It’s been a long summer for the local Plan and much has happened but there is still a long way to go.
The Hearing Sessions.
The “virtual” hearing sessions on the North Mymms sites took place in August with NMDGBS represented at all of them by our planning consultant Jed Griffiths.
Note that these hearings were only concerned with sites already included in the current draft. Those sites included in the council’s consultation in February 2020 will not be examined by the inspector until the council has decided which ones to put forward for the plan. More on that below, but meanwhile it left the inspector conducting hearings on sites in Brookmans Park and Little Heath which the council is proposing to withdraw from the plan.
What did we learn?
The hearings provide the inspector with the opportunity to listen to local views and to explore issues on which he wants further clarification. The inspector clearly has some misgivings but what he thinks will have to await his report.
Nevertheless, some things did emerge.
i. the promoters made it clear that they were only interested in promoting the site for employment use, specifically for a science park with some residential accommodation. They were not interested in promoting the site generally for residential development.
ii. It was said that both the Royal Vet College and the University of Hertfordshire supported the proposal. Yet at an earlier hearing about UH, its representative said that UH would be bringing forward an application for additional science facilities at their site at Angerland Common.
On BrP4/HS22 Brookmans Park:
i. One of the alleged advantages of developing this site had been the safety benefit arising from improvements to the Station Road approach to the railway bridge. The proposers made it clear that they had no plans for any substantial changes to Station Road.
ii. Although this is one of the sites that the Council has said it wishes to withdraw from the plan the inspector has indicated that consideration should be given to increasing the dwelling numbers on the site (currently 250).
On BrP7/HS25 Little Heath:
i. It was acknowledged that development of this site, at the southern boundary of Welwyn Hatfield Borough, would put additional pressure on Potters Bar infrastructure. There was a lively debate about the availability of school places which led to the inspector to ask the County Council for a detailed report on their assumptions and the reality of filled capacity.
ii. The boundary between the two boroughs was itself recognised as a matter of concern for the Green Belt as NMDGBS has long argued because developments are proposed on both sides of the border. We were pleased that the inspector asked WHBC to discuss an agreed position with Hertsmere BC and to report to him.
The Objectively Assessed Number (OAN)
Notwithstanding that the O stands for “objectively” the OAN, the target number for dwellings in the Plan and currently standing at 16,000, (800 dwellings per year) might more readily seem like the white rabbit from the conjurer’s hat.
The basis of the OAN is the projection for the growth of new households over the plan period (2021-2036) calculated by the Office of National Statistics (ONS). At the end of June, ONS published new projections showing a much slower anticipated growth than that which underpins the current OAN of 16,000.
The council’s consultants, Turley, were asked to review the OAN in the light of the new projections and have reported that the revised OAN is 14,300 (715 dwellings per year). This is conveniently close to the figure of 14,011 which the council included in its public consultation of February 2020, but it is a great deal higher than the slower growth would justify and depends on the methodology used in the calculation. So much for objectivity!
Turley’s report was considered by the Cabinet Planning and Parking Panel (CPPP) on 10th September and was severely criticised by Labour and Lib Dem members. Glynn Hayes said he had no confidence in Turley’s report that to him read more like a sales document than a justification of need. Paul Zukowskji could see no justification for an OAN that was 50% higher than the ONS projection. Chairman Stephen Boulton noted the disquiet and deferred discussion of the report. Meanwhile Turley would be asked to respond to the comments.
The inspector has been sent a copy of Turley’s report and is asking the council for its decision on the number. He is also asked for comments on the report before 30th October. NMDGBS will be responding in support of an OAN that takes full account of the slower rate of growth.
After a review by the inspector with council officials to take stock, it was agreed that
the inspector is to submit an interim report to the council in early October setting out his interim conclusions on what needs to be done if the plan is to be found “sound”.
This is to be considered by CPPP and Cabinet and the council’s response agreed at a full Council Meeting on 23rd November. It is at this point that any changes to the sites proposed will be made new sites in or existing sites out as per the council’s consultation in February this year. These “main modifications” will then be the subject of consultations and hearings by the inspector sometime in the new year.
It is not clear how sensible conclusions can be reached until such time as the CPPP has made up its mind about a revised OAN. CPPP is scheduled to meet next on 29th October and the Cabinet on 3rd November. As noted above, the inspector’s consultation is open until 30th October.
Can you do anything?
Write to your local councillors urging them to take full account of the slower rate of growth projected by the ONS when setting the target OAN for the plan. Otherwise they will be sacrificing Green Belt in the borough for dwellings that are not required for local people. The time is short.
Planning White Paper
At the beginning of August, Communities Secretary, Robert Jenrick, issued a White Paper proposing “radical Reforms” to the planning system you can view it here.
CPRE London’s latest Bulletin has a helpful summary here.
The proposals include “simplifying the role of Local Plans, to focus on identifying land under three categories
Growth areas suitable for substantial development, and where outline approval for development specified in the Plan.
Renewal areas suitable for some development such as gentle desensification Protected areas where, as the name suggests – development – is restricted. “
Green Belt would be included within the Protected Areas.
The White Paper has received a mixed reception.
The strap line in the Economist Magazine declared: “ Boris Johnson’s grand planning reform is not the big deal it is cracked up to be.” while the Chairman of the Local Government Association, quoted in the Financial Times, said that the loss of local control over decisions “would deprive communities of the ability to define the area they live in and know best and risk giving developers the freedom to ride roughshod over local areas.” He also refuted the “myth” that the existing system is a barrier to building more homes: “Nine in 10 applications are approved by councils, with more than a million homes given planning permission over the past decade yet to be built.”
Alongside the White Paper, Ministers are consulting on changes to the way that housing need in council areas is calculated. These changes will increase local plan targets across the country from a total of 270,000 dwellings to 337,000 –a 25% increase.
So even if the new arrangements continue to include Green Belt within the protected area category, there is bound to be greater pressure on Local Authorities to re-designate Green Belt boundaries.
The consultation lasts until October 29th . NMDGBS will work with the London Green Belt Council and CPRE Herts to develop comments.
Other Green Belt News
CPRE Herts has issued its annual review here.
The publication of the new draft Local Plan for Hertsmere is now earmarked for Spring 2021. Following publication there will be a six-week consultation period. NMDGBS will be particularly interested on any proposals at the boundary with Welwyn Hatfield.
Examination of the North Herts Local Plan has been postponed. It is understood that the council is considering reducing its OAN.