About the Local Plan
What is the Local Plan
Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council are currently preparing and finalising the Local Plan which once adopted will be a statutory document which sets out planning policy for the next 15 to 20 years and will form the basis for determining planning applications. It will include which sites will be released from the greenbelt and will be developed.
The good news is that no new housing development is proposed for Northaw. The bad news is that circa 400 new homes are proposed to be built, 299 on greenbelt sites in Cuffley in the next 10 years or so. This will increase the population of Cuffley by circa 30%.
WHBC’s emerging proposals
We have been aware for over two years of WHBC’s emerging proposals which up to June were for circa 190 new homes – the major sites being 120 units next to Greenfields and 30 units at the end of the Meadway. The Parish Council has always accepted that there would have to be development on the Greenbelt and has not opposed the allocation of 190 additional housing units.
As part of the Local Plan development process WHBC are required to quantify their assessment of Housing Needs for the next twenty years and there is Government Guidance on the methodology and data sources to be used. It is important to recognise that the assessment of need is not the same as demand; the assessed need should reflect the needs of local businesses in terms of homes for workers as well as natural population growth. WHBC have computed that their area requires circa 12,000 new homes over the next twenty years.
In early 2015 the Parish Council engaged expert planning consultants to review the projection of a need for 12,000 new homes and they concluded that that 12,000 was an over estimate of need. The methodology underlying the computation takes historic trends and extrapolates them forward. In this case the WHBC methodology is flawed for the following reasons
- In the last 10 to 15 years major residential development took place on redundant aerospace sites. These once off historic opportunities will not reoccur in the next 20 years
- In the last decade there was a once off surge in international immigration which will not reoccur
- In the last decade there was a significant increase in student numbers as a result of university expansion which will not reoccur
The above once off historic events are factored into the WHBC projections and are effectively assumed to reoccur and result in the over statement of need. This distortion and flaw can also be seen in comparative analysis of other Local Authorities needs assessment. For instance a comparison with Broxbourne shows that WHBC are projecting that its population will grow at twice the rate of Broxbourne’s, there is no obvious rationale behind the disparity apart from a flawed methodology. St Albans Council has alsoreached a similar conclusion that 12000 units is an over estimate of need.
Issues raised to WHBC
We raised the above and other issues in a 15 page letter to WHBC in March 2015 and have as yet received no response. We have also submitted a representation letter in October 2016 which raises additional issues in relation to compliance with National Planning Policy and traffic implications in and around Cuffley.
The WHBC Local Plan, including the need for 12,000 additional units, will be considered at a Public Enquiry in mid 2017 where an independent inspector appointed by the Secretary of State will review the draft Local Plan in detail and hear objections. The inspector will make recommendations to the Secretary of State who will ultimately agree or otherwise the Local Plan. WHBC will at the Public Enquiry need to justify all assumptions and the Parish Council will make formal objections at the Public Enquiry which will be presented to the Inspector by the Parish Council’s retained expert planning consultants and barristers.
We are aware of similar arguments being put to inspectors at similar Public Enquiries and being successful, putting the case before the inspector is therefore not an academic or hopeless exercise. The whole point of the Public Enquiry is to provide a forum where WHBC can be challenged.
It is Government Policy says WHBC Leadership
Currently the WHBC leadership and Councillors are taking the line that they have no choice as it is “Government policy”. This is not an accurate representation of the position. Government no longer sets targets for individual local authorities and WHBC have some flexibility in how they interpret data and use the standard methodology to assess future housing needs. The WHBC area is 80% greenbelt and an over estimate of housing needs results in unjustifiable greenbelt development, which is the case currently.
Our recently elected WHBC ward Councillors stood on a ticket to protect the greenbelt and it is important that the Parish Council and the local electorate hold them to their election promises. It can be no coincidence that the news of the new allocation of 400 units was postponed until after the recent local elections.
The headline number of 400 additional units is not the only bad news. Within the 400 allocation are two new additional sites, Wells Farm and the front portion of the Metropolis site, both on the west side of Northaw Road opposite the tennis courts. When considering greenbelt sites for development typically planners look for natural boundaries which will prevent subsequent development creep. For instance the site next to Greenfields is bounded by a road, a public footpath, a railway and existing development. The two new sites on the west of Northaw Road have no natural boundaries, which is contrary to National Planning Policy. This will inevitably result in development creep over the next 20 years up the hill round the back of the existing development all the way to the Ridgeway. This will result in the development of thousands of houses which will fundamentally change the nature of Cuffley.
Severe impact on the environment
Our neighbouring local authority, Broxbourne, also has draft plans which will result in a significant increase in housing numbers around Goffs Oak and Hammond Street which will give rise to a major increase in traffic through Cuffley and strain on rail services. It is clear that the cumulative impact of development in Cuffley and the local area will have a very severe impact on the environment and quality of life of all residents. The local plan currently has no assessment of the existing traffic and congestion issues within Cuffley and has no policies to mitigate the impact of future development.
The Parish Council understands the need for additional housing but the scale and associated risks of the current WHBC proposals are unacceptable as they will fundamentally change Cuffley.