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Green Belt Review: Council forced to eye ‘high harm’ land to meet 16,000 housing target

PUBLISHED: 12:06 29 August 2018 | UPDATED: 12:18 29 August 2018

Welwyn Hatfield Council may be forced to build thousands more homes on land that would cause ‘high harm’ to the Green Belt.

The local authority was asked to review the area’s green spaces as part of the Local Plan after the previous 12,500 housing target – known as the objectively assessed need (OAN) – was raised to 16,000.

Following the assessment, WHC has said that even if all ‘low harm’ areas are built on, it would still fall well short of the target.

WHC leader Mandy Perkins said the council needed to show the inspector that “no stone had been left unturned” in its efforts to meet the housing need.

She added: “This means that all options are on the table, including those areas considered to have a high impact on the Green Belt.

“Detailed assessments, and sustainability and infrastructure tests may find them more suitable for development than those with a lower impact.”

However, building on any green space will hinge on several factors – such as whether it is a floodplain – meaning some land could be deemed ‘low-harm’ from a Green Belt perspective, but unviable due to other factors.

Those caveats would also apply to ‘high-harm’ land, where it may be considered damaging for the Green Belt, but still suitable because of other elements.

Another key conclusion of the review was that some villages that are currently considered part of the Green Belt could potentially be declassified, meaning planning rules may be eased.

They include Stanborough, Bell Bar, Lemsford, Essendon, Northaw, Newgate Street and Swanley Bar.

Cllr Perkins added that WHC, like residents, wants to protect the Green Belt, but the inspector has said it must do more to make the plan sound.

She added: “The consequences of us not having a sound plan would be devastating for this borough, and it’s important to remember that the vast majority of our countryside will continue to be protected.”

The high or low-harm statuses grade the contribution a site makes to the Green Belt.

Kevin Fitzgerald, chief executive for the Campaign for Rural England in Hertfordshire, said: “It’s sad to see the loss of our countryside as it plays such an important role in people’s lives.

“To see that disappearing under concrete is quite distressing really.”

The next steps will be outlined at a council meeting on Thursday, September 6.

It is understood that decisions on what land will be targeted is unlikely to be made before the end of this year at the earliest.

The review, which was released last week, focused solely on the impact on the Green Belt and does not recommend or propose new development sites.

The housing target was raised after independent analysis was ordered by central government.

If the council fails to meet the 16,000 figure, it risks handing control of the plan to central government, which could then decide where to place the housing.

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