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.