Welwyn Parish Council’s Response to the proposed Local Plan changes

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY OF RESPONSE


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).

Borough Local Plan – Analysis of Proposed changes.

(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.)

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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.

Background:

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 employment magnet).

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 development?

(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 the OAN.

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?

Legal Compliance:

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 protection.

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:

Digswell:

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 revision.

Oaklands/Mardley Heath.

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.

Welwyn.

In 2016 we considered that the Plan was legally compliant and sound.

The following summarises our comments then and we have no reason to change our view.

Rejected sites.

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 landscape

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, Appendix G).

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..

Accepted sites.

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 legally compliant..

2019 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, available and 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 HELAA.

Digswell:

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.

Oaklands/Mardley Heath:

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.

Welwyn:

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 little information.

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 to this.

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 require upgrading

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 Lane.

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 under NPPF.

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.

Wel15: While 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.

Site Selection Assessment:

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

Sustainability Appraisal

Flood Risk

Strategic Advantages and Disadvantages.

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.

Oaklands/Mardley Heath

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.

Welwyn:

Wel 1.

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 Mimram valley.

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.

Wel 2.

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 follows:

“ 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.

Wel 15:

This is considered out of sequence as it is key to the previous discussion.

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.

Wel 6;

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 that District.

Wel 14b:

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.

Wel 16:

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 assessment.

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.

Green Gap considerations:

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 level.

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.

WHBC position:

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.

Update on the Borough’s 2016-2036 Local Plan

Background

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.

Rejection of our Objections and Concerns

(The WPAG Objections are listed for your convenience on a separate page)

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.

Caveat emptor

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:

  1. We know that the developers are not happy, and will be exploring legal avenues to challenge this outcome. 
  2. 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. 
  3. And last – but not least – the Government Inspector might reject the Plan in its entirety.

Be Prepared

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).

Local Plan – WPAG Objections

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.

Conclusion

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:

  1. Proof of thorough, appropriate and adequate consultation procedures has not been provided.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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).

Local Plan – Observations on Infrastructure and related issues

Background

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.

Highways

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).

Welwyn Hatfield Local Plan – Housing Site Review

Background

We reported on the Welwyn Hatfield Local Plan Site Review on May 8th 2019

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.

Public Examination

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.

Welwyn Hatfield Local Plan – Site Review

SITES FOR AN EXTRA 4000 HOUSES HAVE TO BE FOUND.

The following Introductory paragraphs are taken from the WHBC website.

The Draft Local Plan sets out the long-term planning framework for the borough, identifying how much and what type of development is needed, where it should or should not be located and whether any key infrastructure needs to be delivered, such as primary and secondary schools. Once adopted, the Local Plan will shape the future of the borough for at least 15 years ahead.

The Draft Local Plan was submitted to the Secretary of State for examination in May 2017. An independent planning inspector, Melvyn Middleton BA(Econ), DipMgmt, MRTPI,  was appointed to consider the soundness of the submitted plan.

The draft plan contains sites for 12,000 homes but the housing need is currently acknowledged to be about 16,000 homes to 2033.

As the plan does not meet the objectively assessed need for housing in full, the Inspector has asked the council to investigate if there is any scope for additional housing sites to be identified. 

CALL FOR SITES 2019

Having taken the Inspector’s comments into account, the council decided to carry out a Call for (more) Sites.

The Call for Sites took place between 7th January and 4th February 2019. Over 140 sites were promoted for either housing, employment, mixed use or other forms of development.  

Consultation on the new sites that are being promoted by landholders has now started and instructions on how to respond are on the WHBC website.

Responses to this Consultation have to be with the WHBC by 5pm on 18th June 2019.

All the promoted sites across the Borough can be studied on their website.

WPAG ACTION PLAN

The Welwyn Planning & Amenity Group (WPAG) were members of the Local Plan Working Party set up by the Welwyn Parish Council (WPC) in 2017.

In the past 24 hours the WPAG has encouraged the WPC to re-call that Working Party to prepare a response to the new list of Promoted sites.

WELWYN PARISH – PROMOTED SITES

For your ease of access, we list below the new sites being promoted for Welwyn Parish, including other neighbouring sites which have the potential to significantly affect Welwyn, should they be selected.

We do not as yet express our views on these sites, which have to be studied in depth.

It is perhaps necessary to remind you that the sites previously accepted for the Draft Local Plan, are still in place – this Consultation is only for the additional sites that the WHBC are now looking at, which have been promoted as a result of the Call for Sites 2019.

WELWYN PARISH, AND NEARBY, PROMOTED SITES

To find the Promoted Sites, please go to the following links to the Borough website.

WELWYN – 2019 Promoted sites

RURAL NORTH – 2019 Promoted sites

OAKLANDS & MARDLEY HEATH – 2019 Promoted sites

DIGSWELL – 2019 Promoted sites

WOOLMER GREEN – 2019 Promoted sites

The Local Plan – a message for Welwyn Parish Council

The following is drafted by Sandra Kyriakides.

WPAG believes that in the context of further WHBC Green Belt Study – Stage 3 called for by the Inspector, (see the WHBC December Local Plan Newsletter) the WPC should reiterate to WHBC by the 20th December 2019 deadline, the major concerns we have for any development in Welwyn – particularly on Green Belt sites – other than those that have already been agreed.

We argue this case on the basis of: 

  • the total lack of infrastructure to support further development
  • regular peak hour gridlock at the Clock roundabout 
  • major redevelopment plans in Codicote (and further afield at Langley) which will increase traffic flow along the B656, which is already overcapacity at peak periods
  • the recent approval of a housing development at the former Entech site in Woolmer Green and traffic flows on the B197
  • lack of adequate medical provision for an increased population – Lister and QEII Hospitals are running at capacity – and 3-week waiting for GP appointments in local surgeries.

The Local Plan – Next Steps

The following draft has been prepared by Sandra Kyriakides

A report to Cabinet Planning and Parking Panel (CPPP) on Thursday (13 December) outlines how the council will seek to meet the objectively assessed need for 16,000 new homes in the borough to 2033.

Members are set to consider the next steps in the development of the borough’s Local Plan, including a further call for new sites.

It follows a request from the government’s planning inspector to carry out a further study assessing the borough’s green belt to find more land for housing. This work assessed the likely impact of development on the green belt, identifying that the borough’s housing need can only be met in full if the council considers land where development would have high impact.

The report to CPPP recommends a call for new sites in the hope that more will come forward in lower harm areas. These will be published for public comment and council officers will then assess sites for their suitability for development. A decision will then be made on which sites are added to the plan for consideration by the inspector.

Cllr Stephen Boulton, Executive Member for Planning, said: “For our plan to move forwards, we must prove to the inspector that we’ve explored all possible options to deliver the level of growth the borough needs for the future.”

“A call for sites in the New Year will give us the best chance of producing a sound plan, a plan that balances the protection of our green belt with the need to deliver the new homes, jobs, services and infrastructure our children and grandchildren will rely on.”

Members will also agree a new timetable, which would see a four week call for new sites in January 2019, followed by sites being published for six weeks of public comment in February and March. It is hoped the plan will now be adopted in spring 2020.

To read the full report, visit the council’s website.

The Local Plan – a Green Belt Update

The following post was drafted by Sandra Kyriakides

WHBC LOCAL PLAN EXAMINATION

The Local Plan for Welwyn Hatfield Borough was submitted for examination on 15 May 2017 and Melvyn Middleton BA(Econ) DipTP DipMgmt MRTPI was appointed by the Secretary of State to carry out an independent examination of our Local Plan (2013-2032).

The Inspector’s task is to consider the soundness of the submitted plan, based on the criteria set out in paragraph 182 of the National Planning Policy Framework (the Framework).

A series of Public Staged Hearings have been held by the Inspector with WHBC Officers, and he has received submissions from invited public representatives.

All the Staged Hearings are all available to be studied on the WHBC website.

Green Belt

Of particular interest at this time are the Inspector’s comments at the Stage 5 Hearing which addressed Green Belt issues.

To understand these better, we will first review current legislation regarding Green Belts.

Government policy on the Green Belt is set out in chapter 13 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).  Paragraph 133 states that ‘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’.

2.18 This is elaborated in NPPF paragraph 134, which states that Green Belts should serve five purposes, as set out below.

The purposes of Green Belt:

  • To check the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas.
  • To prevent neighbouring towns merging into one another.
  • To assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment.
  • To preserve the setting and special character of historic towns.
  • To assist in urban regeneration, by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban

Welwyn Hatfield’s case

The acuteness of the need for housing and the limited availability of land within urban areas for housing and employment have led WHBC to conclude that exceptional circumstances exist to review Green Belt boundaries to positively plan for the Borough’s development needs.  To deliver the most sustainable pattern of growth, development is to be directed to the urban areas and inset villages.  In addition, a new village ‘Symondshyde’ is proposed to the North West of Hatfield.

The Stage 5 Hearing

The Green Belt Review prepared and submitted by WHBC was discussed at the Stage 5 Hearing with the Government Inspector on 6th & 7th November 2018.  It can be viewed online on the WHBC website.  The document is 20 pages long; the points of interest that I picked up are mostly in questions 37 and 38.

The Council holds the view, and has therefore stated that exceptional circumstances exist only to meet the need for employment and housing growth and any change to the boundary will therefore be limited to the site allocations process.

The Inspector indicated at the round up session on the Green Belt Study that in his view the methodology was robust, and he has confirmed that he is not intending to have any further hearing sessions to discuss methodology.

As (public) representations have been made, stating that assessment of harm was not carried out on a consistent basis, the Inspector has asked that there should be consultation on the consistency of the scorings of the parcels and sub-division of parcels. The Inspector wants these matters to have been addressed before the village hearing sessions take place.

The deadline for comments is 5:00pm on Thursday 20 December.  Comments received will be posted on the WHBC website on the examination pages, estimated by end of January.