New Local Plan timetable aims for summer deadline

Planning inspector Melvyn Middleton.

Planning inspector Melvyn Middleton gave Welwyn Hatfield Council a deadline of September 17 to establish a timetable for the Local Plan - Credit: Archant

A masterplan to build 15,000 new homes in the borough could be adopted by next spring, despite targets set by a Government inspector being missed.

Welwyn Hatfield Borough council is in the final stages of working on its Local Plan, which outlines areas for development and major infrastructure projects for the borough up to 2032, four years after an initial plan was submitted.

Councillors have expressed frustration at the inspector after being told they would have to find new sites to avoid being forced into including several controversial developments, most notably on the Green Belt near Symondshyde.

In June, the inspector Melvyn Middleton wrote to the borough council with a list of sites he deemed suitable for inclusion in the final plan, and which sites would need more work before final publication.

The sound sites would contribute around 10,326 dwellings to their housing target of 15,200, alongside 5,200 homes which have already been completed or designated for development.

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However, those sites included by the inspector include the controversial Symondshyde development, and new sites will need to be found in the coming weeks to avoid having to include it in the final plan.

The inspector said that the 1,500 home settlement on the Green Belt to the north west of Hatfield would be appropriate for development but described it as a “judgement call” for the council. 

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Mr Middleton set the council a deadline of September 17 to return with any additional sites for inclusion in the plan, however this was deemed unrealistic given a need for officers to brief newly elected councillors.

Instead, the borough council is now aiming to discuss individual sites in early October before agreeing the main modifications to the plan, and begin a consultation later this autumn.

At a meeting of the Cabinet Planning and Parking Panel on September 15, councillors across party lines expressed their frustration that decisions were being taken out of the council’s hands.

Cllr Glyn Hayes said that the council had “lost control” of the plan, and were now having to pick developments off a list dictated by the inspector, despite the concerns of local people.

Cllr Hayes said not enough had been done by developers to cater for younger families within the plan, with a gap between two-bedroom flats and three-bedroom houses that could price residents out of the area.

Cllr Stephen Boulton added: “Nobody is happy with the situation at the moment but we hope in the next couple of months to be able to bring the threads together to get something we can at least accept."

Following a potential November consultation, the council hopes to produce a new report for the inspector in February 2022. A new plan is expected to be adopted by early summer 2022.

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