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.

 

The Project Manager Reports -The Local Plan Threatens

LOCAL PLAN UPDATE:

 

The latest edition of the Welwyn Hatfield Local Plan Newsletter is now available.

Note that the current assessment of housing needs is now 16000, i.e. 3500 more than when the Plan was submitted!

WHBC will be looking at what bits of Green Belt they can now build on.

We need to object to any further development in the villages in the Northern part of the Borough – we are pretty much at capacity with what is already planned.

The Borough Council should be asked to look again at the huge amounts of space around Cuffley and Brookmans Park where development would be more suitable, nearer to London and transport links, and with the possibility to provide suitable infrastructure.

In Welwyn, our roads just cannot take any more traffic!  Our schools cannot take any more children; our doctors’ surgeries are full and the Lister Hospital A & E is running almost at capacity.   That is just the tip of the iceberg.

The local election has left the same group in control of WHBC, albeit only just.   They are responsible for the current situation and for finding solutions.  We will need to keep a very close eye on their proposals.

Sandra Kyriakides

Project Manager

Welwyn Planning & Amenity Group

 

May 2018

 

Local Plan – The Inspector is already on the Case

Following the submission of the Local Plan for independent examination on 15th May 2017, Melvyn Middleton has been appointed as the government planning inspector who will conduct the independent examination into the the soundness of the Local Plan.

And he has already started!

For details, and to learn more about  the process, please look at the Borough Councils Newsletter which follows:

Local Plan Newsletter September 2017 (1)