Welwyn Hatfield Council grilled over Birchall Garden Suburb plans
PUBLISHED: 15:35 01 February 2018 | UPDATED: 15:35 01 February 2018
Plans for 2,550 homes in and on the edge of Welwyn Garden City went under the microscope at the latest Local Plan hearing this week.
Birchall Garden Suburb, which if approved will include also include retail, a community centre, secondary school, has been controversial because the housing would be built around a long-standing waste site.
The “misshapen donut” plan came under fire after WHC revealed contaminated water had been discovered in the area – sparking fears about the safety of building houses nearby.
A key point made by several contributors was that detailed analysis of the tip and its effects was currently limited – so no one could guarantee problems would not arise later.
Tom Hill QC, representing Gascoyne Cecil Estate, said: “Is it safe [to build houses nearby] based on the material? We do not think it is.
“If you do not know the scale of the problem you do not know the scale of the solution.
“These are just questions, but there are no answers, and then when you get to the submission Local Plan the policy makes no mention of the risk.”
He also pointed out how the council had previously deemed the site unsuitable before later changing its stance – which he claimed was probably due to its desperation to meet the housing requirement.
But council officer Sue Tiley said that initially the council had received no reassurance from the Environment Agency.
Fellow officer Bryce Tudball added: “The advice we have received is the contamination should be capable of remediation, and the appropriate way will become clear as more assessments are carried out later in the planning process.”
He added that the level of assessment was proportionate to the current stage of the Local Plan.
Landowner Tarmac proposes to build around half of the houses on the southern part of the site in WGC, avoiding areas of landfill, with the rest going in East Herts’ section.
Concerns were raised about the prospect of problems arising 15 years down the line, once the housing had already been built, but the council stressed “ongoing monitoring” would take place to deal with matters if they arise.
Another controversial point was how the development would impact the area’s heritage – particularly sites like Hatfield House and Panshanger’s parks.
Going on the offensive again, Mr Hill quoted Historic England as saying the plans would “inevitably harm” the views, adding that he felt the scale of the change would be “stark”.
However, Ms Tiley said Historic England had been consulted throughout – reflected in the impact assessment it said should be completed.
Debbie Mack, representing Historic England, said: “We came to the view that a buffer with landscaping along the south of the site would to a degree mitigate some of the impact of the development.
“The development will cause harm, but we find that the councils [WHC and East Herts Council] have now got a policy that offers greater protection.”
However, when asked by the inspector whether it was fair to say that the site is not characteristic of WGC, Ms Tiley said: “I think you can argue that the southern bit relates less well to the layout of WGC.
“Because of the shape it’s not going to be able to have quite the same character, but there are also parts of WGC that do not conform to the model.”
The council was also grilled on several other issues, ranging from noise and air quality to Green Belt and retail.
Following the meeting, a Tarmac spokesman told the WHT: “Detailed studies have defined the extent of the landfill area and have been used to inform the design of our masterplan that will see no homes being built on the former landfill and the area being managed as a parkland for the benefit of the local community and wildlife.
“The research has also allowed us to design a detailed mitigation scheme using well established technology.”