Local plan consultation could be ‘last chance to influence’ for residents
PUBLISHED: 15:54 25 February 2020 | UPDATED: 15:54 25 February 2020
A public consultation is now open seeking views on sites for around 2,000 homes to be added to the 12,000 already in the submitted Local Plan.
At the end of January, Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council agreed to consult on proposals which replaced all proposed sites that could cause high harm to the Green Belt.
This would see the total number of new homes rise to around 14,000 over the next 20 years, despite the independently assessed need for homes being set at 16,000.
That said, the Planning Inspector has questioned the council's ability to alter the plans at this stage.
Melvyn Middleton said in a letter to the council: "There is no provision in the legislation which allows the council to replace all or part of the submitted plan with revised proposals during the examination.
"Once the plan has been submitted, further changes may only be made to address matters of unsoundness that are recommended by the inspector.
"The process assumes that the council has submitted a plan that it considers to be sound and that was and remains my starting point."
Hearings for Birchall Garden Suburb, set for land east of WGC - and to consider Symondshyde new village - are scheduled for March 10 and 11, despite Symondshyde's removal from the council's latest plan.
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Melvyn Middleton added: "If the council considers that the evidence base has changed sufficiently to justify a change in its considerations, affecting the soundness of either or both of these proposals, then this is the last
opportunity to debate such evidence."
A spokeswoman for the council said: "We appreciate that at this stage only the inspector can make changes to the submitted plan and he will advise us on what modifications are required to make the plan 'sound' once examination hearing sessions conclude.
"However in response to concerns about the sustainability of Symondshyde, councillors agreed to consult local people on its removal from the plan.
"They also made the decision to consult on removing other sites due to their green belt impacts in light of new evidence. This position will be set out to the inspector during the examination hearing sessions in March."
"The consultation on these proposed changes and the additional sites is open for six weeks and everyone can have their say at www.welhat.gov.uk/local-plan-sites."
Councillor Stephen Boulton, executive member for environment and planning, said: "We believe the proposals we're putting before residents now take account of their concerns about the impact of growth, while balancing that with the need to deliver new homes for our future generations.
"We understand the development of the Local Plan has been a long and complicated process for people to follow.
"I hope as we head towards bringing this vital piece of work to its conclusion that people will have their say - it could be their last chance to influence the decisions that will shape our borough for many years to come."
The consultation is open for six weeks until 5pm on Wednesday, April 1.
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