Height on new developments shouldn't exceed existing buildings says MP
- Credit: Grant Shapps/HG Group
MP Grant Shapps has controversially weighed in on the debate surrounding the developments along Broadwater Road in Welwyn Garden City.
The MP has said any planning application shouldn't be approved if the buildings are too tall because of the impact they will have on the look of the town.
A final decision on the proposal to build 289 homes up to nine storeys high on the old BioPark site in Welwyn Garden City will be made at a Development Management Committee meeting later this week.
The site is the first of the major developments proposed in the area to reach the decision stage, and campaigners believe it will set a precedent for what is to come.
In a carefully worded statement, Mr Shapps states that one of his main concerns about the developments was that any proposal shouldn't exceed "the maximum height of the existing offices and factory already on that site".
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He added: "I’ve always believed in the unique ethos that makes Welwyn Garden City special. From the original plans by Sir Ebenezer Howard in the 1920s to the development of The Howard Centre which opened its doors in 1990, changes to our landscape have always needed to be very carefully considered.
"One of the key elements to the success of Welwyn Garden City must be the quality of design. It is not enough to know that a building is planned for a particular location, rather we also need to know that its quality will live up to the Garden City principles of beautifully and imaginatively designed homes with integrated accessible transport along with attractive public spaces.
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"The housing density is becoming too high which will cause overcrowding and will not guarantee a high quality development.
"Although as the local MP I do not have a formal role in planning matters on the council – only councillors get to decide and they can be challenged by the independent Planning Inspector – I do not think that any application should be approved on Broadwater Road which exceeds the maximum height of the existing offices and factory already on that site.
"Naturally I appreciate that councillors have a difficult job to do and so I encourage them to focus on the density/overcrowding issues, quality of build, on ensuring that the height does not exceed the current industrial properties on the site and that they should strive to maintain a strong garden city ethos in deciding any application."
In the past week protest group Keep the G in WGC handed out more than 7,000 leaflets across Welwyn Garden City to try and raise support against the BioPark proposal.
Their leaflets raised a number of concerns over the large developments including:
* the town cannot accommodate this amount of density;
* the height of building should not be higher than five storeys;
* there is already not enough car parking .
Diane Hagger from Keep the G in WGC told this paper their membership has increased by a third in the past week.
She said their leaflets were proving successful in education people about the proposals: "People are now realising that this is happening and that they thought this was all one application for the entire site, called the Wheat Quarter.
"Also there was no knowledge of the decision coming up this week. Schools are on holiday so a lot of people will be away, how convenient! People were genuinely surprised!"
Clive Wilson, chair of the Welwyn Garden City Society, responded to Grant Shapps' statement: "The society welcomes Grant Shapps' statement that includes concerns on excess density and over-crowding. This leads to a poor environment, mental health issues and adverse impacts on the local community.
"We have issued an 18 point statement on the planning reasons for rejection of the proposals to all councillors.
"We look forward to the DMC councillors rejecting these dense, urban proposals at the DMC planning meeting. This will reflect the concerns expressed by local people and local groups including the Society, Keep the G in WGC and the Heritage Trust."
The DMC planning meeting will take place on Thursday, August 12, at 7.30pm in the council chamber.
Groups opposing the developments are planning to host a 'welcoming party' for councillors before they enter the building and will be convening in the Cherry Tree Car Park by the council offices from 6:30pm.