The Council had taken its responsibility to plan for the future of the Borough very seriously and this Plan was the culmination of many years of hard work.
An exhaustive evidence base, on housing, the economy, infrastructure, the built and natural environment had been commissioned and updated to ensure that decisions were based on objective knowledge and facts.
Many rounds of public consultation, exhibitions, drop-in events and public meetings had been hosted to ensure that residents, businesses, community groups, town and parish councils, landowners and statutory bodies were fully aware of the issues and options and the preferred options selected with the Planning Policy team being available to answer questions throughout the process. Everyone who had made representations helped the Council to understand the views of the community.
Numerous appraisals and assessments had been carried out to ensure that the preferred options and policies were sustainable to make the best contribution to the social, economic and environmental well-being of communities.
The Council had worked closely with partners such as Hertfordshire County Council to model the impact of development options on the highway network and to ensure that sufficient school places would be made available for the growing population.
The Council had sought to work productively with adjoining authorities and other bodies to consider and resolve cross-boundary issues. This had been particularly challenging given that the issues faced by this Borough were remarkably similar to those faced by all those areas that surrounded it, North Herts, Stevenage, East Herts, Broxbourne, Enfield, Hertsmere and St Albans. All of these authorities had growth pressure, but were constrained by the same green belt and infrastructure limitations as Welwyn Hatfield.
In many cases the Plan had been amended in the light of consultation responses.
The Council had sought to distribute growth as proportionately as possible to towns and villages throughout the Borough, to ensure that all took their fair share.
The Council was asked to consider a new settlement, as opposed to extending existing settlements and had selected the site at Symondshyde for 1,130 new homes.
Just prior to consultation on the draft Plan the boundary of the Panshanger housing site was amended to create scope for a new runway to be provided.
Policies to help renew Hatfield as a pioneering and entrepreneurial New Town and policies to protect and enhance the garden city characteristics of Welwyn Garden City, together with policies to protect the character and identify of villages and rural areas were included.
The Council had worked hard to ensure that new development had to pay its way to mitigate its impact and provide new services and facilities, through Section 106 contributions and through the Community Infrastructure Levy once a charging schedule was in place.
Unfortunately it was not possible to satisfy all of the 3,000 plus representations received to the draft plan. Some say the housing target was too high and others say it was too low. Some want more homes to be built in the towns and others say more homes should be built in the villages. People were concerned about development in the green belt, but did not want to see town cramming taking place in existing settlements.
All of these views had been taken into account, in order to prepare a Plan which did its very best to balance all of these issues, whilst recognising that if it did not make as much provision as sustainably possible for new development it would be found unsound.
The Council was extremely aware of the very real and tangible risk that faced the Borough if it did not submit the Local Plan for public examination. The Government had made it clear in its recent Housing White Paper that the housing market was broken and that Councils should do everything they could to meet their local housing needs and would be penalised for not doing so.
There was a risk that rogue planning applications would be submitted for urban and green belt sites that had not been selected in the Plan. The lack of an up-to-date Local Plan would mean that either the Council had to grant them permission or refuse permission, but then expect them to be won on appeal and for associated costs to be awarded against the Council. This would mean that the community would lose the ability to plan for the Borough taking into account the needs and aspirations of residents.
The lack of an up-to-date Plan would also make it exceptionally difficult to plan for and fund the services, facilities and infrastructure that were needed to support development.
The Council would work with developers, especially on the six strategic sites, to ensure that their developments were built to the highest possible standard so that the resulting housing and communities were places where people wanted to live.
The Panel was asked therefore to support the recommendation to submit the Local Plan with only minor modifications and make the case at examination that the document be adopted in order that development could start on the allocated sites.