Panshanger Homes Proposal

panshanger development

Proposed development area, known as WGC4

[box title=”Note:”]The Council have now decided to focus on  creating one document, a ‘Local Plan’ instead of the Emerging Core Strategy. However all of the below is still valid currently as this new Local Plan will not be released until summer/autumn 2014 and it’s quite probable that 700 new homes (or perhaps more) will still be the plan for Panshanger. [/box]

Local people, through this group, came together to spread the word about the recent consultation put out by the council. The consultation, called the Emerging Core Strategy (ECS)  consultation is part of the Local Development framework (LDF) that every council has to have in place. The ECS will outline where new homes and infrastructure will be located for the 18 years following its adoption in 2014. All of this now falls under the auspices of the ‘Local Plan’, a new requirement from central government that is described in the new Localism Act and National Policy Planning Framework.

Emerging Core Strategy front cover

Emerging Core Strategy front cover

Under the prior goverment’s more centralised planning legislation our Borough was told to accommodate 10,000 new homes by the East of England Regional Assembly.  However, several local authorities, led by St Albans, challenged this approach in the high court and won the case. Therefore, for the last few years there has been no housing target at all for our borough.

One key point to bear in mind is that our local plan has to be adopted during 2014. Once the deadline has passed for local authorities to get a plan in place, if no plan has yet been adopted in Welwyn Hatfield it becomes open season for developers. That is, developers can apply to develop without having to adhere to any local planning guidelines. Neither local residents  or our council would have any power to prevent any unwanted and inappropriate developments. Those that are perhaps not in keeping with the existing local area of general Garden City ethos.  Therefore, if our current Core Strategy stalls, or is put back due to bad management and/or practice at the borough council there is a clear risk that our borough will drift into the open season scenario – at least for a period. That would be very bad news, especially bad for a flagship Garden City.

Our council has now done its own surveys into housing supply and demand in the borough and has decided that 7,200 homes are needed, and that they should be built in phases over the 18 year period. All of this is covered in the various documents put out to support the consultation. The survey documents and reports suggest that new housing developments could be located in many different areas around the borough, possible numbers and locations were also described. However, it was eventually decided, and voted for by the council cabinet, that only two locations for development outside urban areas should be chosen;  those being Hatfield Garden Village and our area, Panshanger.

In 2009, in the dying days of the previous legislation and planning strategy, there was consultation on the Core Strategy called Issues and Options. That document contained proposals for housing in a number of locations, including Panshanger and the larger villages. The public response was overwhelmingly against these locations, including Panshanger. However, in the 2013 consultation the larger villages were removed from the proposal and Panshanger was upgraded to a site of major development. It remains unclear as to how this decision was arrived at, especially in view of the current government mandate of local communities having a say in planning issues that affect them. This seems to be quite the reverse!

Below are maps taken from 2009 and 2013,  spot the differences?

 

2009 Welwyn Hatfield proposal map

2009 proposal map

2013 proposal map

2013 proposal map

The 2013 map now shows only two areas for growth, although it does also identify an area out of the borough in East Herts which they also earmark for Welwyn Hatfield housing. Comments into the consultation from East Herts council strongly oppose the inclusion of this area however, citing that no agreement exists and nothing has been jointly discussed.

The key documents relating to the consultation are:

1.Land for Housing Outside Urban Areas (Panshanger features heavily in this one)

2. Emerging_Core_Strategy_November_2012

3. Green_Belt_SHLAA_Oct_2012

Item three was prepared for the Core Strategy but not included in the main documents put forward, neither was it  included on the WHBC CD given out at roadshow events. This is the document that identifies more than just two sites as available and suitable for development. The conclusion on page 28 states:

The results of the Phase 2 Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment (SHLAA) indicate that of the 103 sites assessed in this process, 16 are considered suitable, available and achievable for development in the Green Belt or on safeguarded land. These sites adjoin Welwyn, Welwyn Garden City, Hatfield, Brookmans Park, Welham Green, Oaklands and Mardley Heath and Cuffley.

Despite the above recommendations by professionals the council cabinet meeting voted to go with the option of only including the two locations, Panshanger & Hatfield Garden Village, in the Emerging Core Strategy consultation. The meeting lasted only 20 minutes and there were about eight separate issues covered, not very long allocated to this major housing decision it would appear, the meeting minutes are informative in their very brevity. The minutes from that important meeting on the 9th October can be found here: Cabinet Minutes.

You will also notice that the decision was taken, even though  council officers recommended deferral, as a key document designed to aid decision making, the Sustainability Appraisal, was not yet available for cabinet members to read. Therefore, this momentous decision was made without cabinet members being in receipt of the factual documentation relating to it.

In light of the fact that the council’s flow chart for the strategy states that only minor changes will be made after resident’s feedback has been evaluated it is hard to see how the option of only two locations for growth would be altered based on public feedback.

The CPRE (Campaign to Protect Rural England) are a well respected and influential group who have long campaigned for sustainable development and Green Belts.  On January 30th they wrote a letter to WHBC highly critical of the Emerging Core Strategy and the way it had been constructed. The final paragraph is illuminating:

For all of the above reasons we consider that the current consultation is flawed. As things stand  we  consider  that  the  current  lack  of  clarity makes  the  soundness  of  the  strategy questionable and could lead to an unsound Core Strategy. We call on the Council to review its documents and re-consult.

We recommend that everyone reads the full letter, it is available here: CPRE letter to WHBC 300113

The letter also details many other criticisms of the proposed core strategy and we as a group would endorse all of those.

Distribution of new homes is one of several issues that we would raise. Another is how the required numbers have been decided. Projections and data have often not taken into account factors such as the economic downturn. The rapid and ongoing changes to retailing are also not factored in at all in the Core Strategy. For example, it states that there will be a 10 fold increase in the amount of retail space to be made available in the town for non food goods. The very goods that are increasingly  sold online, and the sector which is seeing major store chains fail almost monthly at the moment.

Another aspect of the new homes proposal is provision of fifteen traveller/gypsy pitches. This was one of the concerns raised by residents when they were asked to comment on post-it notes at a roadshow event at the Fairway Tavern a few months ago.

Panshanger roadshow resident's comments

Panshanger roadshow resident’s comments

 

Other issues that have not been adequately considered or addressed in the Core Strategy consultation, in our view:

Water issues and the Mimram River

 Panshanger airfield acts as a natural soak away. If 700 houses are built across it, the run-off will not only introduce pollutants into the environmentally sensitive Mimram River, but also into the water table.  This would make matters worse unless extensive flood prevention methods were introduced, which have not been planned or budgeted for.

The Mimram is a chalk stream the like of which are found nowhere in the world except the south and east of England and pockets of northern France, so the wildlife habitats they produce are quite unique.  The chalk aquifer makes the perfect underground reservoir, so as populations have grown, water companies have dug deeper boreholes to abstract more water.  Our local water source, the Mimram River, is currently being over-abstracted.   It is hoped that that the Environment Agency will be in a position to compensate Affinity Water for reducing their current abstraction rate by a third. To make up the shortfall water can be pumped in by Affinity, but only enough to cover the shortfall. Not enough to supply 700 new homes!

The importance and beauty of the river Mimram and its valley must be protected. You can find links and lot more about this on our dedicated Mimram page on the main menu.

Proximity to the Tewinbury SSSI


This SSSI lies in the Mimram valley, and contains a variety of habitats including wet meadow, tall fen / swamp, alder carr, willow scrub, willow pollards and chalk stream. It plays host to many creatures, including the much imperilled water voles, kingfishers, wetland and overwintering birds and even the elusive woodcock.


In the Sustainability Appraisal reviews of the suitability for development of Brookmans Park (BrP6) and Cuffley (Cuf1&6), their neighbouring SSSIs were listed as disadvantages while Panshanger has an SSSI (Tewinbury) situated much closer to the proposed development site (BLG WGC4) than either of these other two. Panshanger lies 450m south of Tewinbury SSSI and if development gets pushed into the green belt, as has been mooted in the Strategy documentation, then it could potentially be within 220m of its boundary.

The nearest SSSI to BrP6 is 1.2km and to Cuf 1 & 6 is 1.2km and 2 km, respectively. It does not appear that proximity to the SSSIs has been given equal weight in the consideration of suitable sites between Panshanger and Bookmans Park/Cuffley.

The critical role of the Green Belt in preventing urban sprawl and the coalescence of urban areas

The introduction of green belt around our UK towns was the culmination of over 50 years of environmentalist pressure, with roots in the garden city movement and influence from organisations determined to combat urban sprawl. The Green Belt now represents a long term policy, beyond the lifetime of individual national or local governments. It provides a legacy for the next generation.

The United Kingdom’s Green Belt planning policy aims to control urban growth, through the provision of a ring of countryside around towns, within which urbanisation is resisted for the foreseeable future. Maintaining these areas for agriculture, forestry and outdoor leisure purposes.. The fundamental aim of green belt planning policy is to prevent urban sprawl by keeping land permanently open, and consequently the most important attribute of the Green Belt is its openness.

The current government re-iterated green belt policy in 2012  through an act of parliament, the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).  In the NPPF government states five purposes for the green belt.  Three of these focus on the green belt’s critical role in avoiding urban sprawl and the coalescence of towns and settlements. The government stated purposes for green belt in the NPPF are:

1 To check the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas.
2 To prevent neighbouring towns from merging into one another
3 To assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment

The proposed large expansion of Welwyn Garden City to the east.  Across the narrow green belt gap towards Hertford and other local settlements would contravene government policy and direction. East Herts clearly do not agree to this merging of the two areas, at the current time at least. 

Welwyn Hatfield and East Herts seem to disagree

Welwyn Hatfield and East Herts seem to disagree

A recent WHT article above quotes their position.

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There are many other elements of this proposal worthy of comment in relation to Panshanger, they will be raised on this website as we go forward.

Background to this issue and the formation of our group:

During the consultation period, which ended on the 1st Feb this year, a residents meeting was held and a committed band of local residents got together primarily to help raise awareness of the council’s plans, and help people engage with the consultation process which was designed to be accessed online. This event differed from the council’s own consultation roadshow in that it was a group Q & A that sought to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the proposals, as well as point out the flaws in both the process and the justifications for the plans being put forward.

Public Meeting at Panshanger Church Hall
Public Meeting at Panshanger Church Hall

The other key function of the meeting was to show people how to comment online on the council consultation portal. Almost everyone present agreed this was a daunting and complex process, which had not been adequately explained to them by anybody thus far.

Although the consultation ran for a couple of months, it became clear that a large proportion of residents knew nothing about it, and certainly did not know how to comment on the proposals. The core documentation ran to 600 pages, with a few hundred more if you also count the supporting documentation.  Volunteers from the group did as much as possible to help people find and comment on the consultation. This included many hours spent outside local shops at weekends, and many thousands of leaflets printed and delivered by their own fair hands. It’s worth noting that the local council did not directly leaflet any of the nearby homes that would be affected by these proposals.

Volunteers engaging shoppers at a local supermarket
Volunteers engaging shoppers at a local supermarket

 

Below is a flow diagram taken from a display board at a council roadshow on the subject:

consultation sequence
consultation sequence