Click on the link to read the Minutes of the Annual General Meeting held on 3rd February 2022
Click on link for official letter from Post Office
It seems incredible that it is now a year since the beginning of COVID lockdowns and WPAG is still managing to function fully, albeit remotely and via technology.
At our virtual AGM held in January via Zoom, our committee officers were re-elected and new members welcomed onto the committee. Some residents joined us on this occasion and we thank them very much for their attendance and support.
Our new committee members and Treasurer have now settled into the group and taken on specific tasks. In addition, WPAG committee members have assisted WPC in the uploading of responses from the WPC Neighbourhood Plan Survey. The response to this survey has been excellent and the hard work now starts on assimilating the data and producing the Plan.
The winter months and the Christmas period have been quiet with regard to consultation documents. WPAG has responded to the Hertfordshire Waste Local Plan Consultation, expressing concern that, of the two community recycling amenity sites nearest to Welwyn, one is closing down and the other declared unsuitable due to traffic congestion caused by the site. We have stressed that it is unacceptable for residents to have to travel more than half an hour to dispose of large household waste and that traffic congestion at the Stevenage facility is caused by the drastic reduction in opening hours over the past two years. We have also highlighted the increase in fly-tipping.
WPAG is monitoring the situation regarding the planters on Welwyn High Street and Church Street. WPC currently has an arrangement for maintaining them with HCC. The planters and 20mph speed notices will remain until such time social distancing is no longer required, or possibly much longer. We will keep you updated.
The Rose and Crown, under new management and currently undergoing major refurbishment, applied for extensions to its opening hours. WPAG submitted the views of residents to the WHBC Licensing Committee and also attended the virtual Licensing Hearing. Approval was granted for early opening hours to provide breakfasts, but the late evening closures are in line with all the other hospitality venues in the village. WPAG will be keeping a close eye on the Rose and Crown when it reopens, especially with regard to parking and noise issues. WHBC Environmental Health has stated that it will operate strict control on adherence to regulations with regard to noise. It is nice to see this lovely venue being brought back to life and we look forward to meeting the new landlords and their team and to welcoming them to our vibrant community.
The local application for Village Green Status for Singlers Marsh has been registered and will slowly move forward through the various stages of consideration. This is not our application but we will monitor and advise on any progress as we hear it; this interim stage has a long way to go.
WPAG continues to work closely with Welwyn Parish Council, WHBC and Herts CC. Two WPAG committee members attend the WPC Planning and Licensing Committee virtual meetings twice monthly, at which all local planning applications are discussed.
Our Vice Chairman has worked closely with WPC and WPPG (Welwyn Parish Plan Group) on the responses to the WHBC Local Plan Call for Sites Consultations with the Government Inspector, particularly with regard to potential inclusion of Wel1/2/6 and 15. Although these sites are not currently in the Local Plan, there is the possibility that the Inspector will find the grounds for excluding them unsound. He is concerned with the fairness and equality of distribution of development in the Borough as well as meeting the assessed housing need. The objections put forward to developing 250 houses on the Welwyn sites around Singlers Marsh are valid and considerable constraints would make such development difficult, expensive and hard to deliver within five years. However, the developer has put forward strong arguments and acceptable proposals in favour of building.
Due to the appalling lack of clarity, and under-provision to the public of valuable information by WHBC, local residents and action groups were unaware of some important and relevant details in plans submitted by developers, to which there were subsequently no objections, thus deeming them acceptable.
The issue of grave concern is the proposal to buy a strip of land on Singlers Marsh, adjacent to the existing bridge, and to build a new bridge and access road for the development. This would result in major damage to the ecology, wildlife, river, etc., especially from pollution created by cars from 250 dwellings queueing to join the already congested roundabout on Fulling Mill Lane and B656. As Environment and Wildlife agencies were unaware of the proposals, they have not objected. Relevant details were to be found through obscure references in lengthy and complicated earlier documents, which were not referred to by WHBC in the 2019 consultation papers. There was no direct consultation with any agency or local group about this specific proposal.
WPAG is making a formal complaint to WHBC about this dire lack of communication and is asking for the full support of Welwyn’s local councillors. They will doubtless be contacting residents in preparation for the upcoming local elections, and this is something you may care to raise with them.
On behalf of the WPAG Committee, I send our best wishes for a better Spring than last year and the hope that we will soon all be able to enjoy our local facilities to the full again.
Chair, Welwyn Planning & Amenity Group
Done once every 10 years, the Census provides a snapshot of our country – who and how many of us are there, where are we living, etc. It helps Government and Local Authorities plan for the services, housing developments and infrastructure we will need in the future.
So it is a legal requirement for every household to complete it. Sunday, March 21st is Census Day. You will be sent a code and, for the first time, can complete the questionnaire on line.Please do it as close to the 21st as possible.
If you have any questions visit the Census website: https://census.gov.uk/.
Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council’s submission of their proposed Local Plan in Jan 2020 challenged the original requirement to find sites for 16,000 new homes in the Borough. The Inspector is questioning that and has called a review of all the sites which were considered but not included.In particular the Inspector felt that Welwyn was ‘not pulling its weight’.
WPAG have been working closely with Welwyn Parish Council (WPC) to rebutt this. His Hearings will be held in early March and written statements had to be submitted by 12th February in order to be considered.
WPAG’s final response is here: https://www.wpag.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/EX238-WPAG-response-FINAL-0221.pdf
WPC’s draft response is here: https://welwynpc.egnyte.com/dl/3x9iLTBXOH/? The final version will be uploaded as soon as it is available.
Unfortunately, only people who had contributed to the first round of consultations could put in a view, but thank you to all those that did. We believe that it will help show the weight of feeling in the area as well as presenting the arguments for not going ahead with the developments.
WPAG and WPC will be attending Hearings and we will update you as soon as we have any decisions.
Since 2019, WPAG has been actively involved with minimising the effects of the Welwyn Hatfield Local Plan on Welwyn, Digswell, Oaklands and Mardley Heath. In particular, it has campaigned to preserve Singlers Marsh from the consequences of possible development on the land surrounding it.
In January 2020, a WHBC council officer stated in a public meeting that there had been consultations about the consequences of using part of Singlers Marsh itself for development, and that there had been no concerns raised in those consultations. WPAG believed that this was said in error, and it has been working ever since to have the record corrected. After several attempts, the answer we seek will be made public at a meeting of the WHBC Cabinet on 9th February 2021. As it often takes a few days for the paperwork to be published after these meetings, WPAG has been given an advance copy of the council’s response, which we are publishing here below. (Details about the WHBC committee meetings can be found at https://www.welhat.gov.uk/committees)
We will follow up with a separate post that comments on how this might be relevant to the ongoing Local Plan deliberations.
Question from Russell Haggar, Vice Chair, Welwyn Planning and Amenity Group.
In the CPPP session held on 23rd January last year, there was discussion about whether or not sites Wel1, Wel2, Wel6 and Wel15 should be included in the WHBC Local Plan. They were up for discussion as a result of having passed the site selection process during 2019, despite no consideration having been taken during that process of the consequences of building the external road infrastructure required to service and access these development sites.
As a consequence of this, much of that CPPP discussion related to how the infrastructure necessary to support those sites would affect amenities throughout Welwyn, particularly in regard to the area of Singlers Marsh. Singlers Marsh is formally recognised for its wildlife, natural environment and archaeological status, including playing host to a fragile and rare river system.
The earlier 2019 Call for Sites consultation had focussed on environmental issues relating only to development work at each individual site. That consultation made no effort to seek opinions about the environmental or other consequences of any consequent development work away from the sites themselves. In particular, the 2019 Call for Sites consultation made no mention of any possibility of building on Singlers Marsh itself as part of the Wel1/Wel2/Wel6/Wel15 proposals, and hence no opinions about this were solicited from either the public or any of the usual interested voluntary/statutory organisations.
In discussion with one of the councillors during that January 2020 CPPP session, a council officer seemed to say that – in proposing those four sites at that time for inclusion in the Local Plan – there had already been a consultation about the possibility of building on part of the Singlers Marsh land, with no adverse responses. Following that CPPP session, WPAG submitted a Freedom of Information request to ascertain what consultations, if any, had actually been made about developing on Singlers Marsh itself. The FOI response demonstrated that there had been no such consultations; no opinions had been sought, nor had had any been received unsolicited. There had only ever been consultations (as part of the Call for Sites process) about the effects on Singlers Marsh of development at each individual site. No consultation has ever been disclosed about development of Singlers Marsh itself, and we believe that no such consultation has ever been undertaken.
Since last January, comprehensive plans for expanding the road network surrounding these four sites have emerged, drawn up by their development advocates and submitted to WHBC and HCC for consideration. These plans propose the remodelling of Codicote Road (south of the roundabout), substantially upgrading the Link Road/Fulling Mill Lane/Codicote Road junction, creating an extra bridge across the river (at the expense of Singlers Marsh land) and widening Fulling Mill Lane (also at the expense of Singlers Marsh land). These plans were prepared in readiness for adding these four sites to the Local Plan, but were not disclosed publicly as part of the Call for Sites consultation. It is clear that a lot of effort went into planning for the necessary infrastructure expansion to support development at these sites. None of this was included in the Call for Sites consultation. Can the council now confirm, unequivocally and unambiguously, whether or not any consultation ever actually took place about any development on Singlers Marsh land itself? If it did, please indicate where such information can be found. If it did not, please update the official public record to indicate this. Furthermore, if indeed it did not, can WHBC confirm that no development of any of the land at Singlers Marsh would ever be proposed, let alone occur, without a meaningful and comprehensive public consultation, to include informed contributions regarding its standing and official designations as to its wildlife, natural environment and archaeological heritage status?
Consultation has taken place with a number of statutory consultees relating to the assessment of the suitability, availability and achievability of sites for allocation. This includes sites Wel1, Wel2, Wel6 and Wel15.
When considering the deliverability of these sites it has been established that delivery is dependent upon significant highway upgrades; as the current access via Singlers Bridge is inadequate to accommodate additional vehicular/pedestrian access. The promoter of the site provided indicative drawings which were made available to statutory consultees as part of the consultation on the HELAA.
The FOI response from the Council has forwarded the responses received on these sites. This includes a response from Herts Ecology in 2016 regarding the potential impact of highway upgrades around Singlers Bridge and Fulling Mill Lane road involving the loss of a small section of land at Singlers Marsh.
There are no proposals which result in the loss of Singlers Marsh as a nature reserve, as an archaeological site, as a wildlife site or its ability to continue function as all of these things. Nor has the Council proposed these sites for inclusion in the Local Plan.
However, it seems likely that the Inspector will examine the potential of these sites to contribute to meeting the need for housing, any potential impact on biodiversity and whether or not this could be mitigated. He may consider their allocation is required to make the plan sound and if that is the case there would need to be consultation on modifications to the Plan. Local Plans do not however contain detailed proposals for accessing sites which are detailed matters considered at the planning application stage and which would be subject to consultation at that point.
During 2019, Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council (WHBC) ran a consultation process about all the sites that were being promoted for inclusion in the new Local Plan. This Local Plan will indicate where 16,000 new homes can be built across the whole borough over a twenty-year period. Several sites were promoted within/around Welwyn village by various developers, all of which were met with fierce resistance by local residents due to the major damage they would have on the character of the community were they to proceed.
Four of these sites (Wel 1, Wel 2, Wel 6 and Wel 15) survived the consultation process and were included in the draft proposal by the council’s officers that was published on 8th January 2020. At that stage in the process, this proposal had not been considered by our elected councillors.
These four sites are on green belt land and would amount to around 250 new homes, running in an anticlockwise arc from Singlers Marsh to Hawbush. The rural feel of that side of the village, not to mention the tranquil and countryside setting of the village cemetery, would be utterly changed if these sites were to be developed. There would be knock-on effects of substantial extra traffic and noise on the whole area, as well as damaging consequences for the remaining open spaces and natural environment, including Singlers Marsh.
An even bigger shock to the community was the comment buried within the proposed plan, seemingly as a mere aside, about using part of Singlers Marsh itself to provide better road access to these new housing sites.
It was always obvious that these sites would need improved road access, both for the construction traffic and for their future residents (approximately 500 extra cars) to drive in and out of the area. However, at no point during the 2019 consultation was any mention made of using anything other than the existing road network, let alone of using Singlers Marsh itself. What was worse, it then became known that exploratory discussions about the possibility of buying the required chunk of Singlers Marsh from its landowner had already started. The landowner in question is WHBC itself.
Had this possibility been included in the 2019 consultation, then arguments against developing on Singlers Marsh could have been put forward. Singlers Marsh is a hugely popular and much used piece of open, semi-rural countryside. It hosts a rare chalk stream (the Mimram), is designated both as an official wildlife site and a nature reserve, and contains significant archaeological remains relating to Welwyn’s Roman and pre-Roman history. It is the focus of many of the community’s regular events throughout the year.
The first opportunity to raise residents’ strong concerns about the unadvertised possibility of developing on Singlers Marsh was at a public meeting of the WHBC Cabinet Planning and Parking Panel (CPPP), held on 23rd January 2020 for the councillors to consider the officers’ proposals for the Local Plan. During a Q&A session at this CPPP meeting, a Welwyn councillor raised local residents’ concerns with WHBC’s head of planning about the proposal to provide better access to these four sites by using part of Singlers Marsh. Mindful of Singlers Marsh’s natural environment, the question asked about what (if any) consultation had taken place with wildlife bodies prior to making this proposal.
Taking this question on the fly, without having prepared for it, the head of planning replied: “We would have consulted key ecological bodies – the Environment Agency, Natural England, and various others: Herts & Middlesex Wildlife Trust, Hertfordshire Ecology and other local bodies on our database. And in terms of the regulatory and the statutory bodies (Environment Agency, Natural England side of things) there was nothing particular said that gave uscause that something couldn’t be done in that regard.”
(If anyone is interested to see this exchange, a video recording of the entire meeting is available on the WHBC website. The question is asked at 1 hour, 39 minutes into the recording; the answer starts at 1 hour, 42 minutes.)
WPAG, along with many others involved in the process, were not aware of any such consultations ever having occurred. It seems likely that this was an accidental statement, an example of someone “mis-speaking”. However, this statement was made on the public record, and created a real risk that it could influence future deliberations inappropriately.
In the short term, the various council meetings in January 2020 decided not to include these four sites in the new version of the Local Plan. However, for various reasons they are currently now back in the mix, as the process has entered a new phase of its review.
WPAG’s first attempt to correct the public record was treated as a Freedom of Information request, leading to an unhelpful reply that merely directed us to the website that collated all the responses to previous consultations. This we already knew well, and we learned little from the response. The second attempt was to raise this concern as part of our contribution to the next consultation process later in 2020. Sadly, WHBC chose to ignore this part of our contribution, simply offering no reply to it at all. The third attempt has resulted in a response this week – it is a written question to another WHBC committee meeting, with a written response. WHBC have kindly provided us advance notice of the response from their head of planning, and we have published it in a separate post here on our website.
This response is timely, as responses to the next phase of the review of the Local Plan are due by the end of this week. The response is pretty long, and seems to make all sorts of justifications for the process that has been followed. However, in the context of the original question and the answer that was given to it, this is a very clear retraction of the previous statement.
The original question asked about the consultations that WHBC had made regarding the use of part of Singlers Marsh to provide a new road access for these new housing sites. It particularly asked about any consultations that had taken place with any wildlife bodies. Let’s dissect the answer in the light of the new statement that has finally emerged:
“We would have consulted key ecological bodies – the Environment Agency, Natural England, and various others: Herts & Middlesex Wildlife Trust, Hertfordshire Ecology and other local bodies on our database.”
They now confirm that the only consultation about using Singlers Marsh land took place with Hertfordshire Ecology, not with any of these other bodies. Moreover, this consultation took place not in 2019 when these four sites were being assessed, but in 2016 when there was no mention of using Singlers Marsh land in this way.
“And in terms of the regulatory and the statutory bodies (Environment Agency, Natural England side of things) there was nothing particular said that gave us cause that something couldn’t be done in that regard.”
There was indeed “nothing particular said that gave cause” for concern, because nothing was said at all by these bodies, because they were not asked about it, ever.
WHBC has now confirmed that the proposal to use Singlers Marsh land to build a new access road to service these four housing developments has never been consulted upon, particularly by any of the key ecological or environmental bodies that have a specific interest in maintaining its current status.
Singlers Marsh is a registered wildlife site, nature reserve and archaeological area. It is host to a rare natural chalk stream, and is the only place along the Mimram’s length where it can be easily and freely accessed by the public. It is also a heavily used and widely loved public amenity, host to many of the community’s events during its normal yearly cycle.
Any proposals to build on this land must take full account of the simple fact that no consultation about this has ever taken place.
Matter 2 – Sites Wel1, 2, 6 and 15, Land at Fulling Mill Lane and
This proposal contains four individually promoted sites that are located on the
north-western side of Welwyn village and surround its cemetery. Together, their
development could provide about 250 dwellings. When assessed either
cumulatively or individually, the sites are considered to cause moderate-high harm to the Green Belt’s purposes. Because of infrastructure concerns, relating to the need to widen the bridge on Fulling Mill Lane and the highway along that lane and along Kimpton Road, it is not considered economically viable to develop these sites, other than on a comprehensive basis.
13. Is there any objective basis on which the assessed Green Belt harm could be
challenged, or the weight given to the findings reduced?
14. There would clearly be a need to establish a new permanent and easily
recognisable boundary to the Green Belt.
Where should this be located within Site Wel1, in order to prevent any impact from built development, on the four sites, causing harm to the wider Green Belt to the south?
15. What harm would result from the coalescence of Oakhill Drive with the main built up part of Welwyn village?
16. Would the necessary off-site highway infrastructure work impact upon the site of the Local Nature Reserve at Singlers Marsh?
17. If there would be any harm to the Local Wildlife site, how extensive would this be, and would it be significant?
18. Could such harm be adequately mitigated or compensated for?
19. What impact would the proposed development have on ecological assets within or adjacent to any of the individual sites and to what extent could this be mitigated or compensated for?
20. Should some or all of the trees on the site(s) be retained and their retention
referred to in the policy criteria?
21. To what extent could development on any of the sites harm heritage assets
22. Could any of this be significant?
23. Could any perceived harm be appropriately mitigated?
24. In the context of the site’s proximity to retail and community facilities and frequent public transport; to what extent can each of the constituent parts be considered to be a sustainable location for development?
25. Are there any issues affecting highway safety and/or the free flow of traffic in this part of Welwyn that are incapable of satisfactory resolution?
26. Are there any perceived infrastructure constraints that are incapable of resolution before the end of the plan period?
27. What is the nature of the alleged flood risk and is it incapable of resolution through mitigation?
28. Are there any noise or air pollution issues affecting any or all of these sites that are incapable of resolution through mitigation?
29. Does the infrastructure evidence actually confirm that it is necessary to develop these sites as a complete whole and together?
30. Is third party land involved in providing the off-site infrastructure and is agreement to use this legally secured?
31. Has any formal consultation with North Hertfordshire District Council been
undertaken? Particularly but not exclusively in the context of Site WEl6 and the
adjoining land to its south-west?
32. To what extent would it be feasible or practicable to bring these sites forward for development in a phased manner?
33. If developed, should a masterplan be prepared to ensure the comprehensive
development of the area proposed for development?
34. Could any of these sites clearly deliver dwellings within the first five years following adoption?
35. Are there any other matters that weigh against any of these sites being proposed for residential development?
Re-examination of possible sites in Oaklands, Mardley Heath, Digswell & Welwyn
Anyone who engaged with the consultations in 2019 or 2020 will have received an email from the Inspector’s office inviting you to respond to the current re-examination of sites that didn’t make it into the currently-proposed Local Plan.
You may be wondering whether or not to reply to it. We believe lots of good quality answers will help.
The Inspector is looking for factual arguments that address his specific planning-oriented questions. You don’t have to be fluent in “planning speak” but, to be of use, replies need to directly address the stated questions and be dispassionate in their tone.
The Parish Council is compiling a response to all the Inspector’s questions, having reconvened the previous Local Plan Working Group that was so effective back in 2019. WPAG and WPPG are part of this. Most of the response will be based on the arguments already deployed in the previous consultations, although there are updates regarding Singlers Marsh that we will also use.
It is likely that a draft of the Parish Council will be available early next week for people to consult while preparing their own responses.
Please note that the Inspector is most likely to engage with original wording rather than pasted text lifted out of other submissions.
We also understand that the Inspector will be interested to hear about local infrastructure issues. Examples of infrastructure that you might think can’t be easily expanded around our area include primary school capacity (particularly in Welwyn village), parking, GP provision, nearby road networks (including Codicote Rd and Kimpton Rd in Welwyn, and Hertford Rd in Digswell), and village centre traffic flow (again, particularly in Welwyn itself).
It is also possible that the Inspector will be receptive to arguments about the land that would be given up for the new housing – eg if this is in-use agricultural land, then the loss of that land is not insignificant and could be seen as an infrastructure issue.
We’d very much like to encourage everyone who’s been invited to respond to do so, but to try to “play by the Inspector’s rules”: address his questions directly, stay dispassionate, target the planning issues rather than broader societal ones.
Here is the link to his questions around the Singlers Marsh sites .
The deadline is Friday 12th February. Thank you
Last year WPAG responded to the Environment Agency’s ‘Challenges and Choices’ consultation to help the next determine key issues for the next River Basin Management Plan. The River Mimram is part of their Thames region
They have now published a summary of the responses and here are the key themes:
• Nature based solutions that can deliver multiple benefits, including:
o flood risk reduction through natural flood management
o enhancements for habitats and biodiversity through actions such as rewilding
• The need for the Environment Agency to address storm water overflows, particularly to:
o improve their operation and reduce their frequency of use
o penalise water companies when they are used too frequently
• The need to tackle over abstraction, particularly the:
o importance of sustainable abstraction on chalk
o need to maintain a minimum flow target
o need to value water appropriately and encourage water meter usage
• Importance of protecting chalk streams:
o from over abstraction, pollution and physical modification
o to have additional protections for these globally unique water environments
• The importance of catchment planning and partnerships:
o to deliver education and citizen campaigns
o to be sufficiently funded for the long term
• The need for the Environment Agency to enforce existing regulations more.
• The importance of the proposed Environmental Land Management (ELM) schemes to
the future of agriculture, including:
o getting the new agricultural policy right is crucial to achieving a shift to more
sustainable land use and improve soil health
o supporting their implementation with greater enforcement of existing
• Chemicals and plastics in the environment, including the:
o need to have campaigns to educate the public in sustainable usage
o government to use of bans and restrictions, where appropriate
• Securing future funding for the environment, including:
o central government to use additional taxation to support environmental
o securing additional funding to support enforcement of existing regulations
(for example, farm inspections)
If you want to read the full summary (103 pages long), click here.