Ready, Shreddie, Go? Welwyn Hatfield Council to decide on latest Wheat Quarter plans
PUBLISHED: 10:56 05 December 2018 | UPDATED: 12:38 05 December 2018
The latest plans for the former Shredded Wheat factory site will cram nearly twice the number of units that were first proposed onto the site, and has been recommended for approval.
Welwyn Hatfield Council’s Development Management Committee will vote tomorrow (Thursday, December 6) on the most recent proposal for the Grade-II listed building and its surrounding site, known as the Wheat Quarter.
In 2017, the council approved a proposal that included 850 flats and other units, including offices, an art gallery, gym, restaurants, nursery, and other facilities. However, in this updated version the developers have almost doubled that figure to 1,454 units.
A report by the council’s corporate director for public protection, planning and governance has recommended the plans for approval.
The proposal has had 165 responses from the public: 89 in support, 44 objections, and 32 general comments. Remarks have ranged from: “So excited about the whole scheme”, to someone who called the design “bitterly disappointing”.
Here are some of the main issues on the table:
• Affordable housing
The developers propose 414 affordable housing units out of a total of 1,340. Of those deemed ‘affordable’, 258 will be shared ownership units of up to three bedrooms, 106 affordable rent homes of up to three bedrooms, and 50 at social rent for the over-55s only, of up to two bedrooms.
The report notes that this last category is 12 short of the ideal outlined in draft policy, but says this is still a “positive contribution”.
Many commenters agree more homes are needed, but some objections note there is little social housing planned, and asked if they would be affordable in real terms.
The council will doubtless be thinking of its Local Plan mandate from central government to build around 16,000 new homes.
“Were the applicant to have proposed no affordable housing the scheme would still be compliant with affordable housing policy since the requirement is ‘subject to viability’,” argued the report, which agreed with developers’ assertion that the profit margin allowed by the current affordable housing provision is already far less than they would expect.
• Jobs and economy
In theory, the office space, retail and leisure units will create capacity for 625 new full-time jobs - that’s not counting construction jobs. But this isn’t a guarantee, just an indicator of the potential. The shops and services proposed, says the report, are “of an appropriate scale to the site and to avoid any significant impact on the nearby town centre,” adding that this “adds animation and activity in the right places”.
• The station footbridge
The developers have withdrawn their proposal to refurbish the footbridge, but are offering £750,000 towards it.
The council report quashed Network Rail objections, saying the bridge is the rail authority’s responsibility anyway.
• Traffic and parking
Sited next to the railway station, the design proposal appears to assume lower-than-average car use.
Developers applied for permission to allow 0.7 parking spaces per flat, less than guideline figures of 0.9 spaces, which it aims to work round using car club spaces.
Commenters are worried that parking will overflow into surrounding streets and that traffic will worsen all the same.
“Surrounding roads are well provisioned with parking restrictions,” argued the council report, but raised the possibility of introducing a Controlled Parking Zone to offset the impact.
• Design and heritage
Some commenters were particularly keen to preserve a view of the iconic factory building and its silos from the railway station, which will now be partially blocked. The council report said that “important glimpses” had still been preserved.
Some commenters were also dismayed that there is less greenery than they would like, and that the building heights would dwarf the old silos.
The council report calls it “well-designed”, claiming that the density and building height are not out of place due to its location, and that the height of the buildings were actually justified by the silos.
But the Welwyn Garden City Society, who echoed the greenery and vista concerns, said the architecture’s modernist and Beaux-Arts references were out of place.
Or as one objector put it: “Commuters on the train would think they are nearing King’s Cross.”