Inspector cites 'unjustified bias' in Local Plan site location while calling for more evidence

Aerial view of Symondshyde Green Belt land. Picture: Save Symondshyde

Aerial view of Symondshyde Green Belt land. Picture: Save Symondshyde - Credit: Archant

Welwyn Hatfield's draft Local Plan has once more come under fire from the government inspector, who has raised concerns over the "unjustified bias" in site selection. 

The examiner of the plan, Melvyn Middleton, has asked Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council to justify why it has excluded villages that are close to train stations, meaning less travel in a borough where most are reliant on their car, and instead opted for most of the development in Hatfield and Welwyn Garden City. 

Mr Middleton claims the borough has still not properly explained why, following an October report, Brookmans Park, Cuffley, Little Heath, Woolmer Green, Digswell, Marshmoor in Welham Green were not looked at further.

He said in October: "This is despite them each having a railway station with frequent services to Welwyn Garden City, Hatfield and beyond, putting them among the most sustainable locations within the Borough from a movement perspective."

And has claimed, in a letter on December 22, that: "Although inviting you to take these observations into account when submitting additional sites to the Examination that does not appear to have comprehensively happened."

He has also now asked for more evidence to justify the removal of controversial Symondshyde from development. 

"The missing evidence largely revolves around the better suitability or otherwise of alternative sites from a sustainability, as well as a Green Belt, perspective.

"In addition, as noted in my Interim Report, very little development is proposed at Digswell and Oaklands–Mardley Heath. There may be sound reasons for this, but none are specifically before the examination."

A WHBC spokeswoman said in response to the inspector's concerns: "The council will set out the evidence and its reasoning for including or excluding sites at the next stage of hearing sessions. Our priorities remain to find the right balance between growth, protection of the Green Belt and sustainability, and to select the most suitable sites for that growth.

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“We believe we have submitted a plan that is sound, however we can never discount the risk that the inspector will disagree. That is why we are assisting the inspector to examine all sites at the earliest opportunity, where we hope to address the outstanding issues raised.”