Council confirms which Local Plan sites will be dropped

Councillor Tony Kingsbury (Conservative, Welwyn West) chairing a Local Plan meeting to determine housing targets.

Cllr Tony Kingsbury backed the changes to the Local Plan. - Credit: Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council

Plans to build 1,500 new homes on the Green Belt in Symondshyde will be one of the developments dropped by Welwyn Hatfield under plans to fight the government’s housing target, the borough council has confirmed.

The confirmation came after the leader of the council backed a call to ignore the inspector’s 15,200 target for new homes in the borough between 2016 and 2036.

Councillor Tony Kingsbury (Conservative, Welwyn West) said choosing to instead reduce the target by almost 2,000 will see the council “go as far as we can” to limit building in the borough while offering a viable plan.

Symondshyde Green

Symondshyde Green - Credit: John Gardener

At a cabinet meeting on January 18, members echoed the view of last week’s meeting that the council should argue the borough doesn’t have the capacity to build more than 13,279 homes in the plan period.

The cabinet was presented with a list of sites to remove from the latest draft plan to meet the new figure, which is largely similar to the November 2020 draft plan and includes dropping plans for a new village in Symondshyde.

Councillors across political groups have long tried to take plans for the new village out of the plan, but the government inspector Melvyn Middleton has said the development was potentially sound and should remain under consideration.

Other plans set to be dropped include 300 homes to the west of Brookmans Park railway station and 100 homes south of Hawkshead Road, Little Heath.

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Two developments in Cuffley – 75 homes in Wells Farm and 73 homes to the north of Northaw Road East – will also be removed from the plan.

The final site expected to be removed is for four homes on a proposed extension to a Gypsy and Traveller site in Barbaraville, Mill Green. 

The Brookmans Park site had been deemed sound by the planning inspector, while the others had been deemed ‘potentially sound’ if more sustainable sites came forward or if local need exists.

When taking into account projects the council have already completed or committed to, the council will need to earmark land for 8,200 more homes to meet the new 13,279 figure.

Council officers raised the risks of returning to the inspector with the amended plan, and suggested there was a “strong likelihood of the strategy being found unsound”.

Officers also told members if the plan was rejected without a five-year housing land supply in place the council could be more vulnerable to planning appeals.

However, Cllr Kingsbury said councillors had to reflect the strength of feeling of residents and recent advice from central government indicated local authorities were best placed to make planning decisions.

The council leader said: “It’s important that we try to get a plan in place, but we do need to consider and listen really hard to the views of our residents.

“I’m sure all members from all parties from all areas have received many emails from concerned residents and we do need to listen to that.”

Cllr Kingsbury added: “The proposal from one of our group to reject the higher numbers was unanimously agreed by all members. This did put forward an alternative which I believe is going as far as we can and would at least be a viable plan to go forward with.”

The council leader added he would ask officers to seek legal advice on whether the council’s new approach is a “legitimate option”.

Ahead of Tuesday’s meeting, the Liberal Democrat group also warned of the risks of having an unsound plan, and said the previous 2020 plan included sites that were “unfairly and unsustainably distributed across the borough”. 

The group voted to reject the four options presented to councillors last week, but did not support the move to revisit the reduced figure during Thursday’s meeting.

Deputy leader of the opposition, Councillor Jane Quinton (Liberal Democrat, Panshanger) said: “I really hope the Conservative Council leaders have a cunning plan up their sleeve to save the situation they have put us in. Otherwise, all our communities will lose out.”

The changes to the plan and approach to housing targets will be debated by councillors of all parties at full council on Thursday, January 27.