A plea to refuse planning permission for Broadwater Road development

Metropolitan Thames Valley

What the proposals on Broadwater Road could look like - Credit: Metropolitan Thames Valley

Welwyn Garden City's former mayor Dennis Lewis gives his view on the controversial plans for development on Broadwater Road.

Dr Dennis Lewis, who has lived in Welwyn Garden City since 1956

Dr Dennis Lewis, who has lived in Welwyn Garden City since 1956 - Credit: Supplied

After a century of conspicuous success, I'm astonished to find that Welwyn Garden City is a total failure!

It appears that, according to certain property developers, Ebenezer Howard and his visionary associates got it all wrong 100 years ago.

In the 1920s they were really just carrying out a social experiment, giving people space and encouraging them to appreciate and breathe good clean air, attractive, low-density two-storey housing, gardens aplenty and streets lined with trees.

There was no 'reach for the sky' in their thinking! No impressive multi-storey structures where hundreds or even thousands of people could live, cheek by jowl, huddled into small apartments, and enjoying the exercise, running up and down the stairs when the lifts failed...

So property developers Wheat Quarter (WQ) and Metro Thames Valley Housing (MTVH) are riding to the rescue. They clearly intend to demonstrate that Ebenezer and his pals had got it all wrong for 100 years! After all, he was just a stenographer, so what could he possibly know about property development? Obviously nothing, compared with the WQ and MTVH professionals.

They have submitted sheaves of beautifully drafted drawings, temptingly attractive words and dreamy artist's impressions in their planning applications, to develop the extensive Shredded Wheat and BioPark sites situated between Bessemer Road and the railway station.

Most Read

Also, the planning authority is our dear old borough council, led by 48 amateur councillors - so what could they possibly know about planning?

The way ahead seems ominously clear. Those who do know about planning - and know that they know - are confident that their planning applications will win the day and up to a dozen 11-storey blocks of flats will be constructed on those sites.

This will ensure that there will be 4-5,000 happy chappies enjoying a quality of life, living in hundreds of flats, suspended in mid-air, with their cars half a mile away because there are insufficient parking spaces in the car parks provided. And not a reasonably sized green area or garden in sight apart from the odd wilting geraniums in a few scattered window boxes! What bliss!

The picture from the applicant's own website demonstrates frighteningly clearly what we can expect. WQ and MTVH will make good the lack of high-flying homes in Welwyn Garden City, that will eventually occupy that area, which is so rich in the industrial heritage of our town.

I know that there is an acute housing shortage, which results in young couples and individuals having great difficulty in renting or buying a place to live and raise a family in pleasant surroundings - flats, houses or whatever.

Social housing does provide a means for getting onto the housing ladder, and these flats in low-rise blocks would be acceptable, nay desirable - but built to a maximum of say, five storeys to allow for the provision of open space for relaxation and enjoyment within the context of a 'garden city'.

In short the development runs counter to the 'garden city ethos' and as such should be chucked out - firmly and finally.

It's crystal clear that it's the developers that have got it wrong - not Ebenezer Howard and his friends!

The council, in its supplementary planning document (SPD), which is intended as a guide to potential developers, states that "all proposed development should be respectful to the silos and not exceeding five storeys". Well, either all these clever people at WQ and MTVH cannot count, or perhaps they see a reversed auction coming which will result in eight storeys being allowed by the council! Either way, it's still not acceptable...

What is being proposed by the developers is an affront to the genius of a man who understood the misery of the 'huddled masses' who were suffering in the big cities, in the wake of the Industrial Revolution.

But Ebenezer Howard had a utopian vision of something better - and the sheer bloody persistence to make it happen. We must not let that vision be destroyed by default.

I hope that the citizens of this amazing place will not let it be destroyed, and they will persuade our councillors to roar a resounding 'no!' to those who would seek to destroy it.