Fate of former prisoner of war camp in Hatfield Heath could be determined by the Government after developer appeal

PUBLISHED: 08:46 04 November 2019

One of the surviving buildings at former camp, which is believed to have held up to 1,500 Italian, German and Austrian prisoners of war. Picture: JIM BRADLEY

One of the surviving buildings at former camp, which is believed to have held up to 1,500 Italian, German and Austrian prisoners of war. Picture: JIM BRADLEY

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A decision over the remnants of a prisoner of war camp in Hatfield Heath could be made by the Government, after the developer appealed against Uttlesford District Council's (UDC) "non-determination" of its plans.

UDC has taken more than two years to decide an application lodged by Pelham Structures Ltd which seeks to demolish all but seven of the structures on the site, in Mill Lane, and build 25 homes.

During the Second World War, it is believed up to 1,500 German, Italian and Austrian prisoners were held at the camp and there are now 43 surviving structures including shower cubicles and huts, which would have served as dormitories and canteens for prisoners.

The council is defending the appeal made by Pelham Structures to the Planning Inspectorate in August but has admitted that "it could have operated more reasonably on this matter" by potentially refusing the plans earlier.

The proposals were lodged in August 2017 and went to planning committee in February 2019, after the number of homes planned dropped from 35 to 25. Despite a recommendation of approval from council officers, the proposals were deferred, with councillors asking for more information about the access to the site and what would happen to the camp buildings, which were set to be restored.

Pelham Structures had hoped to restore the seven buildings and use them as offices and a gym, as well as a "flexible space that can be used as a museum on specified days," according to documents submitted with the application.

Although the plans were recommended for approval in February, Brighter Planning Consultancy, which prepared a statement of case for the applicant, said UDC officers had now advised that they would likely be recommended for refusal when next heard by the committee.

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Charmain Hawkins, who wrote the statement, said: "Given the length of time the application has been under consideration, the amount of pre-application work undertaken that started in June 2015 and the numerous amendments made to date all at the council's request, the appellant is seeking an appeal for non-determination given that the advice of officers has been that when it is re-presented to committee the application is likely to be recommended for refusal."

In UDC's statement of case, where it sets out why it is defending the appeal, the council criticises the plans, which were also met with outcry from residents.

"The council does not consider the emerging programme for the retention, after use and more pertinently public access (or lack of it) to the camp in any way publicly beneficial," the statement said, adding that the proposal was "unacceptable due to the substantial harm" to the former camp buildings.

Explaining the council's apparent change of stance on the plans, the document goes on: "The application was reviewed by the development manager and, as informed by the concerns voiced by planning committee in February 2019 and that of the local community, it was concluded that the principle should be reconsidered. Whilst this was being considered, the appellant appealed against non-determination."

"The council does it accept that it could have operated more reasonably on this matter, but this would have been potentially through an earlier refusal of this matter."

The council also suggested the developer's application for costs, which could run into thousands of pounds, should be rejected.

Ms Hawkins said a suggestion that one of the camp units should be retained as a "museum" would be an "unduly onerous" requirement for the developer but he would happy to lease part of the former canteen, which contains a mural, to the Hatfield Regis Local History Society.

Ms Hawkins said: "The proposals have been recommended for approval without the requirement for a museum and the applicant has provided additional detailed information as to how the units to be retained are to be conserved. It is maintained there are no sound heritage reasons to resist the development."

The Planning Inspectorate's case officer for the appeal, Caroline Harvey, wrote to UDC to confirm the appeal was valid on October 4, and confirmed a site visit to Mill Lane would take place after November 22.

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