Work starts on enlarging the village. But will it share the cash spoils to cushion the impact?

posted 11 Jan 2019, 13:11 by Bricket Wood Residents' Association   [ updated 11 Jan 2019, 13:59 ]

 By Graham Newson, Editor, The Voice 

Preliminary work has begun on the largest building project in Bricket Wood for more than half a century. 

The wholesale redevelopment of Hanstead Park off Smug Oak Lane will create 129 new homes; a mix of apartments, terraced, semi-detached and detached properties. 

The first stage will involve large-scale demolition of accommodation blocks and corporate facilities (below) last used seven years ago when HSBC moved its training operations to India and the Philippines.  

Hanstead House and garden – which aren’t listed - and the Old Lodge will be refurbished and converted into nine homes.  Scottish entrepreneur David Yule’s Grade II listed mausoleum in the grounds is to be protected. 

However, the likely impact of all those new properties, and inevitable traffic movements, are seen by many villagers as profound and disturbing. 

It is an understandable reaction for residents to claim that Bricket Wood is hard done by and being wilfully condemned to more traffic to add to the rush-hour headaches, morning standstills and clogged-up roads that we already endure. 

Particularly as money earmarked for traffic and infrastructure improvements promised by  the developers of Hanstead Park appears to be arguably placatory and, worryingly, subject to the whims of Hertfordshire County Council as highways authority. 

It seems that HCC has already side-lined £175,000 originally destined for the installation of traffic lights at the junction of Smug Oak Lane and Radlett Road. 

And there’s no indication that other cash – part of Section 106 funding – will ever filter down to Bricket Wood for traffic lights or much-needed road improvements. 

Realistically owners of the 129 homes will probably have two cars in the drive which would mean an extra 260 vehicles around Bricket Wood during the working day.  And then the  same number of traffic movements in the evening when people return from work. 

Add to that the expected 150-200 cars from the Crest Nicholson estate at the Building Research Centre, again at critical times, it’s not doom mongering to predict that the village’s alarming traffic problems are set to verge on the insoluble. 

And in the short-term the road network faces the prospect of being under siege from countless skip lorries and other heavy construction equipment and bulk carriers inching their way around the village – plus contractors’ vehicles – for at least a year.   At the moment there is no firm assurance there’ll be a restriction on them turning left out of the site into Smug Oak Lane en route to Station Road.  What a dreadful scenario. 

So what will be happening at Hanstead Park?  Developers Linden Homes and Wates Developments are currently seeking what’s called reserved planning approval to finalise details about landscaping, the scale and character of the properties, access, open spaces and protecting the existing site. 

Work in earnest is scheduled to start in early 2019.  And with it the razing of buildings and, inherently, those skip lorries and construction traffic on our roads,  Homes nearby, and certainly the village, will face   constant upheaval for at least a year, probably a lot longer. 

To be fair to Linden Wates 1,100 invitations were sent out to local people to attend a public exhibition and a question/answer session in July to discuss what was planned.   Only 40 people attended. 

Such weak-willed commitment and apparent apathy would have understandably strengthened the developers’ resolve to push through their plans largely unchanged?  They have had meetings with the Bricket Wood Residents’ Association, the Friends of Hanstead Wood and the Parish Council and expected those organisations to disseminate information to the wider community. 

But, and I think this is sadly a missed PR opportunity, most Bricket Wood residents wouldn’t have received a slick, in colour newsletter distributed only to those who wanted to be kept up to date about the development, BWRA, TFHW, the parish council, St Albans District Council members and those who live alongside the site.  Which to be honest isn’t that many. 

I would personally challenge the rationale behind such a restricted distribution.  After all, every householder in Bricket Wood will inevitably be affected by the Hanstead Park development – either directly or indirectly.    It’s a missed opportunity to challenge misconceptions and inform all.  People at the public exhibition wrongly believed the leaflet would be distributed village-wide. 

Peter Wallace of the Built Environment Communications Group – which represents Linden Homes and Wates – said:  “I am sorry for the confusion regarding the delivery of the submission newsletter. 

“It, however, would not have been said at the exhibition that everyone in Bricket Wood would receive a copy of the submission newsletter as that is not standard practice.  We have been making a concerted effort to communicate with the community.”

So what fresh information does the leaflet reveal? Ultimately not more than we already know.  But it’s interesting to know about the nitty-gritty. The 129 homes - fewer and covering less ground than the 139 originally approved in 2016 – will include 22 units of “affordable housing.” 
I’ve sought a definition for so-called “affordable housing” in the past with a cynical presumption that it is whatever the market dictates it is.  If you wish to be enlightened about what it means at Hanstead Park– and I can assure you it isn’t easy bed time entertainment – then read at the bottom of the article what the developers’ have agreed with St Albans District Council.  Surely the bottom line is, can first-time buyers or single people/married couples who have been brought up or lived in Bricket Wood for years, stump up the money to buy into what will almost certainly be an expensive and somewhat exclusive property enclave?  Developers, after all, want to maximise profits. 

Linden Wates says it will create tree-lined avenues running through the parkland setting – including retaining those from Smug Oak Lane and Drop Lane - with new trees, shrubs, hedges and even a woodland “buffer” to improve the rural setting from the latter.  The lakes are to be managed and bio-diversity and wildlife encouraged.  The planned open spaces will include a children’s play area.

The estate will inevitably be a modern addition – physically, tangibly, visibly and possibly detrimentally – to village life.  So let’s be blunt and seek pay-back by asking: “What’s in it for Bricket Wood?” 

And this is where Section 106 funding comes into play.  As I have explained on earlier pages in relation to the Crest Nicholson development and its financial pledges, trying to trace, validate and make sense of what appear to be ‘flexible’ payments that are open to interpretation and the vagaries of council policy making is like disentangling the Gordian Knot. 
Linden Wates has inherited - because it bought the land and the planning permission from the previous owners - an agreement to contribute £2.5 million towards “infrastructure improvements” including education, leisure, highways and public transport.
Its Section 106 commitments to Bricket Wood currently contain, but aren’t limited, to:   
  • Off-site highways improvement works including a better footpath link to Smug Oak Lane and Station Road,
  • Changes to the junction off Smug Oak Lane and Radlett Road including tactile crossings (lumpy pavements)
  • Highway improvements to Mount Pleasant Lane 
  • £39,081 towards the cost of new equipment at the Woodbury Field play area
  • £62,383 towards the cost of landscaping improvements and a suitable wood-clad cabin at Blackgreen Wood.
But a SADC website also lists £100,000 as being destined for the Abbey View athletics track in Verulamium Park. 

With a commitment of £2.5 million it seems there’s a lot of money still to be spent.  But where? 

Bizarrely the Parish Council owns Blackgreen Wood but no one knows anything about plans for a wood-clad cabin which would almost be certainly considered inappropriate for such a moderately sized open space. Unless there’s a secret move to start selling cream teas and scones. 

Peter Wallace said:  “Linden Wates is happy to support Bricket Wood residents in its ambition to benefit from Section 106.  It is certainly very interested in investment in the areas in which it works and would always want to see the local community benefit as much as possible from the development of new homes.” 

The Voice also asked BECG additional questions about what exact form does the “highway improvement” for Mount Pleasant Lane take; will there be an instruction to construction traffic NOT to travel through Bricket Wood and – because many people remember, during the first planning application to develop Hanstead Park, that Section 106 money was pledged to install traffic lights at the junction of Smug Oak Lane and Radlett Road – what has happened to that commitment which would ease existing rush-hour tailbacks. 

BECG has failed to answer any of them directly but has said before – quite legitimately – that Linden Wates has simply inherited previous 106 commitments and is obliged to go along with them. 

To add to the financial mix – or further muddy the waters depending on your view – is another payment called the New Homes Bonus. It’s money given by the Government to councils as a reward for encouraging and supporting house building and, in the case of Hanstead Park, will be based on the extra council tax that the new properties will generate.

Linden Wates says its 129 homes will mean, courtesy of the bonus scheme, an additional £104,000 will be available for open spaces, community sport and leisure and the same amount for education. 

Perhaps I, and others in the village, are being negative, sniffy, pessimistic and suspicious about the realities of where Section 106 money is likely to end up.  Maybe the village will received a windfall, its coffers bloated by developers’ benevolent obligations and a recognition from county and district councils that it would be an honourable and principled act to compensate a community that will bear the brunt of its planning and highways decisions.  The latter of which rarely make sense. 

Early next year Hanstead Park will begin being transformed and Bricket Wood will grow larger, its roads will see more traffic and the rush hour will be more chaotic, its infrastructure will be further stretched and, possibly, its spirit tested. 

Large cash handouts wouldn’t necessarily buffer the village from the fall-out from Hanstead Park, the 100 home estate at the Building Research Centre and other developments in the pipeline – possibly 2,000+ homes on Radlett airfield, or possibly not! 

But it just might make the community feel a little more valued.