The motion passed at the Full Council meeting last week was as follows
A decision on whether to proceed to publishing the Strategic Local Plan for comment was to be sought at a meeting of Council on 28 November 2012. At the meeting Council passed the following motion:
“That this Council agrees to the following recommendations put forward by No Oaklands Housing Action Group:
1. An independent review of Green Belt boundaries and a Green Belt Study of all potential housing locations needs to be undertaken now.
2. The needs to be clarity on how sites will be delivered and this is implied by an allocation of strategic sites.
3. Detailed delivery matters such as availability and infrastructure requirements need resolving.
4. Oaklands should retain its Green Belt green field status in any future policy review or boundary change to prevent urban sprawl and coalescence with Hatfield.
5. An alternative site should be considered.
6. Green Belt release should only be considered when the district has run out of sites within its urban land.
7. An independent commission of housing need in St Albans and its District should be set up to inform the evidence base.”
Firstly lemmas 4 & 5 are incompatible with 1. Any Green Belt review must be based on evidence and consider all sites. If the evidence is that there are better sites to meet the housing need then so be it. Planning law is based on evidence and cannot instruct a policy review to ignore evidence a-priori. The opponents of Oaklands have nothing to fear as if there argument is correct that the evidence is against the site this will be shown up in the review. The Green Belt review has to proceed on a clean slate without prejudice basis to get anywhere. Of course we all know the real political reason why Oaklands was chosen, it impacts other towns residents more than those of St Albans.
Secondly 6, what does it mean? The term ‘run out’ is nowhere found in national planning policy or precedent. What matters is whether sites are suitable, available and deliverable. If a landowner does not want to develop a brownfield site at the moment it cannot be considered as part of the 5 year supply, so if there aren’t enough identified brownfield site national policy forces consideration of greenfield sites. In the imprecise wording of the motion national policy considers such sites to have ‘run out’. Of course strictly speaking brownfield sites (a stock) never ‘runs out’ it is a flow, that stutters and starts, what matters is whether the rate of flow of brownfield sites is enough to meet the rate of flow of housing need, if not you have to look at greenfield sites. If you don’t and presume a point in the future where a potentially very low potential stock of brownfield sites has been converted to a flow of development sites and exhausted you will be planning for not meeting housing need in full in the interim, contrary to national planning policy. Think of it like the rate of flow needed to top up a cistern at one of the BRE’s model homes at Bricketts Wood. To give an example lets say a school site will be redundant in 2070 when a demographic bulge is over, do we wait to release any greenfield sites till then? What happens to meeting housing need until then?
A motion with 1,2.3 and & is all that is needed (though the term Stratgic Green Belt Review in 1, and the SHLAA in 3, would have been more technically correct) and I expect that is what officers will recommend as the best approach to go forward.