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).

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