Inspector finds Welwyn Hatfield Local Plan ‘currently unsound’

PUBLISHED: 12:53 06 December 2018 | UPDATED: 16:59 06 December 2018

L: Inspector Melvyn Middleton at a Local Plan hearing in 2017. R: Symondshyde fields. Picture: WHBC/Save Symondshyde

L: Inspector Melvyn Middleton at a Local Plan hearing in 2017. R: Symondshyde fields. Picture: WHBC/Save Symondshyde

WHBC/Save Symondshyde

Welwyn Hatfield Council has been sent back to the drawing board after its Local Plan fell 4,000 homes short of requirements.

At a forthcoming meeting of the Cabinet Planning and Parking Panel on December 13, councillors will discuss what to do next after the inspector Melvyn Middleton told them to submit a new plan.

Councillors had been told to find sites for 16,000 new homes, but the submitted local plan only proposed 12,000.

In a letter to head of planning Colin Haigh on October 24, he said: “At some point, your council needs to determine what its approach to the Green Belt is going to be.”

The council commissioned a consultation on the Green Belt in August, but Mr Middleton felt the council needs to make its mind up as to how much weight to give to it.

He also pointed out: “Some of the proposed development sites are considered to be more harmful to the Green Belt than some land that is not proposed for development.”

The inspector also advised the council not to consider ‘green wedges’ - areas of green that divide distinct settlements and help prevent them all merging together - with the same weight as Green Belt land.

The council’s report for the upcoming Cabinet meeting seized on one key possibility the inspector mentioned, though: that if they absolutely can’t find Green Belt land that is acceptable to build on to meet targets, they might conceivably be allowed to build fewer houses.

The hearing sessions on November 6 and 7, involving umpteen councillors, developers and local residents’ groups, all bringing their concerns to Mr Middleton, had been bogged down with discussions on whether the decision-making process itself was consistent.

Mr Middleton’s letter batted these off, saying: “These are really decisions for yourself and your council rather than me.”

He also addressed accusations of partisanship in the decision-making process, asking the council to undertake a “reality check” on how partisan some of these decisions really are. However, he ultimately advised the council to examine this again for possible partisanship.

In response, the council has now set out a new time frame for arriving at an acceptable Local Plan.

The New Year will see the council start a brand new call for sites and public consultation process, with a new set of sites proposed by the summer.

There will be hearings in the autumn for all new sites, village sites and Symondshyde village, with a final adoption of the renewed plan by spring 2020.

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