The Parish Council role in Planning
Not all communities have a Parish Council, for instance there is no Parish Council for Goffs Oak, but where they exist they occupy the third tier of Local Government, the first tier in our area is Hertfordshire County Council whose functions include Education, Social Services and Highways and the second tier is Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council whose functions include Planning, Leisure, Housing and Refuse Collection. The Parish Council does not have statutory responsibilities in the same way as the other two tiers, our day to day functions are focused on management of local assets such as car parks and open spaces but we do have a role in representing the local community to the other two tiers of Local Government and other agencies such as the Environment Agency. It is therefore particularly important that we receive feedback from residents about local issues of concern so that we can present these views to the relevant statutory agencies.
The role of Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council
The Planning process is managed by Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council who receives, assesses and approves/rejects planning applications. The Parish Council also reviews all planning applications and can formally object to applications and has done so on a frequent basis. If we object to a planning application this results in the application being heard by the full Borough Council Development Management Committee, which provides an opportunity for the Parish Council to make representations in person at the Committee. The Parish Council has a planning committee which is open to the public and we welcome residents to attend and voice their concerns about specific planning applications.
Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council have for some time been preparing their long term Local Plan which sets out their 20 year proposals for the area including the provision for additional house building. We have made substantial representations about certain aspects of the draft plan, particularly our concerns about inappropriate development in the greenbelt and traffic congestion. The Local Plan deals with strategic issues leaving detailed issues largely to be dealt with on a case by case basis. Inevitably this means that many detailed issues become a matter of subjective opinion, for instance is the development in character, too dense, too close to existing properties etc. These are typically the type of issues that concern residents and form the basis of our formal objections to planning applications.
Follow this link to find out more about the planning applications process
The Neighbourhood Plan
In order to avoid the apparent “Planning Decision Lottery” the Parish Council has for the last year or so been developing the Neighbourhood Plan which will contain detailed policies to deal with many of the issues that have given rise to historical objections. Once in place the Neighbourhood Plan policies will have a significant influence on decisions made by Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council. Once the next draft of the Local Plan is available we will finalise the Neighbourhood Plan as quickly as possible, unfortunately it is not possible to move the Neighbourhood Plan forward without sight of what is likely to be the final draft of the Local Plan.
We have discussed with senior Councillors and Officers at Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council how the planning system functions in practice and how we can more effectively make representations. It is apparent from those discussions that we should be engaging more with the three elected Welwyn Hatfield Ward Councillors. These Councillors are elected by the community and should be responsive to local concerns; they have the ability to make both formal and informal representations within Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council particularly on matters such as planning.
The Parish Council meets regularly with the three Ward councillors to brief them on local issues and to explore how we can work more closely together to represent community views. Local Government is designed to be a “bottom up” structure where elected Councillors are in touch with their local communities and represent these views in decision making forums. It is therefore important that as well as letting the Parish Council know about issues of concern that residents contact their Ward Councillors and ask them to lend their support, this is particularly true of planning issues.
You can find out more about the Neighbourhood Plan here.
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%.
Follow this link to find out more about the Local Plan