The final consultation on the Welwyn Hatfield local plan has now closed and our Liberal Democrat group submitted comments which are available to view from the links on the right, or on the Welwyn Hatfield Planning Consultation Portal, but this is a summary of what we think of the draft plan.
Sadly our council has shown no vision in trying to meet the need for new housing, especially affordable housing. They have washed their hands of any leadership role, and rely on local landowners to bring sites forward. There has been scant regard for the required infrastructure, whether existing or future.
Our council has accepted an estimate of 12,500 houses required in the Borough by 2032, but we question the projections that lead to such a high number. For one thing, the increase in student numbers and housing on the old BAE airfield site have skewed the statistics. For another, Hertsmere Council, immediately to the south of Welwyn Hatfield, have had their local plan accepted with only 6000 new houses as they have argued against destroying their Greenbelt. Why have Welwyn Hatfield council seemingly just accepted the housing numbers and the loss of greenbelt?
As a result, WGC is at risk of being overwhelmed by an increase in size of over 50%. In addition to the brownfield sites in the town, major housing sites are planned to the east of WGC, where our Council has accepted the building of 1350 homes by East Herts Council on the edge of our garden city, on the Panshanger airfield and Hillyfields Meadows site, and big developments around Hatfield Garden Village and (new to this plan) the proposed new village of Symondshyde to the west of WGC. Most of these will be built on the council's so-called "Strategic Green Corridor".
The Panshanger and Hillyfields site is particularly ill advised as it accentuates the sprawl of the town to the NE, whilst destroying a well-loved airfield and open areas valued for their rich wildlife habitat. Residents around the Hillyfields meadow will lose a valuable area of open recreation space in an area where many of the green spaces have already been built on.
There are serious alternatives that the Council have ignored. Engagement with North Herts and other neighbouring authorities on a new garden city is one very significant measure that could reduce the load on WGC. Our Liberal Democrat councillor on the relevant committee, Malcolm Cowan, has consistently urged the council to consider this option, but they have not taken it seriously. Malcolm has also been the only councillor to stand up and vote against the proposals in the plan whilst the Conservative and the Labour members (up until the last meeting) just voted it through, even though their electors had told them in no uncertain terms that it was unacceptable. Our Council has also chosen to ignore thousands of responses to previous consultations and other solutions to spreading the development around the borough more evenly.
We are in favour of more housing, and some of the proposals being brought forward are sensible, but it is a question of scale, impact and better planning. School places, transport and the environment are all serious issues that are not adequately covered in the plan. We believe our community deserves better.