Shredded Wheat Redevelopment

December 2018: The redevelopment of the Shredded Wheat site moved a step closer on the 7th December when the developers plans were approved, the key details were stated in this press release from WHBC:

“Members of the council’s Development Management committee resolved to approve fresh plans for the former Shredded Wheat site last night (Thursday 6 December).The committee voted overwhelmingly in favour of the proposals, which will transform the disused factory site into 1,454 new homes, community facilities, leisure, retail and office space. An £8m infrastructure fund from the developer will upgrade transport links and contribute £5.8m towards a new primary school in Peartree. This also includes a £750k contribution to support the upgrade of the rail bridge link to Welwyn Garden City train station. Members expressed a degree of concern on the level of parking, although many ultimately felt that the ratio of 0.7 per unit is sufficient for a development well connected to public transport links. Car club sharing schemes will also help support flexible car usage arrangements. Expensive listed building and land decontamination work is needed to develop the site, with rigorous viability tests concluding that it can only deliver affordable homes with grant funding from outside agencies. This grant funding will support the delivery of 414 affordable homes (31% of the total development) with a mix of affordable rent, social rent and tenures supporting home ownership”.

The council committee meeting on December 6th was webcast and can be watched again, look for item 7 on the right of the following webpage:

https://welhat.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/376861

Owners ZM have updated their website about it here:  https://thewheatquarter.co.uk/council-approves-transformative-plans-for-wheat-quarter/

The blueprint for the redevelopment of this iconic site has always been the Supplementary Planning Document from our Council (available here: http://www.welhat.gov.uk/CHttpHandler.ashx?id=1079&p=0)   This was barely mentioned at all at the decision meeting. Although this document is now out of date in some areas (and should have been updated to reflect the NPPF etc) the requirements and guidance that WHBC set out in it have not changed. We have perused that again now,  below are some of the key points that don’t seem to have been met in this now consented plan.
First though a couple of pictures from ZM’s plan. The first shows the Broadwater Road frontage (up to nine storeys) and across the rear of the site and the Howard Centre:
This architects impression from ZM shows the site, when built, from above. You can see the new collection of tower blocks behind the railway line:
 
Below are some extracts from the Council’s Supplementary Planning Document, with some key phrases in bold and our comment in italics:
“Balanced approach to car parking” – Note: There is an average 0.7 parking spaces per flat across the development.
“The replacement/enhancement of the pedestrian footbridge across the railway to the town centre is a key priority and will assist in the integration of this site”
Note: The footbridge will not now be replaced or enhanced, the current bridge will be refurbished only, even this happening is not a condition of the development going ahead.
“Sustainable resource management: Grid form Promote a site wide CHP Hierarchy of routes Provide an on site recycling centre”   – there is no site wide CHP.
“Primarily non-residential uses should line the rail tracks; The arrangement of residential and community uses should support the establishment of a mixed and sustainable community: and, The reflection of garden city principles at a higher density of urban living through a formal layout, interspersed with high quality open land and landscaping.”  – there are few non-residential uses, the density of housing does not really concur with garden city principles.
“The factory silos are the tallest structures on the site and should remain as a landmark feature with no competing development in the local context. The buildings around the factory are an appropriate height and should inform the height of any new development around the silos. Building heights should be reduced towards the southern end of the site to respond to existing surrounding properties. Development along the railway lines should be managed to provide a level of screening whilst maintaining views to the silos as well as permeability through the site. Due to increased activity along Broadwater Road, there is an opportunity to increase building heights and step back development on this part of the site to create a tree-lined avenue that will form the main route through the area”.  – Most of the above does not appear to be have been met within the consented scheme.
“The site as a whole should provide for a mix of dwelling size and types although houses should be primarily located in the southern half of the site, where building heights will be lower. 5.27 All residential units should have access to individual or communal private outdoor space. This space should be attractive, functional and appropriate in size for the estimated number of inhabitants of the unit”.  – The development is now all flats, not houses, and without gardens.
“Given the context of the listed buildings, it is generally considered that buildings on the site should not be more than 5 storeys in height. Furthermore, where new build development on the site is proposing development of 5 storeys (or more) the resulting scheme will be assessed with regards to both the contribution that such height could bring and any adverse impacts”.  – Many of the blocks are eight or nine storeys high.
“Capacity of the Highway Junction: It should be noted that the Broadwater Road/ Bridge Road junction to the north of the site is currently operating at capacity and will need to be upgraded to accommodate the growth in traffic arising from the development of this site. The junction at Bridge Road East/ Broadwater Road is also one of the key access points for bus services to and from Welwyn Garden City town centre, and, as such, will need to include bus priority measures as part of the upgrading, in order to accommodate future traffic growth”.
– Note: There are increasing jams throughout the day now at this junction, their plans show one new roundabout where the traffic lights are now.
Despite the now consented plan apparently not meeting much of the brief as set out in the SPD it has been approved anyway. This was a golden, probably once in a lifetime, opportunity to aesthetically and practically link the two halves of the town, doing much to dilute notional barrier between the two halves. This opportunity has been lost in our view, it should have been more ambitious and should have met more of the requirements set out in the SPD. A new and wider footbridge would have made a big difference to the development but this won’t be happening.
It appears there is only provision for 50 flats for rent at a social rent, and then only for over 55’s in a form of sheltered housing. That equates to only 3.75% of the total build. The Council’s housing register currently has around 3,000 people on it, for comparison.
The Society is pleased the site redevelopment will finally get going, however we feel the consented plan should have addressed some of the shortcomings we and others have identified. This development will see a large urbanisation of this part of the town, that will no doubt bring its own challenges as well as advantages. It doesn’t appear to be very ‘Garden City’ inspired or designed to us, however it is what WHBC has been willing to accept, for good or ill. Hopefully the positives will outweigh the negatives, time will tell of course.
You can read the full report to Cabinet at the following link, from section 11.2 you can also read a summary of the developers proposed financial (S1.06) contributions to various local initiatives near the bottom of this document:
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