Local Plan now adopted but with major condition

December ’23 latest news

The Local Plan determines where new housing development should happen across the Borough.  This was eventually approved by the Inspector in September, and then adopted by Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council (WHBC) in October.  Potential sites in Digswell (“Dig 1” – behind New Road) and around Welwyn Cemetery and Singlers Marsh (“Wel 1,2 & 15”) are not included, though the sites accepted back in 2016 (eg at Vineyards on Codicote Road, and Sandyhurst opposite the BP station) will proceed without change.

However, the plan is 2,000 homes short of the target of 15,200 homes.  The Inspector only accepted the plan on the condition that the process for finding those extra sites should be started within 12 months of adoption, and conclude with a new plan in place by October 2026.

Therefore, we expect a whole new ‘call for sites’ process to begin in the new year, aiming to find those additional 2,000 homes from locations across the borough.  Some of the councillors believe the target may yet rise further than that – despite the Inspector’s target having been shown to be based on an over-estimate of the borough’s population.

We expect that land owners will re-submit many of the sites that were unsuccessful in the previous selection process.  Some of those sites (including Dig 1 and Wel 1/2/15) had actually been deemed suitable by WHBC’s planning officers, and it was only a councillor-level decision to keep them out of the plan.  With a different administration now in place following last May’s elections, a repeat of the councillor-level decision looks unlikely.

Dig 1 and Wel 1/2/15 will be particularly attractive to the officers, as they can each deliver a large number of extra homes.  The number of homes that can be built at Dig 1 has varied over the years, but we believe it would be in the region of 100-150.  The previous plans for Wel 1/2/15 proposed ~250 homes.  We expect these sites to be near the top of the planning officers’ list after the forthcoming call for sites process.

We fully recognise that Welwyn, Digswell, Oaklands and Mardley Heath need new homes.  However, we know that large-scale developments in this area cater mainly for established families moving into the area from elsewhere, rather than starter homes for local younger adults to move into.  Our opposition to these development sites is also driven by the fact that our villages are, to all intents and purposes, full: local and through roads are congested, local parking is full, local schools can no longer fulfil their sibling policies, GP appointments are scarce, and so on.

We already have several hundred homes being added in Knebworth and Codicote, much of which will deliver even more traffic onto roads around Welwyn and people into the schools and the GP surgeries.  Within the limitations of the river valley and the motorway, the road network is impossible to expand.  Nor can the schools be expanded on their current sites.  And the county council’s budget cannot cover expansion of either, even if it were possible.

Development of these sites would swamp the local infrastructure, and also damage the environment and character of our settlements.  The traffic generated would have a direct effect on the green spaces at the heart of our communities.  It is not hard to imagine the consequences of 500 extra cars joining the Link Road/Codicote Road junction in Welwyn, engines idling alongside Singlers Marsh while they wait to join the traffic jam from Codicote, crossing a new bridge across the Mimram and polluting its unique chalk stream water, reducing access to the only part of the river that the public can enjoy along its entire 12-mile length.

July ’23 update

On Tuesday night WHBC Council agreed to accept a revised Local Plan which includes sites in Brookmans Park and Cuffley, but excludes the major Welwyn sites around Singlers Marsh and Digswell. It still includes three small previously agreed sites in Welwyn at the Vineyards, Sandyhurst and School Lane.  The Inspector has previously agreed this revised approach as providing sufficient housing sites for the next ten years.

This Plan will now go to public consultation on these so-called ‘ main modifications’ ending in February, then back to the Inspector for final agreement. Assuming he ratifies it, it then has to be approved by WHBC Council who have the option to approve or reject it. They cannot amend it further. For more background information click here.

However there are Council elections in May, which means nothing can be agreed in the month before. At which point the balance of power may swing and the new Council may decide to start the whole process again, which would leave it open for developers  to put in planning applications for any sites (including Green Belt) with no agreed Local Plan to control them. Hopefully, this revised Plan will end up being adopted, but it would likely have to wait until Autumn 2023.

The issue

The snag about this is that a Local Plan should normally provide sufficient housing sites for the next 15 years, whereas this Plan would only cover the first 10 years. So in five or so years’ time the process of reviewing sites would begin all over again! Since WHBC Planners have previously suggested the sites around Singlers Marsh it is likely that they would be back in the firing line. One thing that could stop them is if Singlers Marsh has been registered as a Village Green by then, thus denying suitable access to allow the site to be developed or inhabited.