Controversial Welwyn Garden City high-rise development proposal refused

WGC Protest - Reject Welwyn Concrete City and High Rise Hell.Picture: Karyn Haddon

Campaigners have been making themselves heard over the proposed development. - Credit: Karyn Haddon

A controversial proposal for a new high-rise development in Welwyn Garden City has been refused after a week of protesting by campaigners. 

The development would have seen 289 homes, in blocks of up to nine storeys, built on the former BioPark site, but it was refused at a tense and heated Development Planning Committee meeting on Thursday following a 10 to 3 vote against. 

The decision was greeted with loud cheers from campaigners who attended the meeting, following a week of protests dubbed 'Operation Ben' which had seen people don masks of Ebenezer Howard, the visionary founder of the garden city movement.

WGC Protest - Reject Welwyn Concrete City and High Rise Hell.Picture: Karyn Haddon

Campaigners have been wearing Ebenezer Howard masks as part of 'Operation Ben' - Credit: Karyn Haddon

There were fears among those opposing the high-rise development that an approval of the plans would set a precedent for two other applications on the same road, the former Shredded Wheat Factory and South Side of the Shredded Wheat Factory. 

Siobhan Elam, Independent councillor for Handside, opposed the development, saying Welwyn Garden City was being treated as ‘commuter fodder’. 

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“If the flats were being built to meet a local housing shortage, the arguments in its favour would be strong, but local people on local wages will not be able to afford these flats,” she said. 

“They are being built to suck commuters here out of unaffordable London.”

WGC Protest - Reject Welwyn Concrete City and High Rise Hell.
Picture: Karyn Haddon

The plans would have seen 289 homes, in blocks of up to nine storeys built at the former BioPark site. - Credit: Karyn Haddon

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“It looks here like Welwyn Garden City here is being treated as commuter fodder, with no regard for its history or its reputation as a world-famous architectural treasure.” 

Cllr Lynn Chesterman also supported refusing the application, adding: “Let’s try and get this into some sensible form of development. Let’s try not to live in this utopian world, let us actually listen to what people need and want and build something that meets those needs.”

Council officers had recommended the plans for approval, citing that the council was unable to outline a five-year supply of housing and the recent approval of similar plans along Broadwater Road.

WGC Protest - Reject Welwyn Concrete City and High Rise Hell.
Picture: Karyn Haddon

Campaigners outside Campus West on Thursday evening. - Credit: Karyn Haddon

Officers added that despite less than one parking space per flat and only 10 per cent of units deemed affordable, the flats were in a sustainable location, and the benefits of the scheme would outweigh any negative impact. 

Chair Jonathan Boulton, Conservative councillor for Brookmans Park and Little Heath, warned members that they had to have planning concerns to turn down the application or risked a costly appeal from developers, saying: “It’s very hard to see particular areas where this isn’t compliant.” 

However, with concerns over transport routes and parking also raised, councillors remained unconvinced and voted down the proposals with a majority of seven.

There was delight from the Keep the G in the WGC campaign group, with spokesperson Malcom Cowan saying: "We campaigned strongly against the BioPark plan and were delighted by the refusal by WelHat councillors on Thursday.

"We were astonished that the council’s planners, strongly supported by the committee chair councillor Jonathan Boulton, seemed so willing to support a plan that went against at least seven council policies.

"We have to ask what is the point of having policies if you cave in at the first challenge? The council’s motto used to be ‘By Wisdom and Design’.

"Many of us felt the design of the blocks was cheap and nasty. How so-called urban design experts could support them and say they matched the existing town is astonishing. The group has held out an olive branch to the council to work together to provide a plan that the people of the town can accept. We await their response."

Campaigner John J Fogarty also told the WHT: "I am pleased with the decision the council's planning committee reached.

"They rejected a plan to build on the BioPark site off Broadwater Road, something that breached a number of planning regulations.

"Even though there is a need for more housing, if the plan had been given the go-ahead, it might have added to the existing deprivation in one of the most deprived areas in Hertfordshire.

"I was pleased that the people's voice was heard and I agreed with what Clive Wilson, speaking on behalf of the Welwyn Garden City Society, Keep The G In WGC's Martin Norman, Peartree ward councillor Russell Platt and Siobhan Elam, who started the vote against in the committee, all said on Thursday night."

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