1. Local Plan

i. The OAN: will the council reflect the lower population projections?

The council’s Cabinet Planning and Parking Panel, (CPPP), (Chair, Councillor Stephen Boulton) is to meet on 12th November to consider the outcome of the consultation on additional sites which took place earlier this year. Members will also have before them the interim report of the inspector with his view on the “soundness” of the Plan and further information from the council’s consultants, Turley, about the effect on the Objectively Assessed Need (OAN) of the latest household formation projections from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) that were published in the summer.

In his report the inspector states his preliminary conclusion that “exceptional circumstances exist for the release of sites from the Green Belt sufficient to meet the housing requirement”. (https://www.welhat.gov.uk/local-plan/new/examination/inspector)

This would be a stark consequence for our local Green Belt.

The inspector is quite blunt that the Council must propose additional housing sites sufficient to meet the full OAN or withdraw the Plan from examination.

ii. Why should the OAN be so high?

In the Proposed Submission document on which the council consulted us in August 2016, (https://www.welhat.gov.uk/new-local-plan) the OAN was in a range of 12,616 -13,433 and the adopted housing target was 12,000 equating to 637 dwellings per year over the period 2013-2032. Following new ONS projections in 2014, the OAN was understood to have increased and is currently considered to be 16,000 over the revised plan period of 2016-2036. This equates to 800 dwellings per year.

Under the guidelines for preparing the plan, the starting point for establishing the OAN should be the most recent population and household projections. These are then “uplifted” to reflect local factors. For example the original OAN in 2016 included an uplift of 10% which “included a positive allowance to help improve household formation rates among younger people” (whatever that meant!).

The ONS projections published this summer show a dramatic 60 per cent slowdown in the projected increase in the growth of the number of households over the plan period and therefore a much lower starting point from which to calculate the OAN. Turley was asked by the Council to review the OAN in the light of the latest projections.

In their review, Turley chose not to use the latest figures as a new starting point but treated the slowdown as a “blip”. They said that 16,000 was still an appropriate figure, though at the top of a range of 715 – 800 dwellings per annum over the 20 years 2016-2036. However they recommended an OAN towards the bottom of the range, namely 775 dwellings per annum giving a total of 14,300.

Several councillors questioned the evidence for this recommendation and the application of uplifts in excess of 50% above the starting point implied by the new projections. Turley was to be asked to take account of their comments and that response should be available to councillors for the CPPP meeting on 12th November.

iii. An independent review

The NMDGBS has commissioned an independent professional review of the Turley report by Alan Wenban Smith which we have submitted in response to the inspector’s consultation and which we are sending to councillors with our comment.

The report is quite clear that Turley’s latest recommendation is unduly high and has not been substantiated; that the starting point based on the latest ONS projections should be 309 households per annum; that all “uplifts” to take account of other factors should be transparent and fully evidenced.

Our planning consultant Jed Griffiths has also prepared a commentary on Turley’s review.

Both reports can be accessed on our website.

iv. Other Reviews

And we are not alone in showing that the OAN proposed by Turley is unduly high.

The campaign “Save Symonshyde” have calculated an OAN of 387 dwellings per year (7,740 for the Plan period).

Future Housing Need – Hertfordshire 2020-2036, published by CPREHerts, compares the projected housing need based on the latest ONS projections with that based on the ONS projections made in 2014. For Welwyn Hatfield this shows a reduction of 51% in the estimated need over the period.

The survey concludes: “Annual housing must reflect local factors and would be no less than 314 dwellings a year. The standard method isn’t applied for the current local plan, but as a guideline it would indicate up to 432 dwellings a year (a total for the borough over 15 years of between 4,710 and 6,480) 9,500 dwellings fewer than the inspector recommended.” https://www.cpreherts.org.uk/

v. How much Growth?

The council’s consultation document of August 2016 includes a chapter, “How Much Growth” which sets out the targets for housing and employment. It is the employment and economic growth ambitions particularly which influence the OAN and provide the uplifts from the ONS projections.

In his interim report to the council the inspector is clear that if WHBC maintain their targets for employment growth, they have to find the housing.

But targets for growth need to be realistic and reflect current circumstances.

Councillors need to be confident that the original aspirations are still appropriate for changed economic circumstances and will not lead to unnecessary over appropriation of sites for housing in the local Green Belt.

Notwithstanding the confident assertion of the Prime Minister quoted below, in Welwyn Hatfield, the consequence of “build build build” will be the sacrifice of our local green belt.

vi. Remember Remember the 12th of November (and the 23rd too)

So there is much riding on the CPPP meeting on 12th November (and of course the full Council meeting on the 23rd .

In other circumstances we would have organised a demonstration outside the Council Offices but on zoom it doesn’t have the same impact. So if you haven’t already done so, write to your local councillors and urge them to approve an OAN that fully reflects the changes in the population projections and changed economic circumstances.

2. Local planning applications

The society has submitted objections to two recent planning applications.

Details of the applications at https://planning.welhat.gov.uk/Planning

  • (Reference 6/2020/2379/MAJ)for development at The Firs Park, Woodside Lane, Bell Bar AL9 6DG. The application is for “the use of land as an extension to the existing caravan park for the provision of an additional 25 caravans.

  • An application, (reference 6/2020/2248/OUTLINE) for outline permission for the erection of up to 100 dwellings, with all matters reserved except access, at Roundhouse Farm, off Bullens Green Lane, Colney Heath. A parallel application has been made to St Albans BC as this site straddles the local authority boundary with St Albans. The site has not been proposed for the local plans for either council.

3.The White Paper: Planning for the Future

The Society has responded to the government’s consultation on the White Paper, Planning for the Future with a submission prepared by our Planning Consultant Jed Griffiths which argues that we need a system which takes account of local interests, and is transparent in its operation.

Specifically on the Green Belt, the paper notes that whilst the list of proposed protected areas includes Green Belt, it is simply not enough to state that policy will remain unchanged. Given the current pressures on the Green Belt, there needs to be a positive affirmation of the policy to protect the Green Belt and the open countryside.

You can see the full response on our website.

4. Quotes of the month

  • There is abundant brownfield space across the whole UK, and I speak as someone who used to be the planning authority for London, and I know whereof I speak. The opportunity is there.”

Boris Johnson, responding to Coventry North West MP, Ms Taino Owatemi MP at Prime Minister’s Questions. Hansard 7.10.20

  • Panshanger is a great example of how Homes England is focussing its expertise on preparing land for the development of new homes. The site has long been recognised for its potential to deliver homes for Hertfordshire and the wider East of England.”

Dan Wheatley, Senior development Manager at Homes England. (Homes England is the non-departmental public body that funds new affordable housing in England.)

Welwyn Hatfield Times 14.10 20