Council 'bitterly disappointed' as planning inspector says borough needs 15,200 homes

Panshanger Aerodrome from the air

Lots of sites including the land at Panshanger Aerodrome were reviewed in the Stage 9 hearing sessions earlier this year - Credit: Peter Sterling

Welwyn Hatfield still needs to build 15,200 homes over the next 15 years, after the tally was reduced by just 800 properties, or face its Local Plan being thrown out.

Planning Inspector Melvyn Middleton lowered the full objectively assessed housing need (FOAHN) for the borough from 16,000 homes in his latest report.

The council has currently only submitted plans to build 13,800 homes, but the inspector has identified sites to provide more than 17,000 possible dwellings.

Planning inspector Melvyn Middleton.

Planning inspector Melvyn Middleton. - Credit: Archant

Stage 9 hearings took place back in February and March, where Mr Middleton looked at the FOAHN, the windfall allowance, Green Belt boundaries at proposed development sites and held hearings into sites that had passed the council’s site selection tests but were not formally submitted into the Local Plan.

The windfall allowance, when sites become available for development unexpectedly and are not included in the Local Plan, was also raised to 1,809 dwellings.

The council now has to submit a new selection of sites by September 17 that will add up to the total 15,200 homes.

Cllr Stephen Boulton, executive member for environment, planning, estates and development, said: "We have published a series of documents setting out the inspector’s view on how the Local Plan moves forward. Crucially, he concludes that the plan can only be found sound if it delivers 15,200 homes over the next 15 years.

Cllr Stephen Boulton

Cllr Stephen Boulton - Credit: Archant

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“The council is bitterly disappointed in the decision. We know our communities have concerns about the impact of growth and, for many, this will feel a stretch too far.

“However, we cannot discount the risk of serious harm to this borough if we do not meet our housing needs, now and for our future generations. It is an incredibly difficult balance to strike.

“Our next step is to consider the inspector’s letters in more detail. We are keen to progress the plan as swiftly as possible and hope to share our more detailed response shortly.”

Meanwhile Liberal Democrat councillors have blamed the Conservatives for the high number of houses that will have to be built.

 Cllr Jane Quinton, Lib Dem lead on planning said: “The Conservatives have consistently used the Local Plan process to suit their own political priorities rather than making a plan which best serves the people of this Borough and they now have one final chance to sort it out. We sincerely hope the Conservatives pay attention this time and stop manipulating the choices, otherwise they alone will be responsible for the plan being thrown out.

Welwyn Hatfield Lib Dem councillor Jane Quinton

Cllr Jane Quinton - Credit: Welwyn Hatfield Lib Dems

Cllr Paul Zukowskyj, leader of the opposition on WHBC for the Lib Dems, added: “The 20 per cent increase in Welwyn Hatfield homes in the next few years means ripping up our Green Belt and building all over our precious open spaces. Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever. Conservatives at every level, national and local, are responsible."

Sites examined at Stage 9 hearings

There were dozens of sites examined at the hearings, here we have summarised the inspector's view on a few of the sites but you can find the full list on the council's website.

Welwyn Garden City

Urban sites (i.e. Broadwater Road, Town Centre North) - all considered to be sound.

SP 18 SDS1 (Panshanger) - already considered to have exceptional circumstances to remove land from the GB in this location,  hearing centred around if development could extend beyond what was originally proposed with regards to the new GB boundary.

SP 19 SDS2 (Birchall Garden Suburb) - Area was reduced in interim report to around 650 dwellings, needs to been screened to obscure views of the development, uncertainty over possible primary school in area.

HS2 (Creswick) - Found to be sound in principle.


Hatfield

Urban sites (i.e. HC08, Lemsford Road HC11, Meridian House) - all considered to be sound.

SP 22 SDS5 (North West Hatfield) - found to be sound in principle, concerns on impact on perceived separation between Welwyn Garden City and Hatfield.

HS11 (Land at South Way) - subject to the demonstration of exceptional circumstances to remove the site from the GB, this site is sound.


Woolmer Green

HS15 (Land East of London Road) - sound in principle but inspector expressed concerns about the use of land in the gap between Woolmer Green and Knebworth to provide a vehicular access.

WE100 (51-53 London Road) - an employment area therefore not appropriate to allocate sites within this area for residential development

WGr3 (52 London Road, Knebworth - not formally submitted) - 25 dwellings, considered a sustainable location for development.


Welwyn

Wel1,2, 6 and 15 (Land at Fulling Mill Lane and Kimpton Road) - GB sites not formally submitted, may be that the housing requirement at Welwyn does not justify the release of all of this land, up to 250 dwellings.


Digswell

Dig 1 (East of New Road) - council estimates 130 dwellings on 4.3h of the site, inspector said that may be 'over optimistic' but still scope for a sizeable development.


Welham Green

WeG1 Welham Manor and WeG3a (Land at Station Road) - GB site, about 100 dwellings, development would be less harmful to the GB’s purposes than most, meets the exceptional circumstances test and is sound.

WeG10 (Dixons Hill Road) - about about 120 dwellings, if the housing development requirement for the village cannot be more appropriately met elsewhere then this site would be found sound.

WeG6 (Skimpans Farm) -  about 70 dwellings, could contribute to the five-year supply of housing.


Symondshyde - Inspector satisfied that a development of 1,500 or more dwellings could be supported in this location.

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