Local Plan – Welwyn Village latest

August 2021

The Local Plan is designed to allocate sufficient suitable sites for new housing development across the Borough for the next 20 years. ‘Sufficient’ is determined by the Objectively Assessed Housing Need (OAN) by an Inspector appointed by the Minister of Housing. The aim is to stop random and inappropriate development.

The process started more than 5 years ago and the Inspector set an OAN target of 16,000 new homes.

A few hours before the end of the 2016 consultation period, a developer suggested building 240 houses on the fields either side of Welwyn Cemetery by Singlers Marsh. To provide access he supported his proposal with a plan to build a new two-lane bridge and a widened Fulling Mill Lane across Singlers Marsh. For whatever reason, Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council (WHBC) chose not to post this on their website with other consultation papers. The Inspector found that there were insufficient sites and asked WHBC to think again.

See the attached plans.

In the 2018 consultation about more possible development sites around Welwyn, the effect on Singlers Marsh was never mentioned by WHBC in their public consultation material because in itself it was not a building site. The four development sites around the cemetery were consulted on and WHBC’s overwhelming reason for not proceeding with them was lack of access across the single-track bridge.

So bodies such as Herts Middx Wildlife Trust, CPRE and Affinity Water who are concerned about Singlers Marsh were not consulted.

In 2020 the WHBC Councillors agreed to put forward a revised plan of 13,200 homes and did not include the Singlers Marsh sites.

The Inspector then held a detailed review of all the sites and the OAN, which WPC and WPAG representatives attended. His conclusion, just published is that the OAN should be reduced to

15,200 homes but there is no reason not to include the Singlers Marsh sites. However it is ‘advice’ not ‘mandatory’.

So where does that leave us?

a/ WHBC now has a Conservative majority. They could agree to meet the 15,200 target and come to a decision amongst themselves about where (politically?) would the extra housing be least damaging.

b/ Reject the Inspector’s advice on the OAN and submit another plan which would then be referred to the Minister of Housing, Robert Jenrick, for a decision. (Fortunately our own MP, Grant Shapps, is also in the Cabinet.)

Some of the issues:

a/ Fairness

The Inspector wanted all areas of the Borough to take a proportionate number of houses.

In the last 20 years Welwyn Village has grown by a third (WHBC Tax Returns).

Compared to other villages over the last 5 years, Welwyn Village has built 9 times its share of new homes compared to the 2011 Census and Welwyn Parish, as a whole, 5 times it share.

Area                              Census Homes            New homes & commitments since 2015    

WHBC                              43,613                   %                     609                  %

Welwyn Village              1495                       3.4 %                 185                  30.4 %                  

Digswell                         626                       1.4 %                     24    3.9 %

Oaklands & Mardley       1185                       2.7 %                     30                   4.9 %                    

Welwyn Parish                                              7.6 %                    192                 39.2 %

Welham Green                 1277                       2.9 %                    12                   2.0 %                     

Cuffley                              1755                       4.0 %                    75                    12.8 %                

Brookmans Park               1453                       3.3 %                    97                    15.9 %  

(Source: WHBC Proportional Distribution Report June 2021)

Is that a proportionate distribution?

b/ Reducing commuter traffic

To reduce commuter traffic, the Inspector was keen that there should be good public transport.

Welham Green, Cuffley and Brookmans Park all have railway stations, Welwyn Village does not.

And despite one of the criteria for a new site being within 400m of a bus stop, the distance to a bus stop from the nearest Welwyn site is 1km.

c/Traffic congestion

There will be extra traffic congestion at the Codicote Road, Link Road, A1M junction. The developer has a plan to remove the roundabout and create two slip roads for turning traffic into and out of the widened Fulling Mill Lane. The 400+ cars that the new development will have plus the planned developments of 50 hew homes at Vineyards and 315 new homes in Codicote will create an even bigger traffic jam. Furthermore no consideration was given to traffic from the Cemetery sites going towards Wheathampstead along the single track Kimpton Road (It is in North Herts DC not WHBC)

d/ Damage to Singlers Marsh

The developers plan is to carve off the eastern part of Singlers Marsh to build a new dual lane bridge upstream of the existing one and widen Fulling Mill Lane around to the Kimpton Road junction. WHBC own Singlers Marsh and would receive monies for selling it. There is written evidence that a ‘nod’ was given to this sale by WHBC some time ago, but WHBC deny this.

Singlers Marsh is a recognised Local Nature Reserve and so will lose boundary trees and part of the Mimram riverbank. This is the only publicly accessible stretch of the Mimram and it will be reduced by 25%. The Mimram is a rare chalk stream, one of only 220 in the world, and they are particularly susceptible to pollution, including road run-off from rain, fuel, rubber etc. The Inspector said that this would be dealt with by drain filtration without any supporting evidence and against current experience.

e/ How soon?

 There is a need to build houses sooner rather than all later. There has been no consultation about the effect on Singlers Marsh and this will take time. HMWT and CPRE have said they will object. Affinity Water still extract drinking water from the aquifer beneath Singlers Marsh and the risk needs to be assessed. WHBC initially said there had been a consultation but after 12 months of FOI requests, conceded the head of Planning had ‘misspoke’

There is a statutory requirement to consult over this, which will take time.

Furthermore there is application going through HCC to grant Singlers Marsh Village Green status. See link. This would protect it from future developments. Since the Local Plan did not include Singlers Marsh at the time there was no legal objection. There is now some debate whether this objection can be created retrospectively. Which again will take time.

f/ Effect on Welwyn Village

Welwyn Village has a unique atmosphere. Grant Shapps says it is his favourite village. Another 240 homes or 500+ people will be another 12.5% increase on top of the previous 33%. With no new school nor doctors’ surgery. The Surgery response is that they can add extra locums! The school have been told increase the annual intake, but there is not space without changing the nature of the school. The A1M Smart Motorway scheme which was supposed to resolve the peak hour traffic problems has been put on hold while the Smart Motorway programme is reviewed. And Welwyn loses’ part of it’s Green Belt. So that the cemetery view will now be in the middle of a housing estate. The current green view towards Ayot Green will just be houses. And Singlers Marsh, home of the Welwyn Festival, will be reduced and the Duck Race will be no more – or finish under the new bridge!

g/ Timing

The Inspector is hoped to resolved the Plan by September. WHBC have pushed back on this. But it is a ‘live’ issue for Councillors and WHBC right now. .

What can you do?

The Amersham & Chesham bye-election results have reminded all politicians that local housing planning is a big, contentious issue for their electors.

Also all the candidates in the recent Council bye-election signed a pledge to protect Singlers Marsh from development. See their agreement at https://www.wpag.org.uk/singlers-marsh-action-group/.

Write/email your local representatives to ask them to live up to their promise.

Their email addresses are:

Tony Kingsbury  (Leader of Conservatives)           

Paul Smith  (Conservative councillor)                      

Sunny Thusu (Conservative councillor)                   

Penny Berrigton (Green Candidate)                                                     

Alan Reimer (LibDem candidate)                              

Daniel Carlen (labour candidate)                              

Write/email our MP, Grant Shapps to use his influence to protect Welwyn Village

Thank you. Now is the time to make your views known.