The following Precis is for the benefit of members of the Welwyn Planning & Amenity Group, and readers generally, who do not perhaps have a detailed understanding of the planning process which led to the production of the Welwyn Hatfield Consultation Document.
Of necessity, this precis omits technical details and evidence which support the broader statements that have been made, and we apologise if errors have crept in, or if there are major omissions.
We therefore strongly recommend that for a full understanding of the Consultation Document, readers should go to the Borough website and, once Registered, access all sections online.
PART 1 STRATEGIC POLICIES
Emerging Core Strategy
Strategic Policies were set out in the Emerging Core Strategy following consultation between November 2012 and January 2013, to which WPAG actively contributed.
Those earlier Strategic Policies now form the basis for the Local Plan for Welwyn Hatfield. The council has reviewed its evidence, particularly on how much growth has to be accommodated in the borough, and in what proportion that growth should be distributed across the borough.
The Local Plan now identifies where major changes are needed to earlier Strategic Policies and sets out general criteria for assessing planning applications.
Meeting the Needs for Growth (Emerging Core Strategy Policy CS2)
The Local Plan Consultation Document reports that Policy CS2 will be amended to set an overall housing target for the plan period. At the current time the evidence indicates that this will be below the Objective Assessment of Need (OAN) as insufficient suitable and achievable opportunities have come forward to date. This will be reviewed following this (current) Consultation. As part of the overall housing target 68 new Gypsy and Traveller pitches will be required.
The Consultation Document also reports that in addition to the overall housing target, the policy will be amended to set a further target for 620 additional bed-spaces in care home (Class C2) for elderly persons accommodation between 2011 and 2031.
Account has been taken of the latest demographic projections, the needs of the local economy and recently published best practice guidelines. Levels of growth (for the Plan period 2011-2031), covering housing, employment and retail have to be reviewed to take account of the latest evidence of the economy and the need for housing.
Evidence supporting the earlier target of 7200 new dwellings is now out of date and a new Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) has been carried out. This concluded that the full, objectively assessed, need for housing in the borough is in the region of 625 dwellings per annum. equivalent to 12,500 dwellings between 2011 and 2031, and this is now the borough housing target.
2. Employment and Job Growth
A new Economy Study has concluded that the council’s objectively assessed need for housing is predicated on achieving a net increase of 12000 jobs in the borough from 2013 to 2031 whilst maintaining a supply of approximately 308 hectares of employment land to provide a range of job opportunities.
The Local Plan also addresses other issues regarding the right type of employment land to meet future needs.
Settlement Strategy (Emerging Core Strategy Policy CS3)
The Emerging Core Strategy focussed the majority of growth (over 92% of future housing growth) in and around Hatfield and Welwyn Garden City, with the remainder distributed between the borough’s ‘large excluded villages’ (which includes Welwyn), and the rest of the borough, with no Green Belt boundary changes proposed around villages.
Following a Sustainability Appraisal the council now proposes a more proportionate and more dispersed pattern of growth to meet the housing needs of the borough.
Table 1 (of the Settlement Strategy) identifies the Objective Assessment of Need for Housing (OAN) between 2011 and 2031 based on the number of existing households in each settlement, which results in the following totals for Welwyn Parish.
Oaklands & Mardley Heath 340
N.B. The OAN total for the borough stands at 12,500, whereas the Total Potential Capacity falls short at 10,152
Green Belt and Safeguarded Land (Emerging Core Policy CS4)
Arising from changes to Policy CS3 above, Policy CS4 needs to be amended following the more dispersed approach to distribution growth around the borough. The extent and locations of these changes will depend on which sites are chosen for development in the Green Belt.
Movement Strategy (Emerging Core Policy CS1)
The council propose to replace Policy CS19 with a new Strategic policy on Strategic Green Infrastructure.
Proposals for the development of strategic sites would be required, to include access strategies, setting out how these proposals would be delivered. Green Travel Plans and transport assessments will also be relevant for smaller schemes which will also have an impact on the highway network.
The Emerging Core Strategy set out visions for both Welwyn Garden City and Hatfield and the Local Plan sets out the options for sites which will be required to deliver the strategy for both towns, and will review the need to amend the visions depending on the outcome of the Consultation and any further evidence gathered.
Villages and Rural Areas (Emerging Core Policy CS20)
Consequent to changes to the approach to distributing growth around the borough, changes will need to be made to this Policy specific to those changes, but otherwise the intention of the Policy will remain.
PART 2 SITES
Approach to Site Selection
N.B. It should be noted that a large number of potential sites have been assessed by the council for their suitability and achievability, including the impact on the purposes of the Green Belt and its boundaries.
The housing sites considered by the council to be more favourable for development are set out in Part 2 of the Consultation Document. These sites have been identified as the best development options for inclusion in the Local Plan.
Some other sites were assessed as being finely balanced mainly (but not always) because of their impact on the Green Belt, and are placed in the Appendix to the Consultation Document. The Appendix identifies and summarises the reason for the assessment.
Before focusing on proposed housing development in Welwyn itself, it is worth having a quick look at Section 9 of the Consultation Document which explains the borough’s responsibility to:
- identify sites that meet the need for development, and
- the need to focus on housing, employment and retail
- the need to protect, (by designation), land which has high environmental value.
It is also important to appreciate that the council has to demonstrate through its evidence that it has made a robust assessment of the sources of supply of housing land which will come forward to meet its housing target.
For the purpose of the Local Plan it has been determined that Sites which are poorly connected to an urban settlement boundary, or result in the loss of a wildlife site or a historic asset, or the development of a site which has a high risk of flooding have already been ruled out as unsuitable.
(For a fuller understanding of all the issues you are advised to go to the specific pages which address Housing on the WHBC website).
The Local Plan has to ensure that there is sufficient land available for employment uses, and to ensure that it is appropriate for those uses.
Local Plans have to identify sufficient land to meet the need for town centre use over the Plan period, and to define primary and mixed use shopping frontages within designated centres so that their vitality and viability can be supported.
Local neighbourhood or village centres (which includes Welwyn) which meet day to day needs for convenience shopping and other services also need to be supported as they perform an important community function.
Urban Open Land
The Local Plan will generally protect open spaces as they lay an important role in protecting the health and well-being of communities.
The Emerging Core Strategy indicated that the approach to designation and protection of wildlife sites set out in the (earlier) District Plan would continue.
Within the borough there are 191 locally identified wildlife sites, 5 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), and 9 Local Nature Reserves. The borough also has part of a Special Conservation Area (SAC) which is a European designation.
The remainder of the Consultation Document addresses specific sites within parts of the borough.
For a detailed analysis of Local sites you are recommended to go to Section 14 of the Consultation Document.
An analysis of the impact of the new Local Plan (post Consultation) on the Parish of Welwyn, will soon be posted on this website. Please watch this space.