Victory is generally an anti-climax. As I sat in bed contemplating sleep on a recent Wednesday night, I reverted to type and checked my phone for the thousandth time that evening.

Expecting yet another picture of someone’s dinner or a video of a cat falling off a window ledge, I was pleasantly surprised. News was released, late in the day, that Hertsmere council had, out of the blue, scrapped their local plan.

This meant that the green belt, for now, had been saved in my local area, which included a ruinous planned development of over 6,000 homes on a 2000-acre green belt site known as ‘Bowmans Cross’.

A screenshot from a video from Hertsmere Borough Council of land earmarked for the Bowmans Cross development

A screenshot from a video from Hertsmere Borough Council of land earmarked for the Bowmans Cross development

To see this as a victory, you have to go back to 2017. Five years ago, we got wind of this plan, undertaken by the Hertsmere Tory administration. As the village in which I live, London Colney, is just inside the borough of St Albans, Hertsmere planned to dump their housing quota on their border, away from voter bases that would affect their professional well-being in future elections.

I started up a group called ‘Campaign for Colney’ to fight this dastardly plan and, in hindsight, there have been many occasions where I wished I hadn’t bothered. We arranged an inaugural public meeting in 2017 to discuss the plan with local residents. Tory-controlled Hertsmere Council refused to attend, but we did manage to attract our local MP at the time, as well as a Hertsmere Labour councillor. The venue was packed to the rafters with many left outside, and it was at that point that I realised the strength of public feeling.

What has followed is five years of politicising, abuse and accusations where, in effect, politicos of all sizes and colours have put, time and again, politics and their parties before their peoples. It has been such an eye opener, and so problematic, that I have felt sick at times as they rallied around each other’s blinkered beliefs. As for me and the group, my one pre-requisite was that we were, and must remain, non-political. Our job was to fill the void where our local representatives had repeatedly let down their residents by being a voice challenging the local plan.

Read more: Public to voice opinions on plans for 6,000 homes amid council warning

St Albans leaders slam plan for 6,000-homes at Bowmans Cross

I started up a website, posted thousands of posts on social media and had ‘information’ shared with me anonymously, both online and through my letterbox. I was publicly accused of accosting an elderly woman outside of a kebab shop and called a nasty piece of work. I had narky public exchanges with Hertsmere councillors, FoI requests turned down, was accused of wanting to stand for office, despite being as far from the truth as humanely possible.

The local parish council then, tired of numerous attacks regarding their dereliction of duty in not producing a neighbourhood plan, started imitating our actions. We would organise a protest, they would organise a meeting the same time on the same night after a year of nothing. We had flyers printed and banners posted up around the village that were ripped down. We were attacked in print, and online, as the politicos felt they were losing the control they never had in the first place anyhow, yet the one stick that drove them was their seats being at risk at the next elections. And that’s the nub you see: to them it was never about the unaffordable housing, it was about them looking good and keeping their political bosses happy.

Eventually I managed to get the self-styled ‘defender of the green belt’ and Tory party chairman Hertsmere MP Oliver Dowden around to my back garden for a ‘chat’. An amiable fella but a true politico, he dared not go against his bosses.

Hertsmere then undertook a so-called consultation. They shot a video claiming the Bowmans Cross land was poor quality, deciding to do close ups of a verge where dumping has taken place and for which they are responsible! They made the consultation portal as user-friendly as trying to drive a car with a butter smeared steering wheel and continually refused to meet face to face. Hell bent on getting their plan through, they had but 2,000 responses in the first six weeks.

Then, out of the blue, with little more than a fortnight left, a saviour came riding over the hill: techie experts. Armed with a pre-populated, one-minute objection that would automatically email to the council, they nailed it, and two weeks later the number of objections swelled to around 20,000.

Read more: Hertsmere ditches plan on where to build homes after 'scathing' residents' response

Of course the council claimed victory for their response ‘success’ prior to pulling the plan.

So, as it stands, we won. Yet, as is par for the course, it turns out the plan must be ‘ratified by council’ and there are now discrepancies as to whether the local plan has been shelved permanently, or simply put on ice. Either way, it is a victory for people power and despite dreaming of the day when it would arrive, victory can often leave a sour taste in the mouth as it is never quite what you will believe it will be.

And now, with the previous half decade seemingly forgotten, social media posts of charity visits and council good deeds are intensified, as the majority forget what has come before and vote in more of the same old.

  • Brett Ellis is a teacher