Resident associations have united to call on their council leader to tell the government her council cannot meet its housing targets.

Campaigners living in Three Rivers are determined to protect their green belt land from development but are calling on the leader of Three Rivers District Council, Cllr Sara Bedford, to take a stand.

The council currently has a target from the government that 624 homes must be built a year in the district over the next 15 years - a big increase from a 2018 target of 180 homes a year.

Like all other councils in south west Hertfordshire, Three Rivers District Council is putting together its local plan which identifies suitable sites for housing development over the coming years.

For a sprawling countryside district like Three Rivers, building on the green belt is inevitable, with so little brownfield land available.

'The council should listen to what residents are telling them'

David Zerny, who lives in Bucks Hill which is on the edge of Three Rivers, is among those leading the fight against the government targets on behalf of residents.

He is concerned that Cllr Bedford has failed to live up to a promise she made back in February 2019 when she said she would write to the Secretary of State to ask that he reduce the housing target in the district.

Mr Zerny said: "A staggering 3,000 plus responses were received when the council published a list of sites in 2018 that could potentially be developed.

"The joint resident associations' believe the council should listen to what residents are telling them, by getting the register of brownfield sites up to date and writing to the housing minister to push back against the housing target.

"The council can, and should, detail why there simply isn't room for the over-development the Government is trying to force on us and our environment.

"The Covid 19 crisis has made a mockery of the huge housing target set for Three Rivers. Everyone knows it is based on out of date and inaccurate data.

"And the move the council are making to change their policies on green belt land plays along with this charade, and risks huge damage being done."

'We need to demonstrate why we can't achieve housing numbers first'

Like Mr Zerny, Cllr Bedford believes the housing targets in Three Rivers are too high.

Last year she wrote to the three local MPs for the area, and they asked questions of the Minister concerned. In October 2019, she said the council was ready to "prove" to the government it has "nowhere near enough room" for the number of houses the government has asked for.

But she says the requirement to carry out further evidence-based studies, a potential recalculation of housing targets, the General Election and a change in housing minister, has made it “pointless” to write to the Minister at this time.

Despite new pressure from residents, Cllr Bedford said the council has to put together a proper case outlining why it can't meet its housing targets. She has written a four page letter to the residents’ association, giving full details of the work the council is doing and the restrictions placed by the Government.

She said: "The experience of councils who have submitted their local plans to the inspector, including Welwyn Hatfield and St. Albans, shows that the Government will not even consider accepting a lower housing number until Three Rivers is in a position to demonstrate what can and can’t be delivered and how that would be achieved.

"The council is already in a position to know that we have limited opportunities to find urban or brownfield land to meet the targets.

"Our brownfield land register is updated once a year by law, but there are unlikely to be any new large sites available. In addition, the Government requires that a Green Belt Review is carried our every five years.

“Until we can demonstrate under the rules laid down by the Government that we cannot find room for the homes demanded, even by means of a garden village or similar new settlement, the Minister will not listen to us.

"It is very demoralising, when we know that there isn’t the space."

The council is nearing the end of its local plan process and suitable sites for development will be released for public consultation at the end of the year.

Before all that, the council is expecting to be given a revised housing target by the Government in September.