Welwyn Parish Council (WPC) is pleased to comment on the 2020 Site Allocation that revised the Local Plan (2016) and was approved by the Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council (WHBC) Cabinet and issued for consultation. We have restricted our comments to those aspects of the Plan that affect our area of responsibility as far as possible.
We have reviewed the sustainability and legality aspects and consider that the portion of the Local Plan (as approved by WHBC Cabinet) relating to this Parish, meets these requirements. We therefore largely welcome and agree with the Plan. We support WHBC’s decisions regarding the sites to be allocated in Welwyn, Oaklands and Mardley Heath (there were none proposed for Digswell) with the exception of one site (HS32) for which we maintain our original objection on soundness grounds. We are concerned that WHBC have not yet announced the formulation of the “gap policy” as recommended by LUC as settlement coalescence is a major issue for us.
This Council was very concerned that some additional sites proposed by prospective developers would have meant great harm to our parish. Our concerns were regarding green belt harm and boundary sustainability, unsuitable ground e.g. partial flood plain or too close to the River Mimram (the important chalk stream that runs through much of the parish) or necessitating major infrastructure implementation for feasibility or sustainability.
All of the sites originally proposed following the 2019 Call for Sites for Digswell and most of those proposed for Oaklands, Mardley Heath and Welwyn, had major suitability, access or green belt boundary implications. The Welwyn sites in particular, if they had been selected for allocation, would have had a massive negative impact on the village: traffic; unsuitable road infrastructure; visually intrusive, marring currently open rural views; impinging upon local open spaces.
We strongly believe the WHBC assessment of the 4 Welwyn sites rejected under the CPPP and Cabinet decisions, included arguments and conclusions that were seriously flawed. When considered collectively (which part of the argument for their original inclusion maintained: to support infrastructure improvement) the harm to the green belt would be very great, almost catastrophic and not merely the “medium-high” of each individual site (with which we also disagree). Accordingly we were pleased that WHBC decided to exclude from site allocation, all sites which would cause medium-high or worse harm to the Green Belt, which encompassed those 4 sites. We fully support that decision.
Any infrastructure implementation would involve considerable investment, but we recognise that this is largely a matter of will and prioritisation and not an absolute barrier to development. This Council has consistently asked for infrastructure such as roads, bus routes, schools and health facilities to be established commensurate with the timescales of developments (ideally in advance) and not months or even years behind with resulting congestion, noise, pollution, inconvenience and destruction of the rural nature of much of the parish (especially the historic centres of Digswell and Welwyn villages).
(Ed. The following analysis was prepared by Ian Skidmore for the Welwyn Parish Plan Group, who worked with WPAG and the WPC as members of a Local Plan Working Group, formed for this purpose. Maps have been added to refresh memories.)
This document is a response to the Consultation on Proposed Changes to the submitted Draft Local Plan 2016 (Site Allocations) 2020. It is submitted by the Welwyn Parish Plan Group.
The Draft Local Plan was submitted in May 2017 and has been
reviewed for soundness and legality in several stages by the Inspector. His
analysis noted that the Plan as submitted did not meet the full objectively
assessed need (OAN) for housing. He was, among other things, concerned that if
housing growth did not keep pace with projected growth of employment in the
Borough there would be excessive inward commuting. (WH is already a significant
The housing numbers on which the Plan was based were out of
date at 12000 and based on further analysis the target figure should be 16000.
There have been arguments and counter-arguments about the accuracy of this
figure, which leads to an annual building rate of 800pa, but the borough’s
independent consultants believe it to be the right figure within the accuracy
limits that forward projections carry..
On the basis of this the Planning Department created a
series of options for the Council to consider, with their recommended strategy delivering
15952 houses, 48 under target, and a shortfall of 1.63Ha in employment land. This
included all the sites from the 2016 submission plus 36 additional sites none
of which, with the exception of a school site in Welham Green was considered to
be high harm to the Green Belt.
The Council Cabinet Planning and Parking Panel (CPPP) did
not accept this option nor any of the other 3 options presented and recommended
to Council a reduction to a lower figure of 14206 units. Cabinet approved this
figure. The changes to the original Draft that this figure represents is the
subject of this consultation.
The primary basis for the lower figure is the removal of
sites from the original Plan that were considered to be moderate to high or
high harm to the Green Belt and ensuring that none of the added sites fell into
these categories. There is no technical justification for this lower figure and
it clearly falls significantly short of the OAN
As with previous consultations our understanding is that the
focus of this consultation is on Soundness and Legality alone.
Soundness: There are four tests of soundness:
Has the Plan been positively prepared, is it based on a
strategy which seeks to meet the objectively assessed development and
infrastructure requirements and is it consistent with achieving sustainable
(The revised NPPF, 2019, says the target should be as a minimum the OAN but this may not
apply strictly to WH which started its Plan process several years ago under
NPPF 2012) that states that it should meet
Is the Plan justified, is it an appropriate strategy based
on proportionate evidence?
Is it effective, can it be delivered over the Plan period?
Is it consistent with national policy, enabling sustainable
development consistent with NPPF?
This covers Community Involvement, Compliance with the Local
Development Scheme, Duty to cooperate with adjoining authorities, conformity
with Town and Country planning regulations, Sustainability and Habitat
Welwyn Parish: Comments on the 2016 Draft Plan.
The Parish Council commented on the soundness of the
proposals in 2016 for inclusion and exclusion of sites in the Parish for the
Draft Plan. The Parish Plan Group was involved in formulating these comments
and endorsed them. They are summarised as follows:
Of the 5 sites proposed none was included in the Plan, it
was our opinion then and remains now that the rejection of all Digswell sites
was legal and based on sound reasoning. No Digswell sites appear in the 2020
Our view was then and remains that, with the exception of
the Traveller site, GTLAA04 the decisions taken were sound and legal . Thus
OMH6, and OMH7 were rejected for sound NPPF reasons relating to the Green Belt.
OMH 5 and OMH 8 passed the HELAA stages and were proposed in the Plan. They
remain in the revised Plan in 2020 and we agree with this.
In 2016 we considered that the Plan was legally compliant
The following summarises our comments then and we have no
reason to change our view.
Wel1 The Borough
rejected this site and the adjacent Wel 2 and Wel15 sites for several reasons
although they passed the HELAA Phases. They should be considered together
(Housing Site Selection-Background Paper Appendix E). Most importantly the
expansion of the green belt boundary would lead to ribbon development between
Welwyn and Codicote; one of the prime purposes of the green belt is to prevent
such coalescence (NPPF 2012 para 80). There are serious issues with access,
requiring a new bridge and widening of a rural road with effects on a
designated wildlife site (WS5) and an LNR and there is potential for flooding.
The site topography is open and housing on this site would dominate the
Wel5, the “school
reserve site” was rejected at HELAA Phase 1 as it was impossible to achieve
access. HELAA 2016, Appendix D).
Wel 6, 8, 9, 10,12,13
were all rejected at HELAA Phase 1. They were all in the green belt and neither
in, nor contiguous with, a settlement bounded by the green belt boundary (HELAA
2016, Appendix D) and thus were contrary to NPPF (para 80 2012 version).
Wel14. Because of
access issues this site would only be viable in conjunction with Wel 1 and Wel
2 and the reasons for rejecting it mirror those for the other two sites (HELAA 2016,
Wel16. Access to this
site is via a village road that is mainly single lane with poor pedestrian
provision and with a pinch point that cannot be modified. (See Highways comment
in HELAA 2016, Appendix G). Emergency access via single-track roads would be problematic.
The connection with the existing settlement of Welwyn is tenuous.
We considered these
decisions to be sound and legally compliant..
Wel3; Previously developed land, (Affinity Water
Site). Three houses have already been built on this site and the plan was for 7
more, a total of 10. Assessment suggests there are no unmanageable constraints
to developing this site. (HELAA2016, Appendix E)
Wel 4. This partially-developed site would
extend the green belt boundary to the A1(M) junction 6 northbound exit slip
road, which is a good permanent boundary. The borough resisted extending the
site further to the southwest to maintain a significant and defendable gap
between Welwyn and Welwyn Garden City. (HELAA2016, Appendix E). There is
excellent public transport connectivity.
Wel 11. This site, part previously developed
land, would have moderate to strong green belt boundaries. There would be some
loss of openness. Good access to public transport. (HELAA2016, Appendix E).
Traffic sightlines would need to be managed.
We considered these decisions to be sound and
Call for sites.
Following the Call for Sites in 2019 WHBC employed a four-stage
process to determine which sites could be considered suitable for development.
HELAA stage 1, HELAA stage 2 and for those sites passing
HELAA stage 2, and therefore comprising a shortlist, a detailed assessment of
suitability using a variety of criteria. This shortlist was then examined first
in a detailed analysis of the individual sites and then assessed at the
settlement level, that is the effect on the overall settlement of those sites
that were still under consideration.
HELAA provides information on the range of sites that are, in principle, suitable, availableand
achievable to meet development needs. It is for the subsequent development
plan process to determine which of those sites are the most suitable to meet those
needs. Green Belt policy and other considerations are not dealt with during
4 sites were reintroduced from the 2016 list all of which
had been rejected at that time. In 2019 Dig 3 and Dig 5 failed at stage 1 of
HELAA, Dig 1 and Dig 4 at stage 2. Thus no sites progressed to further
assessment. We consider these decisions to be sound.
3 sites were assessed; OMH 6 failed at stage 2, OMH7 and OMH
9 passed stage 2 and so were taken forward to site assessment.
The sites considered were Wel 1, 2, 6,14, 14a, 14b, 15, 15a,
16 and 17, plus an unnumbered site north of Tudor Road. This last was rejected
outright as being below the size for consideration. Of these Wel1, 2, 6, 14,
15, and 16 were sites previously rejected in the 2016 analysis 14a, 14b, 15a
and 17 were new proposals.
HELAA stage 1:
All sites with the exception of Wel17 passed HELAA stage 1.
Wel17 failed this stage because it is not contiguous with a Green Belt boundary.
While it adjoins the Frythe, also outside the Green Belt boundary, development
of that site was permitted as the site was brownfield. It is still washed over
by the green belt and does not at any point adjoin a green belt boundary. This
decision therefore is consistent with NPPF and therefore sound and legal.
HELAA Stage 2:
Wel 14, 14a and 15a failed stage 2.
Wel14: This site
was assessed as unsuitable for development in 2016 due to the negative impact
on nearby Heritage Sites, ie Grade 2 listed buildings at Linces farm. There was
also uncertainty about the availability of at least part of the site and
achievability was uncertain because of access problems. The new proposal in
2019 reduced the size of the site and this part does not have availability
problems and could be developed immediately. However the heritage issues remain
and WHBC conservation advisors agree with Historic England. Primarily because
of the heritage aspects WH consider the site unsuitable for development. We concur with this view and consider
the decision to be sound.
Wel14a: The WH
analysis notes that the physical constraints on this site are primarily access.
Without the development of Wel14, rejected as above, or 14b, see later, access
would be impossible. Highways noted that in any case Kimpton Road is too narrow
for pedestrian access and expressed concern about access via School Lane.
Thames Water indicated that upgrades to drainage would be needed in advance of
any development. The heritage issues for
14 also apply here. WH determined this site to be unsuitable for development. We agree with this decision and
consider it to be sound.
Wel15a: This is
land at Fulling Mill Lane, south of Riverside. This is at risk of flooding. Highways point
out that on its own it is not viable given the necessary improvements at
Singlers Bridge that would be needed. Thames Water notes that waste-water
capacity would need an upgrade. There are serious heritage concerns, Guessens
and the Manor House, and the site is in AAS7 about which there is currently very
WH considers 15a to be unsuitable
for development. We agree with this opinion and believe it to be sound
Wel 1, 2, 6, 14b, 15
and 16 passed HELAA stage 2 and went forward to detailed assessment.
Wel 1 and 2 were previously assessed in the HELAA in 2016
and the 2019 site selection provides an update but little new information.
Wel1. The 2016
HELAA noted the obvious physical constraints of access, the need to build a new
bridge and widen Fulling Mill Lane at the expense of Singlers Marsh owned by
WHBC. Proposed entry to the site would be from a new road parallel to Kimpton
Road. Waste-water capacity upgrade would be needed. Historic England is
concerned about effects on views out from the Conservation area. Nature Reserve
and wildlife sites( WS5 and WS19) would be affected. The site is within AAS7.
Site is located within a Groundwater Source Protection Zone.
Overall in 2016 this site was classified as available, with uncertain
achievability, deliverability 6-15 years. The 2019 HELAA adds nothing significant
Wel 2. Wel 2 has very similar issues to Wel 1. Access
to the site would be from Fulling Mill Lane. The document suggests that there
would be access to Wel1 from Wel 2 but there is no physical connection between
the sites to allow this. Access to Wel 15 is possible from Wel2 but there is
still no connectivity with Wel 1. Similar issues with road widening and Singlers
bridge. WS 5 and WS 19 and AAS 7 are also affected. Waste-water network would
Overall assessment: Available, achievability uncertain,
timescale 6-15 years.
The 2019 HELAA adds nothing of significance
Wel 6. Wel 6 was
not considered in 2016. The 2019 HELAA has a detailed assessment. Access would
be from Kimpton Road, this is too narrow for pedestrian access. Environmental
Health notes the potential for contamination issues within 200m (gravel
extraction and engine testing site?) Site is inside the inner Groundwater
Protection Zone. The area backs onto the garden of a grade 2 listed building on Fulling Mill
The adjacent land is in North Herts and is not proposed for
allocation in the North Herts Local Plan, currently under examination. That
area is not contiguous with a green belt boundary and so is not developable
This site is considered available but achievable only with
extensive highways upgrades associated with Wel 1 and 2 and if it is practical
to create access for pedestrians and cyclists which would require upgrades to
Kimpton Road. This site is not viable on
its own. Delivery timescale 6-10/11-15 years.
Wel14b: This was
also not considered in 2016 as it had not been brought forward. Access is
proposed via School Lane that has a pinch point at the High Street junction
with a listed building creating a single lane road. Alternative access is
proposed from Kimpton Road but this would require development of Wel 14 and
14a, both of which are considered by WH to be unsuitable for development. The
report is suggests that at this stage (HELAA) the potential for some
development in the southern part of the site might be feasible, ie not as far
up as Wel 14a.
They classify the site as: suitable (limited, lower part only),
available and achievable with a deliverability timescale of 1-5 years subject
to waste-water network upgrades. We challenge this assessment because of
fundamental access problems. These also apply to Wel16, see below.
Wel15a is considered in HELAA 2019 this site was reviewed in HELAA 2016. There is no access directly from Fulling Mill
lane owing to landownership issues so access would have to be via Wel 2 and Wel
1 with which it is being co-promoted. The same road and bridge issues arise
therefore for this site. The site is within AAS7 and there is evidence
suggesting that this was the site of the roman settlement. Detailed study would
be needed before submitting planning applications. Given that the southern part
of 15a was rejected because of historic buildings above ground we argue for a
detailed archaeological survey and a block on development if anything really
significant (cf Welwyn roman baths) is
found. The site also adjoins the Welwyn Conservation Area and WH thinks any
development should be limited to the eastern part of the site, between
Riverside and the Evangelical church, to minimise effects on this Area. This
would reduce capacity from 45 to 14 units.
WH rated the site, without 15a, as suitable, and available
but with uncertain achievability and an uncertain timescale 6-15 years.
Wel16: Wel16 was
in the 2016 HELAA as a much larger site with a capacity of 250 units. It was
assessed then as unsuitable and unachievable. Primary concerns were for access.
It was reintroduced as a smaller site in 2019 reduced from 10ha to 3.3 ha and
95 units. There are still serious access issues via School Lane/Ayot St Peters
Road and Whitehill.
The topography of the site is difficult, steep and with the
risk of water run-off.
The site is in a groundwater protection zone. Waste-water
network will need upgrading. (timescale 1-3 years.
The archaeological significance of the area is high and
assessment would be needed in advance of any planning application.
WH considered Wel16 to be suitable, available and achievable
in a 1-5 year timescale. We challenge this assessment of suitability as we
consider access for a further 95 dwellings via a single-lane pinch point and
single-lane rural roads to be impractical . This of course would be exacerbated
by any development of Wel14b.
The HELAA exercises
are solely about suitability of the sites, their achievability and their
deliverability. They do not consider any
other factors, perhaps most importantly the Green Belt or their overall effects
on the settlements to which they would belong if developed.
For this process only those sites that passed stage 2 of the
HELAA 2019 were considered. The HELAA findings are summarised but the focus is
on six things:
Green Belt Study Review
Green belt Boundary Appraisal
Strategic Advantages and
Green Gap policies
Green Belt Review:
The fundamental aim of Green Belt policy is to prevent urban
sprawl by keeping land permanently open. The essential characteristics of Green
Belts are their openness and their permanence. (NPPF para 133).
As far as Welwyn Parish is concerned purposes 3 and 4 are
key. NPPF refers to towns but in fact it means any settlement that is excluded
from the Green Belt, be it town or village.
While neither OMH7 or OMH9 is of high harm their
geographical location to the west of the A1(M) would mean a breach of the very
strong green belt boundary that the motorway creates and the additional 14
units in total that these two sites would deliver does not represent
exceptional circumstances that that resetting the boundary would entail. Thus
these sites were rejected at this stage. We concur and agree that exceptional
circumstances do not exist.
The site is contiguous with the green belt boundary at
Hawbush and Glebe Road so this is not a barrier to development under NPPF. The
site as a single unit does not contribute to preventing the merging of towns
(WGC and Harpenden). It does however make a significant contribution to
preventing encroachment on the countryside. In particular it would destroy the
countryside vista from this boundary. In addition it would enclose in the
Assessment of the whole parcel of which this is part (P7) is moderate /high harm. Similarly,
development of P7a, (Wel 1, 2 and 15 ) is considered moderate/high harm. The
report concludes that these three Stage 2 sites in combination or isolation
would lead to encroachment of the countryside to the south east and south west
Any new green belt boundary would be significantly weaker than
the current one. As noted above this is defined by the perimeter of Hawbush and
Glebe Road and was drawn tightly round the existing village when the boundary
was established. Wel 2 is not contiguous with the current boundary but is
linked via Wel15. This would mean that if Wel15 was not developed Wel 2 could not be developed. This emphasises
the focus of developers on all three sites and
on our contention that the overall harm to the green belt of the three
sites (4 with Wel6) combined should be assessed rather than assessing them for
possible effect as single sites.
The Sustainability Appraisal is slightly in favour but it is
difficult determine what leads to this assessment.
A circular argument is presented that developing Wel 1, 2
and 15 would enable the highways improvements and bridge building that developing
these sites would require. The Council
needs to look carefully at the logic of this argument..
The overall conclusion is that development of the whole
parcel P7a taking it out of the green belt would cause moderate /high harm. However, they use the circular argument above
to say it would be a good thing and that the new green belt boundary would be similar
in strength to the existing one. Thus the site is suitable for allocation on green belt grounds. We strongly disagree
with this and suggest that the three
sites together would cause high harm to the green belt. Implications for
any Green Gap Policies must also be taken into consideration, see below.
Much of what applies to Wel 1 applies here but as it is not
contiguous with the green belt boundary it would depend on the development of
Wel15 to proceed, see above. The borough note that Wel 15 makes a significant
contribution to two national green belt policies, P3, safeguarding from
encroachment and P4 preserving the setting and special character of historic
towns (and villages!). In addition it is noted that currently the physical
openness of the site is high. The assessment of harm to the green belt is assessed
as moderate /high, we consider the potential harm to be high. The same circular
argument is used in relation to
development and road widening.
There is also a statement in the Overall Conclusion as
“ It is assumed that
the site would only be allocated in combination with Wel 1 and Wel15 due to the need to provide highways upgrades
and this would enclose Wel2 to the south and west with Fulling Mill Lane to the
east. The existing village extends further west and north than this site and so
development would not significantly extend the urban area of Welwyn”
This is, with respect, nonsense. The westward extension of
Welwyn is indeed the corner of Hawbush, further to the west and any northern
extension relates to Danesbury across the Mimram valley beyond Singlers Marsh. However,
the urban area of the village would be increased by at least 15% if Wel 1,2 and
15 were developed, hardly insignificant!
Overall they consider this site on balance to be suitable for allocation and the green
belt boundary should be extended while ensuring that Green Gap policies are
considered (see later). In relation to this it is very difficult to see how a
Green Gap can be maintained if developing these sites goes ahead.
We disagree strongly with their assessment.
This is considered out of sequence as it is key to the
WH note that this site has two major green belt
contributions, preserving the countryside from encroachment and preserving the
setting and special character of historic towns ie P3 and P4, They note it is
directly adjacent to the Conservation Area. Its harm is assessed as being moderate/high. We think this is a site of
high harm. The key strategic advantage of this site to developers is that,
while there is no direct access to it from Fulling Mill Lane it unlocks both
Wel 2 and Wel 6 as it is contiguous with the green belt boundary.
WH considers the site suitable
for development. We strongly disagree.
This is also out of sequence as it is being seen as related
to both Wel 1 and Wel 2 and could only be developed in association with them as
it is not contiguous with a green belt boundary.Thus its effect on the Green
Belt is considered moderate/high.
Development however would leave an odd enclave of NHerts land on the northern
side of Kimpton Road. Again the highways argument is applied to Fulling Mill
Lane and the bridge. On balance it is considered suitable for development. We disagree and argue that Kimpton Road
provides a permanent physical barrier that can serve as a strong green belt
boundary. Were this boundary to be breached it would put both Fulling Mill Lane
(Welwyn Hatfield) and Kimpton Road/Oakhill Drive ( N Herts) at risk of being
excluded from the Green Belt putting them at risk of further development. We
note that NHerts currently cannot develop
their part of this area as it is not contiguous with a green belt boundary in
Wel 14 b is part of a wider green belt parcel Parcel 8 the
totality of which makes a major contribution to preventing encroachment on the
countryside. The parcel is open and rural and any reduction of it would be very
difficult to defend with a new boundary and so it is rated high harm. On that
basis WH state that this site should not
be considered for allocation. We agree.
As noted above this site is much reduced from the original
proposal by the developer. It falls within a larger high harm parcel (P6c).The
green belt analysis notes that it makes
a significant contribution to safeguarding the countryside from encroachment.
They also note that the rising topography of this site above the low-lying
village would tend to dominate. There is
no physical boundary to the site that might serve as new green belt boundary.
They conclude that this
site should not be considered for allocation. We agree with this
Thus the final
position is that the sites in the original Plan Wel 3, 4 and 11, to which we
offered no opposition, remain as part of the 2020 proposal together with Wel 1, 2, 6, 15 as
assessed above were included in the package presented to the Cabinet Committee
for consideration in January.
As noted above we
believe that the effects on the Green Belt have been underestimated for Wel
1,2, 6 and 15. In assessing harm to the Green Belt each has been considered as
a separate entity. If it were feasible to develop perhaps one of them as such
that might be considered reasonable. However, as all the reports have made
clear these sites are only viable from a development infrastructure standpoint
if they are developed together allowing the financing of a new bridge over the
Mimram and the widening of Fulling Mill Lane and Kimpton Road. Developed
together they would enclose the western slopes of the Mimram valley and
Singlers Marsh completely and destroy the open vistas from the Hawbush and
Glebe road estates. We strongly contend
that this would represent high to very high harm to the Green Belt. See comment
below on Green Gap policy.
The Green Gap policy aims to ensure that that the current
gaps between settlements are maintained. This will of course work in tandem
with the Green Belt purposes but can be considered as operating on a larger
scale than potential changes to the green belt boundaries, looking at the
relationship between urban and rural landscape from above rather than at ground
The review carried out by LUC identified several key green
gaps both within the parish and between the parish and other areas. The Green
Gap considerations for Welwyn Parish relate to the spaces separating Welwyn
from Oaklands/Mardley Heath, ie Danesbury, separating Welwyn, Oaklands and Mardley
Heath from Digswell, ie Lockleys Farm and the area to its south , The Mimram
valley separating WCG and Digswell and the south-eastern side of the A1M (Monks
Walk school and Malms Wood). The other important one from the standpoint of the
Local Plan and the one at highest potential risk from the site assessments is
the gap between Welwyn and Codicote. Wel 1,2
6 and 15 are all contained within
and effectively are this green gap
and including these in the Plan would destroy the gap. This reinforces the need
to avoid development in this area.
The other key Green Gap is the small one between Mardley
Heath and Woolmer Green. We note that the two sites bordering Heath Road, WG7
and 7a, have been rejected and this will maintain this gap.
While the officers provided the Borough with options to
provide housing close to the OAN of 16000 these options were not accepted by the
Cabinet Planning and Parking Panel. A proposal
to remove from the recommended option all sites for which the green belt
assessment was moderate/high harm or greater from the draft 2017 Plan was
considered. This resulted in a shortfall of about 2000 houses. Key in this was
the removal of Symondshyde from the draft Plan. This proposal was voted through
and passed in Cabinet. As far as Welwyn Parish is concerned all four sites
assessed as suitable in the 2019 exercise, Wel 1, 2, 6 and 15 have been removed
from the draft leaving a total of 69 houses, close to the 67 in the original
Plan rejected by the inspector.
There is no doubt that this lower target is a high-risk
strategy for the Borough as a whole. Given that the Inspector found the 2017
Plan unsound because it fell short of the OAN it seem likely that this revised
Plan will suffer the same fate. Furthermore, when this revised Plan was communicated
to the Inspector in EX182 his response (EX183) made his concerns quite clear.
It is not permissible under Regulation 19 to remove sites from the Plan as
submitted unless they are Major Modifications intended to address matters of
unsoundness flagged up by the Inspector. In other words what the Council
proposes is not only numerically but also procedurally unsound.
This argues very strongly for the reintroduction of the five
sites removed from the recommended option. These are Symondshyde, Cuf 7 and 12,
and BrP 4 and 7. Adding these sites back to the reduced figure of 14206 would
give a total of 15886 close to the OAN target. Doing this may well avoid any
further sites being added to the Plan.
It is our opinion
that this is what the Borough should do.
A Highways England Consultation on the proposed A1(M) Upgrade to Smart Motorway Project has been running until the end of March 2020. On our website report of 19th February we reminded you that work was starting on junctions 6 to 8 to strengthen the existing hard shoulder so that two lanes can be kept open for traffic when work starts on the central reservation. Considerably more detail is included in our earlier report.
The WPAG has worked on this Consultation with the Welwyn Parish Council and the Welwyn Parish Plan Group, both of which bodies shared our concerns and anxieties.
Below is the WPAG’s Response to the Highways England Consultation.
Hertfordshire County Council has a consultation out on future transport plans for South Herts. This includes Welwyn, Digswell, Oaklands and Mardley Heath.
WPAG and Welwyn Parish Council will be submitting a response, but the more individuals that respond the better.
So this is your chance to have your say – by 31st March 2020
The big issues are:
managing commuter traffic around the A1(M),
the bottlenecks around the Clock and Parkside Roundabouts, the A100, B197 and B656,
the rat-running through Welwyn to avoid the gridlock.
Unfortunately, HCC does not have a joined up view. The plan is to wait to see if the ‘Smart A1(M) Motorway’ alleviates it (it won’t because of the increase in housing), and projects to improve cycleways and pedestrian access. This isn’t good enough.
To read the Consultation click here. The sections of the Consultation relevant to Welwyn start on Page 82, and relate to projects PK15 and PK16.
Write to the HCC and give them your comments and thoughts. Click here to have your say.
The more individuals that HCC hear from, the better.
WPAG will publish our response as soon as possible.
All the rain gives us the River Mimram back, but where are the fish?
The River Mimram is one of the world’s rare chalk streams. (There are only 220 of them.) And they are fed by underground aquifers which are replenished by steady, winter rains. However, after three very dry winters, our aquifer was almost empty and the river dried up. (Affinity Water had already reduced the amount they abstract from Singlers Marsh and have not increased it since.)
The Environment Agency (EA) measure the groundwater levels
of the Mimram at Lilley Bottom and you can see from their chart below that the
groundwater was exceptionally low in September. But now, after all the rain
this Autumn and Winter, it has now risen but it is still below average. Provided
we get an average rainfall fall for the next two months, this should be enough
to keep the river running through the summer.
One other aspect of the dry winters was that by last Spring
we were in an official drought and Affinity Water were expecting to have to
introduce a hosepipe ban (Temporary Use Ban) this April. That will no longer be
necessary, but their Drought Committee will continue to monitor the situation.
And what about the fish in the Mimram? Last September, as
the river levels dropped dramatically, the EA rescued the fish and rehoused
them downstream. Now we have to wait for the riverflies to return, who are the
bottom of the food chain. Once they are back then we hope the fish will return
and be sustainable. However, due to the large weirs at Tewinbury and Mill Lane,
the fish cannot migrate upstream as they would do naturally.
So there are three options. Some fish did survive upstream
above Codicote and they might come down stream to Welwyn. The EA could restock
the Welwyn stretch with breeding fish. Or the EA could bring some of the fish
stock back from Panshanger. The EA plan to monitor the situation closely and
make the decision, but don’t expect to see anything much for three to four
In the meantime, enjoy the Mimram Mimram at Singlers Marsh. Or, if you fancy a walk, there is a very good stretch at Panshanger Park, near Hertford.
In November 2019 we published an article Housing Site Review which referred to the Government Inspector’s demand that the WHBC undertake further work to address areas where he felt that their Draft Local Plan fell short of his requirements. After fresh submissions the Inspector called for a re-appraisal of their Green Belt strategies, and required the proposed housing target for the Borough to be increased from 12000 homes to 16000 homes. Extensive further work and analysis was subsequently carried out by the WHBC Planners.
WPAG and the Welwyn Parish Council Local Plan Working Group (WPC) submitted further arguments and evidence to support our objections to four new sites (246 homes) being proposed within Welwyn Village.
None of our arguments are intended to challenge the National and Borough’s need for more homes, particularly those deemed to be ‘affordable’. Our arguments are based on the very same technical issues which had caused the WHBC Planners to reject these four sites at earlier stages of the Local Plan process. .
Nevertheless, underlying our technical objections are serious fears about the destructive impact such developments would have on the life of the Village and surrounding settlements.
The WHBC Planners’ over-riding fear remains that failure to meet the Inspector’s demands for more housing could result in the management of Local Planning being handed over to a third-party agency. WPAG acknowledges that that would indeed be a very bad outcome for us all.
But with their draft Plan the WHBC Planners were seemingly disregarding the social fears and anxieties put forward by local communities, in order to meet the Inspector’s demands.
In putting their final draft together the WHBC Planners therefore overruled WPAG and WPC objections and, in doing so, dismissed our arguments. Ahead of planned public consultations by the WHBC Cabinet Planning & Parking Panel (CPPP) on the evenings of 23rd January and the 29th January 2020, the WPAG Chair Sandra Kyriakides, and Vice-Chair Russell Haggar, set out our reasons for not supporting the new draft Local Plan.
Our objections were under-pinned by a Petition raised by WPAG Vice-Chair Russell Haggar which had attracted some 600 signatures in just a few days immediately before these meetings. And in advance of the CPPP meeting, WPAG briefed our local Borough Councillors on the strength of public feeling represented by the WPAG Petition result.
The WPAG Chair and Vice-Chair were both unexpectedly invited to speak at short notice at the meeting of WHBC CPPP on 23rd January and their submissions can be seen, and heard, on the webcast of the meeting (at the broadcast times of 00:20:03 and 00:23:06)
WHBC – CPPP Final Recommendation to Cabinet– 30th January 2020
Following the two CPPP consultation meetings, a further meeting was held in public on 30th January with the purpose of determining/agreeing a recommendation to be presented by the Panel to the WHBC Full Cabinet on 31st January 2020, for subsequent authorisation.
One option promoted by one political party and considered by the Panel would have removed many of the sites in the middle of the Borough, while keeping the Welwyn development sites in the plan. But this option increased the total homes in the plan by only a few hundred, and was feared likely to be rejected by the government Inspector.
Another option, which would meet the Inspector’s demands halfway, was to remove all four Welwyn (and other villages) sites, but was unlikely to get majority agreement by the Panel.
The Councillor members of the CPPP had great difficulty reaching a consensus, particularly as no single political party has a majority in Council. But after some horsetrading between the parties, leading to the abstention en bloc of the labour councillors, a weaker version of the second plan was able to carry the vote, and then carried forward to be recommended to the WHBC Cabinet. This involves:
removing the High Risk sites from the previously submitted draft plan,
increasing the capacity of certain sites that were already in the submitted plan,
removing all the Moderate-to-High risk sites from the newly proposed plan (as well as the coalescence sites and washed-over village sites), and
adding the East-of-Potters Bar development site back in (though it transpired this was much reduced from the original 4500 homes, down to a mere 160-200 homes)
removing the Symondshyde development (1130 homes)
agreeing the inclusion of enhanced (per annum) estimates of expected so-called ‘windfalls’ – giving rise to the addition of 949 homes.
The compromise (politically based) proposal therefore came to a projected total of 14,011 homes – after later minor adjustment/correction by Planning Officers).
The following evening, 31st January 2020, the WHBC Cabinet accepted the proposal from their CPPP and voted it through.
The Way Forward – Don’t be so sure!
The new proposal now moves ahead to public consultation in February 2020, and thence onwards to the government Inspector once again. Along the way there will be WHBC council elections in May, and a WHBC Development Management Committee meeting in June.
There are risks, but for now we can breathe more easily and state that the draft development plans no longer include the additional four sites in Welwyn – they have been removed. See the Map showing the Welwyn sites removed.
But, although for the moment, the four extra sites in Welwyn are all removed from the draft Local Plan, the shouting is not yet all over for the following reasons:
We know that the developers are not happy, and will be exploring legal avenues to challenge this outcome.
From two years after the plan is approved, any of the rejected sites can be resubmitted by developers through the standard Planning Application process, and thereby used to ‘mop up’ the category of 949 ‘windfall’ homes within the Local Plan.
And last – but not least – the Government Inspector might reject the Plan in its entirety.
The WPAG has laid out plans for further research into many aspects which might still come under scrutiny, involving enquiries to the Environment Agency and Affinity Water, and to the County Archaeology team, and wildlife groups too.
You will be aware of the enormous time and energy put into these studies by the WPAG Committee, and in particular the Chair and Vice-Chair. If you are able to contribute to this work in any way, please contact in the first instance, and if you are not yet a paid-up member of WPAG, please make a start by going to www.wpag.org.uk/membership and sign up as a member, and help us meet our costs.
(The above edited report was based on papers prepared by Sandra Kyriakides and Russell Haggar).
On 23rd January 2020, the WPAG lodged two questions with the WHBC Cabinet Planning & Parking Panel (CPPP) in regard to the four additional sites proposed for Welwyn following the WHBC’s 2019 Call for (further) Sites . They relate to sites identified as: Wel 1, Wel 2, Wel 6 and Wel 15
The two questions and the replies are listed as “No.5 Russell Haggar” and “No.6 Welwyn Planning and Amenity Group” in the Cabinet Planning and Parking Panel Public Questions on 23rd January 2020 document. Both the WPAG Chair and Vice-Chair were invited to speak at short notice at the meeting of WHBC CPPP on 23rd January and their submissions can be seen and heard on the webcast of the meeting (at the broadcast times of 00:20:03 and 00:23:06)
QUESTION 5: Asked by Russell Haggar, Vice Chair, WPAG
WPAG question the accuracy of the WHBC Environment Statement that there are bus stops within 400m of the development sites.
Added to which the roads in neighbouring areas towards Hawbush are narrowly restricted with substantial levels of on-street parking. A full-sized bus would struggle to operate around these roads, or pass along School Lane. The current bus service could not in any practical sense constitute a service for the projected 248 new homes, and not therefore offset the environmental impact, despite what is stated in the sustainability assessment for the four proposed development sites.
Similarly, statements in the sustainability assessment about proximity to ‘institutes for training and lifelong learning’ are similarly inaccurate and misleading.
QUESTION 6: Asked by Sandra Kyriakides, Chair, WPAG.
This question about Singlers Marsh was partly answered at the CPPP meeting itself.
WHBC confirmed that an area of land from within Singlers Marsh would be needed for the proposed development, and that WHBC is the ‘third party landowner’ referred to as supplying that land.
We learned too that WHBC had confirmed its willingness to enter into an Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the developer if the site is taken forward.
WPAG considers that the level of information provided by WHBC in their response and analyses to the Singlers Marsh questions to be very poor. WPAG has therefore made an official request for WHBC to provide full details of the authorities with which it consulted in connection with the proposed road- and bridge-widening at Singlers Marsh, together with archaeological, environmental and other sustainability assessments for the proposed sites Wel 1, Wel 2, Wel 6 and Wel 15.
WPAG has received an acknowledgement of this request, with a commitment to reply within four weeks. But we note that should that reply be insufficient, it seems that any subsequent clarification will fall beyond the end of the upcoming consultation period.
For the above reasons, WPAG asked that the proposals for Wel 1, Wel 2, Wel 6 and Wel 15 be withdrawn from the Local PLan recommendations for the following reasons:
Proof of thorough, appropriate and adequate consultation procedures has not been provided.
Water company and nature agency responses have yet to be seen with regard to ascertaining the projected effect of the extra run-off and drainage from 248 houses on the flood risk and ecology of Singlers Marsh, and on the River Mimram’s wellbeing – given that these are currently open fields and a designated local nature reserve situated within the Green Belt.
Wel 15 lies below the slope down from the cemetery, making it a questionable location for housing development given the potential for migration over time of buried items due to the influence of weather and nature.
A full archaeological assessment of Wel 15 and Singlers Marsh should be carried out. Not only is Wel 15 the presumed heart of the original Roman village, and therefore the most sensitive spot archaeologically, but also the southern end of Singlers Marsh (ie where any road-widening would occur) contains a large amount of discarded Roman-era remains from the spoil that was dumped there when works were performed to excavate the gap for Link Road.
Welwyn’s cemetery is currently surrounded by fields in a beautiful rural setting. The four additional development locations will quite literally encircle it, utterly changing the character and nature of this peaceful resting place for the village’s departed souls.
These four sites will not only generate increased car traffic along Fulling Mill Lane and onto Link Road towards Welwyn Garden City, but it will also increase cross-country traffic along Kimpton Road towards the M1 and Luton airport. Kimpton Road is a dangerous single-track lane, often prone to flooding from the nearby river and usually heavily pot-holed. Given the need to protect its delightful rural character there are no existing proposals to improve this road, and increased traffic along this route would be highly dangerous to all road users.
The allocation of proposed sites for further development in Welwyn takes absolutely no account of the fact that the village has absorbed substantial amounts of new housing (relative to existing housing stock) in the past decade: Clockhouse Gardens, Wendover Gardens, Wilshere Park, Ford garage/London Rd and Nodeway). All these developments have taken place without any investment in the village’s infrastructure, and with no allowance for the differing range of development impacts on: heritage, infrastructure, topography, etc.
A petition against the proposal to widen the road and bridge at Fulling Mill Lane/Singlers Marsh has been signed by over 600 local supporters in just 48 hours.
(The above edited report was based on papers prepared by Sandra Kyriakides and Russell Haggar).
With regard to the infrastructure needed for any new developments that are eventually approved, the WHBC Chief Planning Officer has indicated that whereas it is “hoped” that infrastructure would be in place, the responsibility for much of this would be down to the developers.
But we observe that much recent development around Welwyn has not supplied any accompanying infrastructure improvement at all. Indeed. some of those developments have explicitly exacerbated infrastructure strains, through insufficient off-street parking leading to substantial overflow on-street parking that blocks traffic flows and clogs junctions.
Lack of co-ordination with the County Council, particularly regarding County Highways, has also been a feature of much recent development. WPAG are unaware of any plans to address the congestion at the Clock roundabout, other than a reliance on a future Smart A1(M).
County Highways’ plans to reduce on-street parking within Welwyn will work against encouraging an increasing population to use the local shops, and there are no plans announced to manage increased congestion along Welwyn High Street, the B656 Codicote Road, and the B197 Oaklands/Knebworth/Stevenage roads.
Infrastructure and Planning
WPAG believe that the WHBC planners should make it a condition of granting planning, that all infrastructures are put in place in ‘Phase One’ of any large building development.
Only once completed could the next phase of the development progress. This would, hopefully avoid the possibility of any developer not providing the necessary infrastructure.
Another condition of any development should be full enforcement of affordable and social housing obligations, because too many recent developments have been allowed to water down their commitments in these areas.
Any envisaged developments should be sympathetic in style to the nature of Welwyn’s village and surrounding settlements, and also not add to parking or traffic problems.
Heritage – Singlers Marsh
WHBC should guarantee the long term integrity of Singlers Marsh through reassignment of its protected status and, if necessary, its ownership.
(The above edited report was based on papers prepared by Sandra Kyriakides and Russell Haggar).
Following the subsequent production of the WHBC Draft Local Plan which was submitted to the Inspector, and the series of public examinations which followed, the Inspector has asked the WHBC to undertake further work to address areas where he felt that their Draft Local Plan fell short of his requirements.
He called for the WHBC to produce a series of documents for further Examination of which Examination Document EX156 is of great significance to Welwyn, which assesses Welwyn Hatfield’s Landscape Sensitivity, and EX160 which presents a so-called Green Gap Assessment.
The WPAG and the WPC were consulted on both these Examination documents.
The WPAG Response to the WHBC’s Consultation of their Examination Papers
The joint WPC/WPAG Local Plan Working Party was re-called, and a joint Response was penned by Cllr Bill Morris and submitted to the Inspector (direct) by the Clerk to the Welwyn Parish Council.
You are recommended to go to the WHBC Local Planning site where you will be able to read the WPC/WPAG response in full.
The Inspector has since invited all ‘Representers’ to the Draft Local Plan, which includes the WPC/WPAG, to speak to our Response on 17th December 2019 as part of a further series of formal meetings which will examine WHBC’s Housing Needs Forecasts.
It is with much sadness that WPAG report the death of Alan Plumley.
Alan first came to our notice in January 2015 as a volunteer local Charity Hospital Driver working with the CVS Community Car Scheme. He regularly drove our Planning Member, the late Ron Oxley, to monthly Welwyn Parish Council Planning Committee meetings, where Ron Oxley was a co-opted member, and to the weekly Community Cafe, where we discovered that Alan was also driver for other regular attendees there.
Through Ron Oxley’s influence on local Planning issues, Alan developed a keen interest in local affairs, and wanted to help. His wife Val frequently joined him at the Community Cafe, and both of them became key members of the WPAG Committee. Alan was appointed as WPAG Communications Secretary, and Val became WPAG Secretary.
A few years ago, Alan developed Motor Neurone Disease and, as his condition worsened, he had to stop carrying out the voluntary tasks he so much enjoyed, and Val had to retire as WPAG Secretary to care for him. Indeed, Alan’s work for WPAG on communications and planning information is greatly missed, along with his smile and his always cheerful disposition.
Alan’s funeral will be held at Harwood Park, Watton Rd, Datchworth, Stevenage SG2 8XT on Wednesday 2nd October at 1:15pm.