Concern as land by Digswell Viaduct goes up for auction tomorrow

PUBLISHED: 17:19 22 June 2020 | UPDATED: 17:30 22 June 2020

Land by Digswell Viaduct is up for sale tomorrow. Picture: Kevin Lines

Land by Digswell Viaduct is up for sale tomorrow. Picture: Kevin Lines

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Residents are concerned about the potential future use of the land beside Digswell Viaduct which is currently up for sale.

A screenshot showing the cgi visualisation of buildings on the land up for sale. Picture: primelocation.comA screenshot showing the cgi visualisation of buildings on the land up for sale. Picture: primelocation.com

There are four plots of land by the Grade II* listed viaduct up for auction tomorrow, each with a guide price of £50,000 for each half acre plot.

The listing, on Barnardmarcusauctions.co.uk, describes each plot as a grassland parcel of land with road access either directly to, or via a right of way to Digswell Park Road. Though residents are concerned by the final sentence of the listing: “While sold on an unconditional basis, buyers may wish to consider the option of future development prospects but are deemed to rely on their own enquiries in this regard.”

A listing for two other plots on Primelocation.com even features a CGI visualisation of what buildings could look like on the land.

While the council is aware of local concerns they are not aware of any formal approaches about possible uses of the land at present.

The land is currently used as grazing land for animals. Picture: Kevin LinesThe land is currently used as grazing land for animals. Picture: Kevin Lines

Bids for the first plot will start at 12.27 pm tomorrow, but this was not the intention of the original landowner.

In a statement from Digswell Residents Association (DRA), who have been in contact with the owner, said that he believed he was selling the land to a conservation company.

He accepted an offer and exchanged contracts with Country Land Conservation earlier this year.

On the Dublin-based company’s website they say: “We are looking to retake control of rural landscapes so we can personally manage and establish habitats where they have been lost”.

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Their apparent objective is to: “purchase and manage 5000 acres of land across the UK”, however the website does not show any evidence of land being managed.

The pictures of land shown on the website are all stock images, and the social media links simply direct you to the homepage of the particular website rather than a specific Country Land Conservation page.

In the statement from the DRA, they outlined their desire to prevent development on the sensitive location which adjoins the River Mimram.

It said: “Local residents are extremely concerned about this development. A group has approached the landowner with a view to rapidly establishing a company to purchase the land as a whole. However, the landowner, having been initially sympathetic to this approach, has now declined to abort the current sale, as contracts have been exchanged.

“Our concerns centre immediately on the damage that could be done to the landscape in this particularly sensitive area, once it is in multiple ownership. In particular we are aware that many structures and uses will be possible under permitted development rights, without planning permission being required.

Thus we would urge Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council to give positive consideration to issuing an Article 4 Direction under the General Permitted Development Order (GPDO) 2015 to restrict the permitted development rights on this land. This is particularly required as the land is part of the ‘setting’ of a heritage asset, the Welwyn viaduct, which is grade II listed.

David Irving, from CPRE Hertfordshire, said in an open latter to Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council: “This is a clear suggestion to potential buyers that the land has residential potential which, under both the National Planning Policy Framework and the current and emerging Welwyn Hatfield Local Plans, it does not.

“Any development on this site would significantly damage the setting of Digswell Viaduct and under Section 16 of the NFFP the Council has a duty to conserve sites and buildings of historic value and obligations under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990, in respect to decision-making on such sites.

“From past experience we know that the first step in development of plot-land sites is the erection of fences to demarcate the individual plots. These fences inevitably impact on the openness of the Green Belt and, in this case, the setting of the listed structure. They also frustrate the best long term management and attractiveness of the land by its fragmentation and the interests of biodiversity.”

Country Land Conservation has been contacted for a comment.


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