Diagram showing proposed areas for development
We all have a chance to have a say on the future of our borough. To help define how it may develop over the next 15 years, following on from the adoption of the Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council’s Core Strategy. This strategy is due to come into force in 2014 and now is our chance to pass comment on it.
In the council’s own words, here’s what the strategy will cover:
The Core Strategy will set out the council’s vision, objectives and strategy for how Welwyn Hatfield will develop between now and 2029.
The Core Strategy will address key strategic matters such as:
- New Housing:the location of new homes up to 2029
- Green Belt: where land will be required for growth New jobs: where new jobs should go and the types of job we want to attract Town Centres: supporting Hatfield and Welwyn Garden City
- Affordable housing
- Key infrastructure
- The environment and climate change
- Green Space
The Emerging Core Strategy sets out our preferred strategy for the borough addressing all of the matters above.
The draft proposal of the strategy is out now, and we residents have an opportunity to comment on it until January 31st 2013.
A key influence on this strategy is the Localism Act. This act is supposed to hand planning decisions back to local people. In theory we residents have more powers than ever before to contribute to the decision making process and have a genuine influence on the outcomes. This Core Strategy proposal will be a good test of whether the Localism Act does what it says on the tin, but only if we stand up and exercise the new rights it affords us. A brief summary of the act is shown below
The Localism Act sets out a series of measures with the potential to achieve a substantial and lasting shift in power away from central government and towards local people. They include: new freedoms and flexibilities for local government; new rights and powers for communities and individuals; reform to make the planning system more democratic and more effective, and reform to ensure that decisions about housing are taken locally.
This is an extract from a very straightforward guide to the act which can be read in full here.
The process for implementing the Core Strategy looks like this:
WHBC has a duty to consult residents and ask for feedback on what will go into the final adopted version. To that end an online consultation is now open, and printed materials are available from the council for those that are not online. With all the talk about devolving power away from central government and back to local authorities via legislation such as the Localism Bill this consultation should represent a genuine opportunity for our collective voice to be heard, and acted upon. Whether it actually does or not remains to be seen of course. Those following events with the New Barnfield Incinerator won’t have much faith in the devolution of decision making away from central government. The wishes of over 6,000 local objectors have been ignored by a handful of County Councillors who don’t even live in the area affected. Shame on them.
However, the Core Strategy is a different animal and a different process. The council must produce a Statement of Community Involvement that explains the ways and means the local and business communities are able to influence and have a say in what goes into the Core Strategy. Some pertinent extracts from this statement document are pasted below:
The issue of developing greenfield sites for new housing developments will probably be the most controversial part of the strategy development process. We know that there is a need for more housing, but what kind of housing and where? Most importantly, how many new homes will be enough?
Previously, the numbers of new homes to be built was set from above. The old system of Regional Spatial Strategies meant that numbers were set centrally for the East of England and we had virtually no say in the matter. As I recall, our Borough only had one representative on the East of England Regional Assembly panel so was unlikely to have much influence. At least now there is an opportunity for all of us to comment on the housing proposals; both their quantity and location. The numbers of new houses to be built in the borough has been set, but where they will go and how many go to each identified location can be commented on by all of us. Whether our comments or objections will make any difference is an open question. If it comes down to votes on the council planning committee then we cannot assume that local democracy and the will of the people will triumph. Many valid concerns about the robustness of our local democracy have been aired in the local press in recent years.
The other major change is the new NPPF or National Policy Planning Framework. This new bill tore up much of the old planning regulation which was seen by government as being anti-economic growth. This post recession framework is aimed at pushing through more planning and development proposals in the hope that it will add a few percentage points to our national growth figures (GDP/GNI). It also makes development projects more attractive to large private developers as they have fewer hoops to jump though, and so can save money. The NPPF document can be seen here.
The biggest area of concern about the proposed plan relates to housing. Much of our borough lies within the London Metropolitan Green Belt. The champions of green belts since their inception is the Town & Country Planning Asscociation. They are now very concerned that this government sees green belts as a block to economic growth, and as such they could be built over, to some extent. You can read more about the issue here.
Earlier this year we were told that planning laws would be relaxed to allow more people to build home extensions without needing permission, in a bid to generate economic growth. We have since been told by the PM:
“This country is in the economic equivalent of war today – and we need the same spirit. We need to forget about crossing every ‘t’ and dotting every ‘i’ and we need to throw everything we’ve got at winning in this global race.”
More on this here. This means that any arguments against developing green belt land are likely get short shrift if they are progressed up through the echelons of the current coalition.
Both Welwyn Garden City and Hatfield were designated New Towns soon after WW2. Since then they have both grown considerably. The Core Strategy plan for 3,000 new homes, located mainly in two big clusters, shows 2,000 of them on the northern edge of Hatfield and 700 on the eastern edge of WGC. The Hatfield development sits within green belt land, and the WGC development straddles it.
An extract from the Core Strategy document is shown below:
The Emerging Core Strategy proposes a housing requirement of 7,200 new homes, 6,800 of which are to be provided for within Welwyn Hatfield, over the period 2011 to 2029. It is estimated that around 3000 of these new homes could be delivered from capacity on sites within existing defined urban areas (urban capacity) together with other sites outside urban areas that already benefit from planning permission. Due to the limited known availability of suitable sites within existing urban areas, in order to plan for the housing target, an exceptional review of Green Belt boundaries will need to take place and land will need to be released from areas outside existing urban areas.
It is widely accepted that demand for more housing exists. As the population of our area rises and the makeup of family unit changes it is inevitable that more housing will be needed. The question is what kind of housing will be built, and will it be affordable to those most in need of a home? Likewise, bad planning decisions in the past show that it’s very easy to build new developments that within a few years nobody will actually want to live in. Places that by their very design lessen people’s quality of life. High density, low cost homes may not be appropriate, but then 5 bed executive style homes will not lower the waiting list for social housing. It’s a tough call to make.
The chart below from 2010 shows how far demand for social housing outstrips supply:
WHBC Housing needs - supply and demand.
The chart above is taken from a Local Investment Plan document from WHBC which can be read in full here.
It seems evident that more housing is needed, but very big questions remain about what kind of housing it should be, and most importantly, where it should be. A justification for the current total number of 7,200 would be nice to see, considering that the numbers talked about over the last few years have drifted between five and fifteen thousand.
Much more will be written on this website about the Core Strategy and its implications. Word from senior council officers is that the most important thing local people can do is add their comments to the consultation which is now running. Doing this, we are advised, is far more effective than a petition, which on its own carries far less weight than individual objections lodged through the official consultation process. There is a local campaign group that has emerged in objection to the Panshanger housing proposal, they are here, and here. More power to their elbow, however, the primary action to be taken is to comment on the consultation. That is the best way to ensure local community involvement in these very big decisions about the future of our area. If you know of groups relating to the Hatfield proposals please let this site know.
It is clear from what was said at the recent roadshows by the council about this consultation that any objections or calls for changes of approach must be tightly focussed and grounded in fact and evidence. Arguments about where the housing should go are valid, but more on grounds of whether it can be proved that there will be enough existing or new infrastructure to support them, or whether they will negatively impact existing nearby areas. For example, merely claiming that new houses should not be built because they might spoil the view or would reduce current house values will not be viewed as a strong argument against the planned development.
The links to the consultation are here:
All the key documents in this consultation should be available on the WHBC website, but as they are not too easy to find you can download them below:
- The main consultation entry page – you will need to register and log in first.
- List of all the different documents to be commented on.
- Statement of Community Involvement document.
- List of where you can view paper documents about the strategy.
- Emerging Core Strategy
- Statement of Community Involvement
- Land for Housing Outside Urban Areas
- Housing Background Paper Part 2
- Housing Background Paper Part 1
Sustainability report and appendices:
- Sustainability report
- Appendix A1
- Appendix A2
- Appendix A3
- Appendix A4
More will follow on this subject.