May 2022 Borough Council Elections

WPAG is a registered charity and does not get involved in political activities. However, campaigning for this year’s borough council elections is likely to be dominated by national issues, whereas WPAG’s focus is on local concerns.

We wanted to find out how engaged the various candidates are with local issues within Welwyn Parish, so we compiled some politically neutral questions and sent them to all four candidates standing in Welwyn West ward and to all three candidates standing in Welwyn East. The seven candidates were sent the same questions at the same time, and they had a week in which to reply. With two days to go, those that had not replied were sent a reminder.

Welwyn West consists of Welwyn village, the Ayots and Oaklands on the north side of the Great North Road. It has four candidates standing in May 2022. A list of these candidates can be found here.

Welwyn East consists of Digswell, Woolmer Green and Oaklands to the south of the Great North Road. It has three candidates standing in May 2022. A list of these candidates can be found here.

All the answers that were received are published below, in their full and original wording. They are grouped by Welwyn West and then Welwyn East. The candidates’ responses are listed in the same order as they appear on the election notice. Some of the responses are fairly lengthy; some are quite short. Some are of direct relevance to Welwyn Parish, while others address borough-level issues.


Question #1:
Ignoring national politics, which local issues do you think most concern Welwyn East/West residents within their community and locality ?

Welwyn West responses

Gareth Aicken (Labour Party):

No reply was received from anyone at the Labour Party, despite acknowledging the request and then later being sent a reminder.

Genevieve Almeyda (Liberal Democrats):

The most important issue in Welwyn Ward  West at the moment is ensuring the rural environment remains so.   There are planning and environmental issues.  A balance must be maintained that ensures greenfield and wildlife spaces are preserved at all cost. The Solar farm proposals are most worrying to the Ayots because this could affect this local natural beauty and a walkers paradise in our county, long term.  Should the proposed 100 acre development of arable land straddling public footpaths between Ayot st Peter and Ayot st Lawrence be approved it would fundamentally affect the wildlife population of the area as for example Barn owls would no longer be able to source food  from those fields full of solar panals; Deers could not roam free in the affected area etc.  In time, there is a decent chance that this rental agreement for securing the arable land could be extended or could lead to conversion of Greenfield site into Brownfield land ripe for more commercial/ industrial development.

Sarah Butcher (Green Party):

Welwyn West is well-known and loved for its wonderful villages surrounded by glorious green spaces. The threat of new housing in Welwyn in particular from the local plan is very real, bringing even more increases in traffic to our already congested roads, and more burden on schools/doctors/amenities etc. The proposal to change the land at the end of Singlers Marsh to widen the road and provide access to around 240 homes in the vicinity in my view is unacceptable. This is a most valuable community asset not to mention the biodiversity on site. I am wholly supportive of the application for that area to become a Village Green.

Since the pandemic traffic has been controlled in Welwyn Village and I would like to see the 20mph limit made permanent and imposed on a wider area, including up to St Mary’s School and Tenterfield Nursery. I would also campaign for a lower speed limit in Oaklands around the school and surrounding houses and shops. Lower speed of traffic also means lower noise levels which is also an issue in our area.

The solar farm proposal in Welwyn West is also an issue for the villages of Ayots St Lawrence and St Peter. Obviously as a Green Party candidate I am in favour of renewable energy but not if it is sited on green belt in this way as I believe it is not an efficient use of the land. I would much prefer to see a policy within the council of siting solar panels on the roofs of industrial/council/retail buildings in towns. Also that all new build homes in the borough are built to the highest possible environmental standards so we can start to reduce our energy needs; solar panels as standard on all roofs, heat pumps, water saving devices and insulation to make new builds more energy efficient and reduce bills for homeowners. 

Sunny Thusu (Conservative Party):

Over the last 4 years I have been fortunate to represent the Welwyn West, and the most prominent issue has been the Local Plan and further development in around the village particularly around Singlers Marsh. 

Other areas of concern remains the issue with keeping the village high street vibrant commercially especially with new businesses opening and continuing to make it an attractive place for people to visit. 

I am also aware of continued problems with parking and verge protection around the ward and maintaining the beautiful environment we live in. 

Welwyn East responses

Daniel Carlen (Labour Party):

No reply was received from anyone at the Labour Party, despite acknowledging the request and then later being sent a reminder.

Terry Mitchinson (Conservative Party):

I will focus on the ward in which I am standing, Welwyn East. The Local Plan is obviously an area of major concern. Currently there are no major sites included in the parish of Welwyn, but it is clear local people remain worried that any inappropriate development would impact on the character and heritage of the area. Other issues include a number of sites being converted from single homes into apartments, single houses being replaced with multiple homes, the loss of trees in an important spinney, the preservation of natural areas, flooding in roads in Oaklands, the possible expansion of the Travellers site near the Clock roundabout, the potential loss of shops and inadequate parking provision in Digswell, and the need for a new pedestrian crossing in Woolmer Green. Concerns remain also about speed limits along the B197 through both Oaklands and Woolmer Green – especially as there are two schools along this road – and also in Station Road, Digswell.

Alan Reimer (Liberal Democrats):

The most important issue for me is Planning.  As Welwyn Garden City celebrates its centenary, decisions made now could be with us for the next 100 years.


Question #2:
Could you let us know if/how you’ve been engaging with these issues over the past year ?

Welwyn West responses

Gareth Aicken (Labour Party):

No reply was received from anyone at the Labour Party, despite acknowledging the request and then later being sent a reminder.

Genevieve Almeyda (Liberal Democrats):

I attended the Solar park consultation which took part at Ayot st Peter’s church some months ago. I was surprised at the plans and detailed graphs displayed.  However, digging deeper it became clear there was no community benefit that is the electricity generated would be for a private company near shire park.

Sarah Butcher (Green Party):

With regard to the Singlers Marsh proposal I filled in my questionnaire for the application for village green status. I am a member of the Welwyn Planning and Amenity Group and have received and read the minutes of the latest meetings. As I walk on Singlers Marsh regularly I am keen to engage with people about these proposals.

With regard to the solar farm proposal I made comment on it via the website and am following the timeline online. I am in contact with members of the Green Party in Ayot St Lawrence and am being updated with the latest developments.

Sunny Thusu (Conservative Party):

With regards to the local plan over the last 2 years I have liaised with local resident groups and with WPAG on concerns of the impact of development around the Marsh. I have a track record of ensuring that the local plan protects our green spaces and have spoken at committee meetings opposing any such development. As things stand neither have been included in the Local Plan and I hope to continue to fight for it to remain a space for Welwyn Hatfield residents. Following on with this theme I am also supporting the Village Green application so as to protect this valuable resource for future generations.

With respect to the high street myself and fellow councillors at all levels have worked with Tesco‘s to install an ATM machine following the closure of Barclays Bank. I have also sought approval of applications to allow more businesses to open adding to the variety of restaurants on offer for residents from around the borough to enjoy. 

I have worked closely with my counterpart in Herts County to ensure the appropriate measures are taken to protect verges and ensure traffic measures that were taken in the early part of the pandemic have been sensitively returned to close to normality.

Welwyn East responses

Daniel Carlen (Labour Party):

No reply was received from anyone at the Labour Party, despite acknowledging the request and then later being sent a reminder.

Terry Mitchinson (Conservative Party):

While I am not currently a serving councillor, I have lived in Welwyn Hatfield for more than 60 years, the past three decades in Welwyn village. I also worked on the Welwyn Hatfield Times for over 40 years, 25 of them as editor. So I have always been well informed as to ongoing issues throughout this community. Since being selected to stand in Welwyn East back in early February, I have made it my mission to be even more closely aligned with the area. I set out to knock on as many doors as possible to get people’s views first hand. It is a very large area geographically, stretching from the far end of Woolmer Green, through Oaklands, into Digswell, taking in the edge of Haldens in WGC, and up to the edge of Burnham Green. I am making good progress and have spoken to hundreds of people over the past few months. I have also attended Welwyn Parish Council meetings and Saturday morning breakfast clubs. I am also in constant touch with existing ward councillors Roger Trigg and Julie Cragg, along with county councillor Tony Kingsbury. On top of this I use local facilities and have been known to drop into the various village hostelries on occasion to chat with locals.

Alan Reimer (Liberal Democrats):

As a member of the Welwyn Garden Society, I’ve supported their activities.  This includes posting leaflets & taking part in demonstrations to protect the City from plans which not compatible with the philosophy of the Garden City.


Question #3:
How would you help to resolve these local issues if you are elected, using practical and realistic activities ?

Welwyn West responses

Gareth Aicken (Labour Party):

No reply was received from anyone at the Labour Party, despite acknowledging the request and then later being sent a reminder.

Genevieve Almeyda (Liberal Democrats):

If I see something which I believe is wrong or not fair I will speak out. My skills as a retired Barrister are useful as I have developed a thick skin and am not afraid to ask delicate but decisive questions which can shed light on areas of ambiguity.   Recently I have been more actively engaged in the Wheatquarter/Biopark developments and how these developments will negatively impact our Garden City where I live now.  I have been part of a committee which has organised a community protest (23rd April) to Save Welwyn Garden City from the horrors of concrete tower block development.  I helped design the badges and I have helped with leafletting to ensure the public were aware of the protest.

Sarah Butcher (Green Party):

I believe Welwyn West has taken more than its fair share of new housing in the last 10 years. There are other areas in Welwyn Hatfield which have not. I would campaign for these areas to take more of their share. Provision of housing is a very difficult and challenging issue, but every area must do its bit. In Welwyn particularly the congestion on the roads is a real issue and one which cannot be easily solved. When the A1 was constructed all those years ago no one could have imagined how many cars would need access in and out of the village with all the resulting pollution and parking issues. This will only be exacerbated by more housing.

With regard to lower speed limits, I know some tests have been done to find out what speeds cars go in the areas mentioned so I would try and push for the publication of these so that people can see the need for a change to slower speeds. These would help with safety and reduce pollution and noise. 

The solar farm is intended to provide energy to a data centre in Welwyn Garden City. The energy does need to come from somewhere, but Welwyn Hatfield Council’s environmental record is very poor and I believe they are using this solar farm as a quick fix to improve their credentials and help them reach net zero. I would like to see a much broader and more inclusive policy on renewables over the whole area, not just on one area of green belt.

On a broader note, because of our first past the post voting system over half of Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council is Conservative, even though this does not accurately represent how people vote. All three councillors in Welwyn West are Conservative. At present there is no Green Party representative on the council.  I believe people vote for candidates with local knowledge and experience, but I hope they also recognise that diversity of views is important. If elected I hope to persuade the council that every decision made must include consideration of the environment with particular reference to their Climate Emergency Declaration of 2019. Even small actions and local decisions can make a difference to the environment all over the UK and further afield also benefitting the lives of people in our borough.

Finally, I would also like to see more of the following;

Proper, well connected and extensive cycle paths, recycling bins in all public spaces, cheaper public transport with incentive/reward schemes for regular use, more electric charging points, phasing out the use of pesticides in towns/villages on verges/playing fields and more wild flower verges to enhance biodiversity.

Sunny Thusu (Conservative Party):

First and foremost I will always represent the community that have elected me, ensuring local views are taken into account in the council’s decisions. I will continue to engage with residents via face-to-face meetings, social media and direct communication. My presence on committees that determine development and planning issues that affect Welwyn will ensure that we defend the green belt while making it possible for appropriate businesses and retailers to thrive in Welwyn.

Welwyn East responses

Daniel Carlen (Labour Party):

No reply was received from anyone at the Labour Party, despite acknowledging the request and then later being sent a reminder.

Terry Mitchinson (Conservative Party):

I will continue to be approachable and liaise in all ways possible with local people. Being local myself villagers know how easy it is to get in touch with me to raise any issue, be-it face-to-face, or via the phone and email. The main aim of ward councillors is to represent the views of local people to the wider council, while understanding the bigger picture. I have already been proactive in raising some of those issues mentioned above, including asking how speed limit reductions, especially near schools, can be escalated up the county council’s priority list and liaising with Roger and Julie about the removal of trees in Digswell.

Alan Reimer (Liberal Democrats):

To develop a Local Plan which protects the design concept of the Garden City & the green belt.  Protecting green spaces is a key part of tackling the climate emergency.

150,000 solar panels near St. Ippolyts? Public meeting

There is a public meeting on Monday 4 April at Redcoats Farmhouse Hotel at 7.30 pm regarding the proposed Solar Farm in St. Ippolyts.  Its location would be visible for miles around on the green belt currently used for crops.

RNA Energy proposes a new solar farm and battery storage facility set across approx. 35.1 hectares of land near Redcoats Farm. Love it or loathe it, this proposal affects the loss of Green Belt and will be highly visible from the Gosmore Road and London Road, as it overlooks St Ipplolytts and Little Almshoe.

CHAIRMAN’S REPORT MARCH 2021

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.

Sandra Saunders

Chair, Welwyn Planning & Amenity Group

Sunday 21st March is Census day. Why is it important to complete it?

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/.

WPAG final response for Inspector’s review of sites for the Local Plan

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.

Confirmation of No Prior Consultation Regarding Development of Singlers Marsh

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?

Response:

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.

Analysis of WHBC response to WPAG regarding Singlers Marsh and Local Plan

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.

To conclude:

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.

Local Plan review – Inspectors questions about Singlers Marsh sites

Welwyn

Matter 2 – Sites Wel1, 2, 6 and 15, Land at Fulling Mill Lane and

Kimpton Road.

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.

Considerations

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

(including archaeology)?

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?