BioPark Redevelopment Public Inquiry Commences 12 July 2022

 

The BioPark Developer appealed against the DMC’s rejection of their proposal for developing the BioPark site. As a result there will be a Public Inquiry held from 12 July to 22 July 2022, scheduled to last for 9 days.

The Society has opted to become a Rule 6 Party at the Inquiry.  This means that we can actively participate in the Inquiry. We can see documents, submit statements and interrogate and be questioned by the developers and their barrister.  Keep the G in WGC and the Heritage Trust have decided to set up a separate Rule 6 party group relying on an external consultant..

The Society has an experienced planning advocate, William Walton together with witnesses Dr Susan Parham  (Garden City principles), Justin Gardner (Housing mix & Affordable Housing); Cllr Russ Platt (Car Parking &  Transport); plus Society members Richmond Bauer (Architecture) and Clive Wilson (The Planning Balance).  The Society is raising funds to pay our experts please contact us if you feel that they add value to the defence.

Please make time to visit the Public Inquiry (not just the 1st day) and mail them in advance to planningappeals@welhat.gov.uk     It is important that the Inspector appreciates the depth of feeling from the community.

The Council Appeals site is here click <   and the Appeal documents are here < click <  The Developer has submitted a lot of documents if you only read one then read the Heritage & Townscape.

 

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The Poster Booths Support Ukraine

On 26th February 2022 WGC Society member Michal Siewniak organised a “Solidarity with Ukraine” event in the town centre. Michal is Polish, and has proved himself to be a tireless community worker. Michal concluded his speech with:

“Sometimes we simply have to be in the moment with fellow human beings who suffer. The global community must continue to demonstrate that we oppose the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Most of us are not Ukrainians but we want to stand with Ukraine, side by side.”

Many Society members attended this rally and concurred with these sentiments.

There was a moving moment at the event when the Ukrainians present treated the gathering to a rendition of their National Anthem.

Since then a Ukraine information panel has appeared on the town centre Poster Booths. This informs us how we can help Ukraine and its people. The Booths are currently dedicated to the support of the Ukrainian Republic and its brave people.

 

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Save WGC Community Protest on 23rd April 2022

Community Protest – Make Your Feelings Known

Here’s an important date for your diary – Saturday 23rd April, 1:45pm-3:15pm.

Please come along to the “Save WGC Community Protest” meeting on the Campus at 1:45pm. From there concerned citizens will march to Ebenezer Howard’s statue and then on to the Howard Centre.

This is a family-friendly protest for residents of WGC to express their concerns about our wonderful Welwyn Garden City’s transformation into Welwyn Concrete City. We want to show Councillors that we are not impressed with the prospect of high rise hell along Broadwater Road and beyond, and with their failure to protect our town’s Garden City values.

Please come along – and if you can, wear something green!

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Welwyn “Garden” City Hangs in the Balance – Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place

The following article was recently submitted by a member. It has also been sent to MP Grant Shapps and Housing Minister Stuart Andrew, for comment:

Welwyn Garden City is about to substantially grow and change. The new
planning system and Localism Act to accompany it came in about a decade ago.
This underpinned the requirement for Local Authorities everywhere to get on
with building more homes, to make up for decades of under investment in
housing. As a result of this the plans now being advanced by the council and
developers will likely see a large increase in housing densities and a dilution of
the garden city ethos. Developers often use the garden city idea as a selling
point, but in reality what they propose to build is no different to what they
would build anywhere else. The town motto of “By wisdom and design” appears
to have been forgotten.

Welwyn Garden City coat of arms

The WGC coat of arms – granted in 1958

A potted history…

The Right to Buy scheme for local authority housing was introduced in 1980.
This meant that in a town like ours, with a large local authority housing stock,
the number of affordable homes for rent would be quickly depleted as they were
bought by sitting tenants. To compound matters, money raised from these
sales was not allowed to be ploughed back into building replacement council
properties for rent; a large part of the reason for our shortage of affordable
homes now.

The solution being touted about a decade ago was to put planning back into the
hands of local communities; let them decide what new housing should be built
in their area, rather than decisions on housing numbers and location being
made centrally. This was a good sound bite but it hasn’t actually happened.

What went wrong?

The government mandated Local Plan is the blueprint that sets out exactly how
many new homes will be built, what type of homes, and where they will be
located, for the next 15 years. This plan has now been in development for over
a decade.

The council’s first document about it said the plan would be finalised and
adopted by winter 2014. It’s now spring 2022 and there’s still no end date in
sight. How come?

Because it’s become a protracted bun fight! We live in a mixed and varied
borough; a garden city, a new town, numerous small semi-rural villages and
several well-heeled larger villages in the London commuter belt. We also have a
stately home (Hatfield House) that has always played a significant role in local
development. Many of these players are now on opposing sides in the bun fight,
with some of them wielding bigger, stickier buns than others. From the outset,
the council’s planning department, in conjunction with their elected leadership,
has opted to build the bulk of the new homes in and close to Welwyn Garden City
and Hatfield. This was very well received in the villages who didn’t want many new
homes on their patch.

It’s a fact that the elected leadership within the council has long been
disproportionately represented by those village areas. Committee chairmen,
leaders, and influential others have tended to hail from those leafy and affluent
areas. The largest town in the borough, Welwyn Garden City, has sadly never
had the clout or influence of the villages. Welwyn Garden City has a few
councillors from the leading party who will, when pressed hard enough, speak
up at meetings, but they then invariably go on to vote against the town’s best
interests by simply voting for what their leadership wants instead. Politics, even
local politics, is a messy business. The town has seen off several threats from
inappropriate planning applications in recent years. Not because the council and
its elected members shut them down, but because local people banded together
and shouted loud enough to finally be heard.

Planning decisions are not ultimately local…

The problem now is the government appointed Planning Inspector. As previously
mentioned housing decisions were apparently to be made locally and no longer
nationally. The reality is that the Inspector calls the shots. He decides, on behalf
of central government, what housing will go where and how much. The notion
of putting development back in the hands of local communities seems to have
evaporated. He is the adjudicator of the bun fight; he fires the starting pistol
and watches the custard fly. He then decides if any side can win, and if so
endorses their win, to declare victory and a Local Plan worthy of adoption. The
same is happening around the country; local councils with their hands tied are
increasingly opposing the government’s planning policies. Some have withdrawn
their own Local Plans as they want to do better for their residents, Basildon council
is a good example, see their recent letter by clicking here.

After ten years of bun fight there is no clear victor. Even worse, the total
number of homes the government’s own nebulous housing algorithm tells him
must be built locally has risen. He insists that it must now be 15,200, a rise of
several thousand since the process began all those years ago. Again, none of
this is originating from wishes of the local community.

Adding to the loss of power locally is the key wording in the national planning
policy. It states that there must be a presumption in favour of sustainable
development. However, what makes a development sustainable is not what you
might think. It’s a technical definition which delivers power into the hands of
developers, they can decide what is sustainable in large part. If an area, such
as ours for example, doesn’t have an adopted Local Plan, a developer can then
apply to build whatever they want. Local Plans were designed to be the tool to
protect an area from inappropriate development. If the local council couldn’t get
its act together and produce a Local Plan, which the Inspector approved of,
existing residents can suffer as developers can then pile in and stack ‘em high,
knowing the council has little power to oppose.

Right here, right now…

The Inspector has not found any version of the council’s draft Local Plan to be
sound. The council has only officially submitted a draft plan for review once,
back on the 15th May 2017. The vast majority of councils nationally now have an
adopted Local Plan in place. Current government data suggests that Welwyn
Hatfield is the council with the oldest outstanding Local Plan in the country. That
is to say it appears that no other council submitted its plan for examination
longer ago than ours did – which hasn’t already had it approved and adopted.
You can see the data here.

At his most recent review the Inspector told the council it must include at least
15,200 homes, and that some of the housing sites in the leafier villages should
come forward to be included, as he found many of those sites to be sound for
development. Unhappy at the continuing slow progress by the council he wrote
to them late 2021 with a deadline for delivering him a new plan for the 15,200.
Following that there was a full council meeting on the 27th January 2022. In
advance of that meeting the elected leadership decided it wouldn’t play ball by
including those homes found sound in the leafy villages, despite the Inspector’s
directions. It’s worth remembering, as mentioned earlier, where the leading
elected members live.

As is usual the elected leadership, with the party majority of councillors, got its
way at the full meeting vote on the 27th January, despite many well argued and
impassioned points by a swathe of opposition members the leadership won the
vote 25 to 13. The opposing member submissions can be viewed on YouTube here.

The leading party’s loyal footsoldiers, including those from Welwyn Garden City
and Hatfield, voted for a Local Plan with a lower number of homes. A number
which the Inspector had already rejected, and was likely to reject again. As was
said on the night, to do this was to throw Welwyn Garden City under the bus.
Our town would be left having to endure many new high rise blocks of flats
across its heart, and see many large estate developments be bolted on at the
edges. Both of these things are anathema to Ebenezer Howard’s vision of the
Garden City.

It’s a cruel irony that a year after the town’s centenary, local politics are
facilitating the baby being thrown out with the bath water. The council
planners and elected members who have led us to this precipice should
think long and hard about what they’ve done to Howard’s legacy. They
certainly can’t be accused of fighting to preserve the Garden City by any
stretch of the imagination.

The council subsequently wrote to the Inspector, going against his
recommendations, asking him for some leniency. Those leafy villages must be
saved after all. You can see their letter here. He promptly wrote back to them in
short measure; he’s having none of it. He told them they must include some of
the sites in the village locations that he found to be sound, and set out several
other conditions in order for him to continue, and to find the plan sound.
He has told the council that by March 22nd 2022 they must satisfy his requests
and modify their current plan. They must also publish a date for a full public
consultation of the new plan by the same date. Also, if they are not able to
satisfy his demands, they must let him know, at which point he will close his
examination.

In that case, the borough would be left unprotected, open to speculative
inappropriate developments. It’s also worth remembering that this process has
so far cost the council, and ourselves as taxpayers, something around £10
million. Not exactly money well spent if it all goes south.

The council leadership is acutely aware of their current predicament, the oft
repeated “We are between a rock and hard place” phrase is proof of that.
However, it seems to be a hard place they backed themselves into over the last
decade. On the 10th March 2022 they report that they are requesting a meeting
with the Minister for Housing, Stuart Andrew MP. Presumably seeking a Get Out
Of Jail free card on the plan numbers. Importantly though, this isn’t to save the
garden city. It’s to permit their plan with reduced housing numbers in the leafy
village areas. There is no plan to reduce the current housing allocations in and
around the garden city, including the huge site proposed on or beside what was
for decades the county’s largest landfill waste site. Once more the garden city is
not their primary focus. The housing minister is unlikely to be asked to spare
Welwyn Garden City from over-development.

So, our garden city hangs in the balance. In no small part because the powerbrokers
in this process are not invested in the town. Many have interests elsewhere and
likewise many of the council’s officers are either not local, or probably at the tail
end of their civil service careers and looking towards retirement. While it often
feels as though those of us who support the town and all its unique attributes are
just the ‘little people’ with no real voice that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue
to shout loudly: “Not in our name!”. The current planning system is broken. The
fact is that it’s now likely to ruin our garden city serves as an exemplar of how local
development is not being placed back into local communities, as was the
intention a decade ago.

Around the country councils, councillors, academics and others are increasingly
warning that the planning system is broken and needs urgent reform. That may
well happen, but it could be too late to save our garden city. What an entirely
avoidable tragic loss that would be. If our council acts to do the right thing now,
perhaps some measure of damage limitation is possible. The gauntlet is hereby
thrown down…show us you can do better WHBC and its councillors. Defend the
garden city, not just the leafy villages.

Returning to the town’s motto of wisdom and design, our council’s planners
should draw on the wisdom gained over the first one hundred years of the town,
to design a viable and desirable ‘garden’ city fit for the next hundred.

LATEST: On February 24th the council wrote back to the Inspector,
the letter included: “Given the impossible situation in which we now
find yourselves, and before we 
feel compelled to withdraw our plan,
we would like to ask for the opportunity to meet with you along with
our MP, Grant Shapps, to discuss the difficult 
position we are faced with.”
The Inspectors deadline of 22nd March has come and gone. As far as is known
there is not yet any public response to that from the council.

The big take-away from the above is that pleading for a lower housing figure
from the Housing Minister will do nothing to protect our town from
over-development. The councils preferred lower housing figure only involves
reducing the housing numbers around Brookmans Park and the villages,
not Welwyn Garden City.

Will Davis – March 2022.
Welwyn Garden City Society member and WGC resident for over 50 years.

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Campus East Development Proposals by Bellway – Let Them Know Your Views

Information on: https://campusparkeast.co.uk/

Questions to ask include:

  • Is this initial design inspiring?  Garden City future?  Will the design be improved?
  • Massing and height?
  • Interface with Town Centre and East side?
  • Social housing provision?  (‘Affordable’ is not affordable to many).
  • Low on-site car parking – managed use of surrounding car parks?
  • Interface with surrounding areas – it is not a standalone site.  (e.g. Waitrose temporary car park)
  • Does the design comply with all Council policies?  If not why not?
  • Has ‘greening’ of the facade been considered?

Exhibition times:

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Broadwater Road South Revised Consultation by MTV – Let Them Know Your Views

The Society, together with Keep the G in WGC  met members outside the exhibition. There was an overwhelmingly negative reaction to the proposals.

Context: The Broadwater Road South Site developer MTV has a massive Granted Planning Permission from December 2018. They have failed to build most of it. The Bad News: MTV are still proposing bulky increases to their Granted Planning Permission – note this is the baseline for any numbers that MTV give you.

The Better News: MTV community consultation -beware, they do not really want your views. They appear to want any scraps of approval that they can ‘spin’ in their publicity.

The online feedback form is here: https://concilioconnects.typeform.com/to/X9CVQWM7?typeform-source=wgc-southside-mtvh.co.uk

DO NOT answer any questions that you consider misleading – you can skip over them using the arrows on the form.

Here is some suggested free text for the feedback form – THOUGH YOUR OWN VERSION IS MORE POWERFUL. Keep a copy of your text and send a copy to wgcsociety@gmail.com in case it gets ‘lost’.

Headline: ENOUGH IS ENOUGH – STOP INCREASING AND GET BUILDING!

The exhibition was short-notice and sketchy. It comes across as a PR exercise. I do not agree that more dwellings should be on the site and I certainly disagree that MTV propose adding 45% 195 dwellings to the Granted Permission. Why aren’t MTV building the Granted Planning Permission received in 2018? MTV could have completed that development by now. Your proposed changes are wasting everyone’s time.

MTV are adding +45% dwellings, why are MTV not adding +45% community facilities and infrastructure? (schools, GP surgeries, sports facilities, road improvements etc.) [On top of the Granted Planning Permission N.B. the previous proposals from the Granted Planning Permission are ‘banked’].

MTV are not clearly showing the impact of the changes in ground level green spaces from the Granted Planning Permission. Great play is made of ‘The Weave’, however several squares have been quietly paved over.

Where will all the cars go? Mirage & surrounding areas will be impacted by rogue car parking.

Roof spaces are not green spaces. They add to the service charges; dangerous for children; fall into disrepair and end up being closed at a later date. Please provide examples of rooftop gardens that have been operational over a long period.

What additional social housing are MTV providing? (‘Affordable’ housing does not count as it is not affordable).

The Granted Planning Permission should be the baseline. Where are the ADDITIONAL building blocks to the Granted Planning Permission identified? Why are MTV not clearly identifying them?

I understand that MTV manage properties on Times Square. Have they learnt the lessons from that development e.g. lack of car parking, poor landscaping, base build issues etc. It is NOT a good example.

Why does MTV need such a huge development if MTV is truly ‘not-for-profit’?

Please can MTV set up a future exhibition consultation in the Town Centre.

The Granted Planning Permission is sufficiently large as it is – ENOUGH IS ENOUGH – STOP INCREASING AND GET BUILDING.

Why are MTVH so poor at current community liaison? There is excessive secrecy about the current construction programme on Phase 1? MTV will not divulge any key dates or when community infrastructure will be in place instead MTV hide behind ‘confidentiality’.

 

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Full Council meeting to discuss the revised Local Plan housing figures

On January 27th January the Council held a special meeting with Councillors to review and vote on revisions to the Local Plan housing number. The meeting was held in Roller City with only a limited number of the public allowed in to view proceedings. It was a contentious meeting, with many Councillors making a plea against the leadership’s plan to go forward with a lower housing figure than the government appointed planning inspector has recommend. Going against the inspector’s recommendation could leave the Local Plan being found unsound and the Borough without any plan all. Having no plan in place leaves our town open to speculative development that the Council would find difficult to refuse on planning grounds. Developers could simply appeal any planning refusals and in the light of no Local Plan they would have strong case. In the final vote the majority voted to go against the inspectors recommendation; 25 votes to 13. Instead they choose a lower figure, which removes some of housing around Brookmans Park, Cuffley and other outlying areas, developments the inspector had previously indicated would be found sound.

They have now written to him, that letter can be read here: https://archive.welhat.gov.uk/media/20141/EX282-Response-to-Inspector-31-01-22/pdf/EX282___Response_to_Inspector_31_01_22.pdf?m=637794143692570000

A full video of the Council meeting can be viewed here: https://welhat.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/634314

There is a shorter video on YouTube, only showing the speeches from the Councillors who opposed the plan to go against the inspector’s recommendation. You can watch it below.

The Society will monitor the situation and any response from the planning inspector.

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Our Magazine

October 2021 saw the launch of our new magazine, pictured here.

Members of the Society receive a full colour glossy magazine twice a year.  This publication is packed with news and features relating to Welwyn Garden City, with a particular emphasis on topical planning issues. The current magazine carries the theme of public art, and contains lots of gorgeous photos sent in by our talented members.  The forthcoming issue, appearing in April 2022, takes trees as its theme.

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73 Bridge Road East (Ex-Land Rover Site)

One-Page Summary Issued to DMC Councillors
It was disturbing to read the Council Planning recommendation report for this proposed over-redevelopment of a prominent site. It dismissively notes that ‘much of the surrounding commercial development is of a lower height’. This is the most important factor see street scene below:

Bridge Road East: low-rise street scene

The report then clutches for unrepresentative high building comparisons:
• Norton Building – a predominantly 4-storey industrial heritage building that set back from the road.
• Shredded Wheat site: some considerable distance away and a different setting.

The proposed building is huge and unsympathetic to the site:
Existing

Proposed

If it is approved it will have a domino-effect of encouraging a high building ghetto being spread across the Garden City.
Please reject this gross over-development of a prominent site.

END

The DMC meeting for this application is scheduled for Thursday 17 June 2021 https://democracy.welhat.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=156&MId=1274

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Economist article: ‘The fight to preserve a pioneering planned town- the NIMBYs are right this time’.

Link to Economist article: ‘The fight to preserve a pioneering planned town- the NIMBYs are right this time’.  [You have to sign up but it is then free to read a number of articles]

https://www.economist.com/britain/2021/04/17/the-fight-to-preserve-a-pioneering-planned-town

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