I found myself joining Peter Trevelyan, Chairman of St Albans Civic Society, in proposing the motion that "We do not need to build in the Green Belt", at the Hertfordshire Association of Architects “Great Autumn Debate” last night at Ware Arts Centre. We were opposed by Harpenden-based architect and planner Roger Shrimplin and local planning consultant Michael Fearn.
Peter and I both argued that the Green Belt is crucial in preserving the historic identity of St Albans and its villages.
Peter said he believed “that those who advocate relaxation of Green Belt policy, for whatever particular ideology or parochial reason, have simply no idea of how substantial the pressure is and how difficult it would be to avoid submerging St Albans in a sea of undifferentiated urban concrete.”
I condemned the plans to turn the area round St Albans into London Arc West. The followng quote encapsulates my speech: “Lets be clear, we are not talking about minor incursions here or there but the wholesale destruction of the most valuable single protector of the distinctive identity of our county and region. We don’t want to live in a suburban desert.”
There was a robust and good-natured debate about the difference between Green Belt and countryside generally, current development pressures in the region, changing patterns of households, and the quality of any likely development – all in front of a large audience mostly from the architectural and planning professions.
At the end of the evening, a vote was taken and the result was a dead heat.
This was completely weird since I had opened my remarks by recalling that I had proposed almost exactly the same motion in front of St Albans Debating Society twenty years ago, with Mayor Dennis Robinson in the chair. My opponent then was Brian Briscoe, who was deputy county planning officer. He went on to be Sir Brian Briscoe, chief executive of the Local Government Association.
And the result twenty years ago? - another dead heat!