Local Plan not addressing infrastructure 'elephant in the room' - Welwyn Hatfield villages claim
PUBLISHED: 16:29 24 January 2020 | UPDATED: 16:36 24 January 2020
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Brookmans Park and Welwyn residents have reacted with frustration at the sites recommended for inclusion in the Local Plan by officers.
The 36 sites - which would allow the borough council to bring the total number of homes in its draft plan up to 15,952 - are not addressing the "real elephant, which they don't control, namely infrastructure" according to Brookmans Park resident Ellen Riegel Bisnath.
Under the Brookmans Park plans, there could be 529 new homes at three locations on the Green Belt. At nearby Welham Green, seven sites could provide 500 homes with one to two primary schools depending on development - while a site at Little Heath could provide 36 homes.
Ellen thinks local authorities should first "get the roads right, improve the schools" - a Hertfordshire County Council responsibility - and build more doctors surgeries - an NHS power - to take the additional patients.
She said: "I recognise that there is a short of housing in the South East, but this is a poor way of going about fixing that shortage.
"Instead of a council by council plan, it should be done on a countywide level to ensure that all available brownfield sites are used first before ruining the Green Belt. I grew up in an area where the Green Belt was not preserved and, though developers did build hospitals, schools and roads in their developments, the state highways couldn't cope (and still can't) with the additional traffic.
"With 500 more homes, that is at least 500 to 1,000 more cars and car journeys. Is the A1001 going to be widened? Will the turn at Shepherds Way which is a source of major back-ups going to be improved?"
Paul Brennan agrees and points out that so many of the sites are on Green Belt land.
He said: "They [WHBC] feel the need to take out large open spaces when there are hundreds of in fell plots that could and should be used."
Russell Haggar, who helps with the local Welwyn Planning and Amenity Group, also feels he has not been listened to. Mr Haggar delivered a 922-strong petition to the council in June to 'Keep Welwyn Special', but has seen that four sites for 246 homes have been promoted by council officers for Local Plan inclusion.
Mr Haggar said the sites, near a cemetery in Welwyn, would change the character of the village "profoundly and irrevocably from a rural location to a very urban one. "They would require a minor country road to be upgraded to accommodate traffic from 250 new homes, and the only way that this can be done is to destroy a group of trees that currently benefit from preservation orders and to take chunks of land away from Singlers Marsh, the public parkland and designated nature reserve used by the village for its main social events such as Welwyn Week," he said.
"Their sustainability analysis incorrectly claims that they are within reach of public transport that will mitigate the traffic effect of having so many new homes - in fact, the area is served by the grand total of six bus services per week (three in each direction: one a day on three weekdays).
"It totally ignores the huge unexplored archaeological heritage widely agreed by leading experts to lie underneath the soil of one of these sites, where they believe the Roman and pre-Roman remains of Welwyn's original settlement lie - bearing in mind that Welwyn has been continually occupied for over 2,000 years, there is a lot still to discover here."
Labour borough councillor Glyn Hayes, who sites on the committee considering the proposed sites, said he is worried chiefly about the infrastructure and Green Belt implications of the plan.
Cllr Hayes said "there is nothing local about the Local Plan", adding it's "not something that the Labour Party could be proud of supporting".
But the councillor for Hatfield Central said that it could be worse if they don't approve the Local Plan. He explained that waiting another a year would mean another 800 homes added to the 16,000 homes target, which would make taking out sites more difficult.
He added that currently "we are losing space" and people are having less quality of life. He said: "There is not enough infrastructure. You can't just hope the best for schools, transport links and surgeries."
Liberal Democrat borough councillor for Welham Green and Hatfield South, Paul Zukowskyj, has said he will oppose it.
Cllr Zukowskyj, who is also a member of the CPPP, said: "The options presented all deliver a tsunami of house building on our Green Belt. None of the options balance the damage to our green spaces with the need for housing. The 'preferred' option suggests building 15,948 homes, just 52 less than we would need if we had no Green Belt. Is protecting our green space worth just 0.3 per cent of the housing need?
"I can't accept any of the options offered, and I urge fellow councillors to join me. We are supposed to defend our communities, not stand by while they're trashed."
Conservative borough councillor Stephen Boulton, executive member for environment and planning, said on January 8: "We have to consider what the evidence is telling us - people right now are in need of housing and so are our future generations.
"We share our residents' concerns about the impact of new development, but we have to balance that with the severe consequences for this borough of not meeting local housing need. If our plan is rejected and the government has to step in, we lose control of the process and we could be hit with even tougher housing targets.
"Whatever happens next, we will continue to work hard to ensure the right infrastructure is in place to support growth, including the new roads, schools and healthcare facilities our communities will rely on."
The cabinet planning and parking panel will meet on January 29 to decide whether to carry the plans forward, before it goes to cabinet on January 30.