Could 13,277 homes be the last word on Welwyn Hatfield’s Local Plan after inspector’s warning?

Councillors vote on amending the draft Local Plan in Welwyn Hatfield. Picture: WHBC

Councillors vote on amending the draft Local Plan in Welwyn Hatfield. Picture: WHBC - Credit: Archant

Welwyn Hatfield borough councillors have agreed to 13,277 homes under the draft Welwyn Hatfield Local Plan, subject to approval by the council’s cabinet and full council.

Pb1 has been included as a safeguarded site subject to approval. Picture: WHBC

Pb1 has been included as a safeguarded site subject to approval. Picture: WHBC - Credit: Archant

Originally, it was agreed that Welwyn Hatfield needed 16,000 homes from 2016 to 2036 and the inspector Melvyn Middleton warned the borough if the 16,000 number was not achieved under the Local Plan, the council must withdraw or find more sites.

However, Mr Middleton did say the Full Objectively Assessed Housing Need (FOAHN) – the way housing needed is calculated under a Local Plan – could be revised to take into account 2018 figures, which could require fewer homes to be built.

And council officers have now proposed at the cabinet planning and parking panel on Tuesday, November 17 that the need can be reassessed down to 13,800 and the council could meet this by allocating 13,277 homes.

To justify this new number, the borough has allocated around 2,000 homes at the Wheat Quarter and Bio Park developments on Broadwater Road but reduced the “high harm” Green Belt site, Birchall, by 700 dwellings.

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However, a Potters Bar site, PB1, – which crosses Five Acre Wood – would act as a safeguard meaning it “could then be considered as part of a future review, developed during the plan period if required or left undeveloped,” according to a report to the council.

Borough councillor Jane Quinton, a Lib Dem, voiced her discomfort that this new housing need and proposals could be thrown out by Mr Middleton as the council must also pay attention to the nationwide need for housing.

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Mr Middleton has said: “In my view, a fundamentally lower housing requirement would not support the national objective to boost the supply of housing, which is as relevant in Welwyn-Hatfield as anywhere.”

The 13,800 figure was agreed by Labour and Conservative councillors Pankit Shah, Alan Chesterman, Glyn Hayes, Tony Kingsbury, Stephen Boulton, Drew Richardson, Samuel Kasumu and Barbara Fitzsimon. While Lib Dem councillors Paul Zukowskyj and Ayesha Rohale voted against with fellow party member Jane Quinton abstaining after they wanted a lower number of housing.

Both Labour councillors Shah and Chesterman advocated a higher housing need was required if the council is able to achieve affordable homes in the borough. A view echoed by Conservative leader of the council Tony Kingsbury – who called for the vote so the meeting could progress.

Cllr Chesterman explained that local residents, who work in our shops, factories and in lower paid jobs need housing and those moving out from London as commuters fo not contribute to the local community.

He also did not like that a lot of the housing is allocated to the towns and “not spread out in the whole borough”, which would reduce open spaces of those living in Welwyn Garden City and Hatfield.

Cllr Glyn Hayes, also Labour, explained more housing could “squeeze the life out of Welwyn Hatfield” and did not want to give into pressure from the government to turn the borough into concrete.

He added: “This isn’t a plan I would put together [..] but we are stuck with a plan I don’t like.”

He explained that infrastructure such as doctors surgeries, schools and transport were ignored in favour of an idea that everyone walks and cycles, which is a view “shared” by the borough’s residents that primarily drive.

The Lib Dem’s Paul Zukowskyj agreed more social housing needs to be built but thinks many developers “would weasel” their way out of any affordable housing agreement, so substantially fewer homes would make more sense.

Samuel Kasumu, a Conservative councillor, said the fault does not lie with the government and as 80 per cent of Welwyn Hatfield was in the Green Belt it was very likely the borough would not end up a concrete jungle even in his lifetime as one of the “younger” members on the panel.

“We have to consider what kind of garden city we wish to live in and who we want to have the opportunity to live in this wonderful place”, Cllr Kasumu.

When it came to approving the full range of sites, Labour and Lib Dems – who are represented by six councillors on the panel – abstained with five Conservative councillors voting for the draft Local Plan, which carried the vote.

Councillor Stephen Boulton, executive member for environment and planning: said: “Our challenge throughout this process is to balance two competing demands – to protect our green belt and preserve the character of our towns and villages, while delivering the new homes and jobs residents need now and for the future.

“The decisions we have faced are really tough, but I believe with these proposals we have got that balance right.

“We understand the concerns people have about the impact of growth on their quality of life, and that is why the adoption of our Local Plan is so important; it is how we will secure the vital infrastructure such as roads and schools needed to support growth.”

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