Welwyn Hatfield council given stay of execution on Local Plan decision

Welwyn Hatfield Council has been given until July 8 to make a decision on the Local Plan.

Welwyn Hatfield Council has been given until July 8 to make a decision on the Local Plan. - Credit: Archant

Any decision on the borough's Local Plan will now not need to be made until after May's local elections.

Following a letter sent last month to the Planning Inspector, Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council has received a reply which allows for a decision to be made on July 8, rather than the original deadline of March 21.

The council believes any decision about the required number of new homes should be based on a 2021-22 survey of the housing starts and completions, which councillors say would put them in a stronger position to consider their options.

This survey is carried out this month by Herts county council and WHBC receives the provisional results in May, long after the Planning Inspector’s original deadline.

WHBC also want to take any findings to the cabinet planning and parking panel on June 23, and a full council on July 6, as pre-election period starts later this month, and it would not be possible to begin consultation until after the local elections in May.

The new deadline will mean the necessary information will be available on 2021-22 housing completions, helping the council to make a more accurate assessment of its housing requirement.

Planning inspector Melvyn Middleton has asked the council to produce an update on its housing trajectory and the finalisation of the main modifications (MMs) to the plan, although this information was not expected by the original deadline.

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He told WHBC head of planning Christopher Dale:  "I was aware that these tasks would take some time to complete and that the further consultation could not begin before the completion of that work and indeed not before the forthcoming local elections.

"I also understood that it would be inappropriate to begin some of this work until your council had decided whether or not it wished, in principle, to proceed towards the adoption of a plan with only a 10-year supply of identified housing sites.

"I am conscious that the planning issues here are not easy but must stress that after what has been a very long examination, the plan can only move forward now if the council confirms that it is able to accept the conclusions of the independent examination and carries out a consultation on the recommended MMs. Once that consultation is complete, I will consider all of the comments made at that stage, before reaching my final conclusions, which is normal practice."

He added:" I must stress that I am not now asking for the plan to provide a supply of land to meet the requirements of the full 20-year plan period. I am suggesting that the identification of a supply to meet the requirements for the first 10  years post-adoption would be appropriate, including the residual amount that was not achieved between 2016 and 2022. This is consistent with government policy.

"I estimated that this would mean the identification of land sufficient to accommodate the delivery of around 9,400 dwellings to 2032 but this could change once we see the results of the assessment of 2021-22 housing completions.

"Additionally, once the plan is adopted, the council would be able to review the borough’s housing need and supply and to update the plan accordingly. That could be before the agreed date for a review, if it considered such action to be appropriate.

"Indeed, as you are no doubt aware, local planning authorities are now expected to review their plans every five years in the context of the government’s planning policy of the day and reflecting local circumstances. It is in everyone’s interest to secure the adoption of a sound Local Plan in the immediate future, if that can be achieved."

Councillors from WHBC are restricted on commenting on this development due to the forthcoming local elections.