Countryside under greatest threat’

A GOVERNMENT proposal to increase house building is raising considerable cause for concern , says a leading environment campaigner. Kevin FitzGerald, director of CPRE - Hertfordshire Society, says in his annual report: The green belt and the Hertfordshi

A GOVERNMENT proposal to increase house building is raising "considerable cause for concern", says a leading environment campaigner.

Kevin FitzGerald, director of CPRE - Hertfordshire Society, says in his annual report: "The green belt and the Hertfordshire countryside are under the greatest threat they have ever been."

But he says that there is still uncertainty over the number of homes expected in Herts although a decision is expected from the Government in the late autumn.

He said there was still concern after the examination in public of the East of England plan and the inspectors' "shock recommendation" of even more house building than originally anticipated.

And he said it was with "awful inevitability" that the Government wanted still more development in Hertfordshire.

This was in spite of a strongly-worded letter from leaders of 10 local authorities in Herts - including North Herts District Council leader Cllr F John Smith - which claimed that many of the proposals in the East of England plan were "unlawful".

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The council leaders said: "The fundamental infrastructure requirements of the region and Herts specifically cannot be divorced from the growth or that growth can be accepted without the infrastructure.

"It is self-evident that water or transport restraints may make what would otherwise be a sensible location decision for major future development unsupportable or undeliverable.

Mr FitzGerald said North Herts was still under threat due to expansion plans of Stevenage.

He continued that although the Government has appointed MP Barbara Follett as Minister for the East of England she represents Stevenage, which is "the only local authority in the county not to oppose the excesses of the East of England plan".

The appointment of a minister for the area came as the Government announced that it was scrapping the East of England Regional Assembly.

It's replacement will be in the shape of a regional development agency which Mr FitzGerald says will have a "staggering accountability deficit".

He said that although there were complaints that the regional assembly was undemocratic it did include local authority members while the new body would be "a pure quango" which will have "no democratic accountability at all".

"Nor will there be stakeholder input as there is with the regional assembly, removing the voice of environmental bodies," he said.

Mr FitzGerald continued that another threat to the landscape could be from the development of wind turbines.

"The turbines would have an enormous visual impact on the countryside and the construction process would be highly intrusive," said Mr FitzGerald.

He said the Hertfordshire Society supported the concept of renewable energy.

"However, we do not accept that the desirable outcomes of renewable energy have to be achieved at the cost of damaging the county's fragile and already threatened countryside," he said.

Rick Sanderson, the group's planning manager, said: "It is the visual impact on the landscape of large wind turbines that is most concern to us."

He said that such a development would have "a dramatic effect on the character of the countryside".

Mr Sanderson said the current thrust of Government planning was to support energy development which "diminishes protection of the country-side from intrusive development".

Plans for three 120-metre wind turbines to be located on the Weston Hills are expected to be re-submitted to North Herts District Council.

An original plan was with-drawn for the preparation of an environmental impact assessment.