Chiltern Society Fights Marshcroft Development

Living Magazines Chiltern Society

Conservation campaigners are continuing the fight against a recently proposed development of 1,400 houses on agricultural land in Green Belt. Our thanks to Tom Beeston, Chief Officer at the Chiltern Society, for summarising his response and helping us see through the sales pitch.

The development is the brainchild of developers David Lock Associates, Redrow, Harrow Estates, and Ryan and May, who plan to call this new ‘garden suburb’ ‘Marshcroft’.

The land that has been pinpointed for the development is designated by Dacorum Borough Council as TR03 in its original Local Plan, and is accessed by a narrow, unmade road and adjoins the Chilterns AONB. It enjoys outstanding views towards Ivinghoe Beacon and the Chiltern escarpment.

The proposed development would be bordered by the Grand Union Canal. Bulbourne Road, Station Road and Grove Road.

The developers say they will provide an ‘enhanced natural environment, … open space including extensive tree planting and a new canalside park’. The plan includes community orchards and allotments; a park with sports and play facilities; Marshcroft Meadows offering leisure and recreation opportunities for walkers, dog walkers, runners and cyclists within a sustainable natural habitat of meadows, trees, scrub and hedgerows; a park offering cycle links between the station and town centre; and a number of green ways providing walking and cycling routes and habitat for wildlife.

However, Tom Beeston, chief officer at the Chiltern Society, an organisation that exists to campaign for, conserve and promote the Chilterns, said: ‘As this countryside already has a good number of trees, hedges, open, worked farmland and canalside walks, we fail to see how building 1,400 houses will afford any environmental enhancement to the site or the community.’

The plan for Marshcroft has been proposed at a time when Dacorum Borough Council is still working on its Local Plan for the next decade. The council (which covers Tring, Berkhamsted, Hemel Hempstead and surrounding villages) received negative feedback from locals to its plan when it was first put out for consultation in 2020, and it is currently being reviewed. Local Plans are used as a guide to help decide what development can take place, and where. They are used to determine the future pattern of development in the area and used as a guide for investment in infrastructure.

Countryside campaigners considered that the Local Plan showed a disregard for the countryside, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the Green Belt, and that its targets for new housing were unnecessary and overambitious.

The public have already commented on the proposed development of the site (TR03) as part of the public consultation on the Dacorum Local Plan. Comments include: ‘This site is enormous, almost as large as the existing town… the sheer scale is horrific.’ ‘Growth Area Tr03 is an extremely large development, which will severely impact Tring’s market town status. With this many houses, I am not sure how the facilities such as medical centres, dentists, and supermarkets will cope with demand. As well as the roads.’ ‘Tr03, this will be a disaster for Tring Station commuters (full car park already), with most people likely to drive for most of the year.’

Having attended the public exhibition on 3 and 4 December in Tring, Tom Beeston told Living Magazines: ‘I left angry for both locals and for all future generations in this country and the wider world. My personal belief is that this is really a great example of Greenwash at its best (or is that at its worst?), and the Marshcroft Garden Suburb should be renamed Marshcroft Mega Housing Estate.’

Tom said he left with more questions about the proposed development and was concerned that none of the developers appeared to give any value to the research of the countryside charity CPRE, which, he said ‘demonstrates there is already sufficient brownfield land, including a huge bulk with planning permissions in place, to meet the government targets for the duration of the current parliament.’

He was also concerned that the developers did not appear to believe that grass farmland had real wildlife value. ‘It was as though farmers didn’t value wildlife, and that grass meadows had little or no wildlife value,’ he commented.

‘While it seems the ecologists they’d consulted found great value in the hedgerows on the site, and as such we’d be able to keep them. No one seemed to want to listen to my explanation that building more than 1,400 houses around those hedgerows may disturb and deplete the wildlife in said hedgerows.’  He also pointed out that those presently using the lane and canal walks would lose out.

Tom also questioned that he was ‘effectively told that by building 1,400 homes next to an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), and providing green space on the development the pressure on that AONB would be reduced, and that by having a train station at one end of the mega development would reduce traffic at the other end. I’m guessing they think the 1,400 households will be car free and all walk 1-1.5 miles to the coffee shops of Tring!’

We should also be mindful of the increased strain on local services, not to mention the traffic that will join the town from the other end of Tring when the Cala Homes development is completed.

Tom concluded that: ‘I believe the representatives will respect the law and Government policy, however their ambitions for the local community, biodiversity and climate change go little further than that. This is a project first and foremost about profit & loss and balance sheet growth and little more.’

Tom told Living that he had recently been at a meeting where ‘Michael Gove and George Eustice were speaking on this very topic, not specifically, but on this type of behaviour with such negative community and wildlife impact. If what they both told us I trust the next reiteration of the planning legislation comes out of Westminster this could be killed off’’. He believes that is why the development is being pushed at this time.

The Chiltern Society’s planning officer Colin Blundell added that the fact that Dacorum Borough Council has not yet finalise its Local Plan, could be a sticking point for the developers: ‘Theoretically if the site is not allocated in a Local Plan it should be more difficult to get planning permission in the Green Belt. If the new Local Plan had been adopted the site would have been taken out of the Green Belt and those restrictions removed. With the Green Belt restrictions still in place, both in national and local policy (2013 Plan), the applicant has to demonstrate why ‘very special circumstances’ exist for developing in the Green Belt. They have to demonstrate that the benefits of the development ‘clearly outweigh’ the harm to the openness of the Green Belt and any other harm. Housing needs on its own should not constitute very special circumstances. There is clearly a lot of potential harm to the Green Belt, the setting of the AONB, loss of biodiversity, loss of farmland, public access etc. It would be interesting to know how the developers think they could demonstrate very special circumstances.’

The Chiltern Countryside Group has also raised objections to the proposed development, stating: ‘We are strongly opposed to this kind of ‘predatory’ development especially for the site identified. We recommend that you do not give detailed comments but focus on the inappropriate timing of such a major proposal whilst DBC are still working on its Local Plan and when Government policy has been recalled for revision;  that clearly development of this site does not meet with Government’s recently announced policy plan to safeguard Green Belt and that it will contravene the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 which protects the setting of AONBs.’

Following correspondence from Tom Beeston at the Chiltern Society, Scott Royal, at the developers’ project stakeholder and community engagement team, Royal Pilgrim, wrote back: ‘We believe that Marshcroft will bring significant benefit for the whole community, regardless of age or background. Marshcroft will provide a range of housing, including older people’s accommodation, which will enable single people, couples and families options for more suitable accommodation to meet their needs within Tring. There is a well-documented and long-standing need for new affordable housing in Dacorum, and it is clear this need is not currently being met. We are actively seeking to work with Dacorum Council to provide genuinely affordable homes on this site.

‘There are enormous potential social and health benefits to be had from ready access to new formal and informal open space, sports and recreational facilities. Additional sustainability gains can be had from providing new, warm, energy-efficient homes set within a high quality, well-designed environment such as Marshcroft. New schools and health services will support existing facilities.

‘The planning application for new homes on this site will include detailed reports which consider (amongst other things) transport, biodiversity, visual impact assessments, climate change, flood risk assessment and Sustainable Drainage Strategy, which will provide a proposed Foul and Surface Water Drainage Strategy.’

At the current time, no planning application has been submitted for the Marshcroft development and the public are invited to give feedback to the developers about their thoughts on the site at – we urge you to do so.

If you have any questions or want a hard copy of the consultation material, email or call 0800 198 1235.

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