Green light for green belt housing plan on former Havering College site

Plans for 120 homes on green belt land in Harold Hill have been approved by councillors.

Havering College’s campus in Tring Gardens closed its doors in August last year, after 47 years teaching engineering, plumbing and welding courses.

On July 15, plans to knock down the former college and build new homes, submitted by Havering Council-owned company Mercury Land Holdings and developer Bellway Homes, appeared before the planning committee.

All but one member voted for the scheme, despite some expressing unhappiness that the college’s football pitch would be replaced more than seven miles away, rather than in Harold Hill itself.

Committee member Reg Whitney, the only councillor to vote against, said that he recognised the need for housing but was concerned by plans to build on the site, which is located in the green belt.

He said: “We were elected as councillors but it seems to me we should change our name to ‘green belt builders’ because [we are building on] every little bit.

“We have got plenty of other brownfield sites. If we get rid of more and more of the green belt, we are going to cause a lot of problems for the residents in the area and the environment itself.

“We keep hearing about the weather and flooding we are having, and that we need more green space and trees to soak up water where this is a problem. It’s about time we woke up and accepted what we are being told by scientists.”

In an effort to retain the open character of green belt land, the development will mostly consist of houses, with only 42 flats in blocks smaller than four storeys.

Member Graham Williams also questioned the developers’ justification for building on the green belt, namely that it would provide housing and support local businesses.

He argued: “If you believe that, you would say any green belt could be built on (and) the bit about supporting local shops is facetious. One shop supports local shops, it’s a customer.”

Fellow member and Labour group leader Keith Darvill argued there was “a lot of merit” in the plans but said he had “serious reservations”, particularly regarding the loss of a sports ground.

Sports England insists the council must mitigate the loss of the pitch, which was only used by the college’s students, by contributing £150,000 to sports facilities at Brittons Academy in Rainham.

Cllr Darvill and other councillors argued it was inappropriate to replace a ground lost in Harold Hill by contributing to facilities more than seven miles away.

Cllr Darvill said: “I do not understand why the reprovision of the sports field is in a totally different part of the borough. 

“There’s a shortage of pitches for junior teams in the area, I know this because I have had emails from them seeking this.

“I think housing is so important that we need to have it [but] we need to provide public gain for the people of this locality and we are not providing much.

“Our public wants social housing but we need to get all these other factors right. We as councillors should have more influence over this type of development, rather than just nodding it through.”

Councillors heard from the council’s planning manager Simon Thelwell that Sports England would only accept replacement facilities, as in this case, if they were “better value than what’s lost”.

Responding to Cllr Darvill’s disappointment that the scheme is only 35 per cent affordable housing, rather than 50 per cent, he added that financial viability “clearly shows” this would not be possible on the site.

He added: “What we have done is increased the number of three-bedroom homes. The applicant is willing to take a little bit of a hit to maximise that affordable housing.”

An artist\’s impression of the finished development (DHA Architecture)

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Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter