submit an acceptable plan to the Planning Inspectorate, housing numbers will be imposed.’ It has also been pointed out that although this is the first stage in a lengthy consultation process, it’s important to make objections clear now. ‘The further down the way they get, the more stuck in their ways the borough will be. To influence them it’s best to do it now,’ said one councillor at the Wednesday meeting. Lindy Foster, chair of Berkhamsted Citizens, said: ‘We have to look for the least worst option.’ Which begs the now familiar question: Is no deal truly worse than a bad deal?

New Town reminder

Comments on Local Plan Berkhamsted Town Council may settle on Option 1b, with growth focused on Hemel Hempstead, as the basis of its response. Berkhamsted Citizens’ meeting drew together responses to three options and will forward them to DBC. The two meetings acknowledged that more homes - and especially smaller, starter and genuinely affordable homes - are needed. The objections raised still covered plenty of ground: * ‘Berkhamsted already has an infrastructure deficit,’ said County Councillor Dr Ian Reay, citing particularly congestion, car parking, health facilities and school places. * Berkhamsted’s linear nature makes it very difficult to cater for the vastly increased traffic that would be generated. * Is the Green Belt to be compromised to suit the preference of builders for greenfield sites? * Can developers be relied on to build affordable homes as 40% of the total? The figure of 35% has already been aired. And if those affordable homes are all snapped up by buy-to-let landlords, who benefits? * DBC presents sites as piecemeal developments, without looking at the cumulative impact. * The town is already short of recreational spaces and public transport. The loudest applause of the evening went to a member of the public who lamented: ‘Developments along Shootersway will feed into an already congested route. The trains are full. Why can’t the Government do what it said it was going to do - build completely new towns?’ And leave ours alone, was the implication. It probably won’t happen, but it’s a legitimate target. To comment on the Local Plan proposals go to the DBC's web pages under Spatial Planning - Consultation Section. There’s more information on the websites of Berkhamsted Citizens and Berkhamsted Residents Action Group .