Local Plan & 2021 Inspector’s Report

The Local Plan, created by Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council (WHBC), 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, when the Inspector set an OAN target of 16,000 new homes.

The attached PDF shows the areas in the Parish which were considered.

In January 2020 WHBC put forward a plan for 13,200 houses which excluded most of the possible developments in Welwyn, Digswell, Oaklands and Mardley Heath. See attached map.

However, the Inspector was concerned that there were insufficient houses and that the new building should be spread ‘proportionately’ across the Borough.

He then held a series of hearings to examine each site which had been included or even proposed but not included. At this point, the sites in the Parish were reconsidered.

The Inspector submitted his final recommendations in May 2021. He reduced the OAN to 15,200 but concluded that all the sites should be reconsidered.

Attached: Oaklands Paras 36-41, Welwyn Paras 42-50 and Digswell Paras 51-59. He was particular to point out that Welwyn Parish had not justified why there should be no new building.

However, since this planning process has started Welwyn Parish has taken 5 times its ‘fair share’ of new homes. WHBC published a Proportional Distribution Report showing the population levels from the last available census and new homes completed or committed since 2015, which shows the following:

                                                Census population           Share of new and committed houses

Welwyn                                              3.43%                                    30.4%

Digswell                                               1.44%                                    3.94%

Oaklands & Mardley Heath          2.7%                                      4.93%

Total Parish                                        7.59%                                    39.27%

So where does that leave us?

Despite Boris Johnson’s party conference speech extolling development on greenfield sites, the Planning Inspector is pushing for a 15,200 new housing total.

WHBC Planning Department are believed to be preparing three options to be discussed at the January Planning Committee meeting on 13th January, with their recommendation going to the full Council in February.

The Conservatives now hold a majority in the Council. So in addition to planning parameter considerations, no doubt there will be an element of where will development be less damaging politically.