Doubts grow over landmark Shredded Wheat development in Welwyn Garden City
PUBLISHED: 09:32 29 March 2017 | UPDATED: 09:32 29 March 2017
As the fate of Welwyn Garden City’s former Shredded Wheat site hangs in the balance, its landmark development plan has run into a backlash of serious criticism.
Borough council officers have recommended a committee of councillors meeting tomorrow should grant all three planning applications submitted by Spen Hill, the property arm of Tesco.
The scheme, which includes 850 homes and preserves the former factory’s key architectural features, has been warmly greeted by the Welwyn Garden City Society and the town’s heritage trust.
But critics say the Conservative-controlled borough council has conceded too much in its eagerness to get the site developed after nine years lying derelict.
Lib Dem councillor Paul Zukowskyj, who sits on the committee and has professional planning expertise, said: “I am very nervous about it. With the information I have at the moment, I would be minded to refuse it.”
He is concerned that the project guarantees just 35 affordable homes- ten per cent of the first phase development and a mere four per cent of the 850 homes proposed in total.
The borough council, he warned, usually requires at least 30 per cent of any substantial development to be designated “affordable”.
And Labour councillor Steve Roberts said: “I am very disappointed. Once again profit comes before the needs of local people who have great difficulty getting on the housing ladder. Even ‘affordable’ homes are unaffordable for many; so the need for affordable rental accommodation is even greater.”
Furthermore, Councillor Zukowskyj is concerned that the county council is not insisting on a larger financial contribution from the developer to expand local primary schools for the extra children the homes will bring.
He said: “They (Spen Hill) say the people who live there will have significantly less children than average.
That is not justified.
“The difference will have to be picked up by the public purse.”
Lib Dem parliamentary candidate Nigel Quinton , while welcoming the project in principle, said: “The developer is taking our council for a ride. It should be bringing forward a scheme in partnership with a social landlord or housing association, and make a far greater financial contribution to the health services and other infrastructure required.”
Spen Hill told the Welwyn Hatfield Times it will pay £2.38million for a new primary school, and a further £702,000 for secondary education.
A spokesman said: “The primary education amount is four times that normally required. The sums towards NHS and education are those sought by Hertfordshire County Council. We can’t exceed these sums.
“The level of affordable housing has been through viability assessments from both Tesco and the (borough) council.
“They have both reached the same conclusion and conclude that the level provided is the correct viable level for a site of this nature, which includes listed buildings and high design quality.
“We have also proposed a review mechanism which will lead to a greater affordable housing contribution if the development begins to generate more profit than anticipated.
“We have worked closely with the council in developing this application, including agreeing a significant £8million contribution to the local community, a viable level of affordable housing, highways improvements, and refurbishment of the historic listed buildings.
“The scheme, designed with existing garden city principles in mind, would provide up to 850 much needed new homes.”