Historic Green Belt site under threat

William Cubitt’s famous Welwyn Viaduct.

William Cubitt’s famous Welwyn Viaduct. - Credit: Supplied

Historians and residents have called proposals to build a housing estate on a site adjacent to the village of Digswell “harmful” and “a mistake that can never be corrected”.  

The land, which neighbours one side of the village, sees regular visits from tourists and photographers, as it provides uninterrupted views of William Cubitt’s famous Welwyn Viaduct.

Views of the 475-metre Grade II-listed Victorian viaduct, opened by Queen Victoria in 1850, would be masked if proposals to build 130 properties on the site, referred to as ‘Dig1’, are accepted by Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council.

The proposed development site lies within the setting of a number of designated heritage assets, including acclaimed landscape gardener Humphrey Repton’s 18th century designed landscape and pleasure grounds at Tewin Water.

“Development of the site would result in harm to the significance of Tewin Water through change within its setting,” said Historic England in a submission opposing development on the site. 

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Furthermore, wildlife experts have raised concerns, with the 11-acre site home to wildlife, including protected species, such as badgers and peregrine falcons. 

Local resident Jason Andrews, whose garden backs on to the proposed site, said: “Any development on this site would be hugely damaging to the local wildlife, including the badgers and muntjacs that regularly come into our garden.

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"It would spoil the best views of the historic viaduct and would be devastating for the residents of Digswell and the surrounding area.

"If building starts, it will be a huge mistake that can never be corrected. I’m sure there are other sites within the borough that would satisfy the need to build whilst causing far less damage to the Green Belt and less distress to the locals.” 

While Welwyn Hatfield council late last year withdrew proposals for ‘Dig1’ to be included in a list of potential sites for development, in an unexpected U-turn, a government inspector has requested that the site is reconsidered amid targets to build around 15,200 homes in the Welwyn Hatfield borough by 2036.  

Local residents of the village have also raised concerns about the impact on services, from schooling to public transport. More houses mean families with children who need educating. The popular village primary school, one-form entry St John’s, is already over-subscribed and there isn’t available land to expand it.

The school’s headteacher Simon Horleston recently expressed concern about the proposed site in a submission, saying: “The infrastructure along our school site (on the Hertford Road) is already inadequate with our narrow pavements. I fear that the increase in dwellings will understandably lead to greater levels of traffic along the Hertford Road that runs past our school.

"This is a concern as I have had reported over the last three and a half years of my tenure at the school many occasions where cars/lorries have either mounted the pavement causing near misses with our families walking to/from school or their wing mirrors clipping children and adults alike.  

“Although no fatalities to date, which I’m grateful for, the safety measures are lacking and the increased traffic will only increase the risk that our families face on a daily basis. I understand the need and the pressure for additional housing, but the infrastructure has to be a significant factor in any decision that is made”. 

Residents have expressed other concerns, such as the fact the site is on a steep gradient and regularly floods.

A Housing and Economic Land Availability Assessment (HELAA) report highlighted that: “Waste water network capacity in the area is unlikely to support additional demand”.

In July, Thames Water had to attend to back flowing sewage close to the site on New Road following a storm, which narrowly avoided contamination of the nearby River Mimram. 

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