Agenda item


Report of Corporate Director (Public Protection, Planning and Governance), which considers the findings of that Green Belt Study and the implications for the Local Plan. It considers the next steps and different approaches the Local Plan could take in identifying sufficient land to meet the Objectively Assessed Need for Housing.



Report of the Corporate Director (Public Protection, Planning and Governance) on the Green Belt Study stage 3 and the next steps.  The Welwyn Hatfield Local Plan had been submitted and was currently undergoing public examination by an independent inspector. The inspector had indicated that the Plan was not currently ‘sound’ as it did not meet the objectively assessed need for housing. The submitted Plan contained sites for 12,000 homes but the housing need was acknowledged to be about 16,000 homes to 2033. The inspector had therefore asked the Council to carry out a further Green Belt Study to seek to identify additional sites for housing.

This report considered the findings of that Green Belt Study and the implications for the Local Plan. It considered the next steps and different approaches the Local Plan could take in identifying sufficient land to meet the Objectively Assessed Need for Housing.

The Green Belt Study and its accompanying appendices had been published on the examination pages of the Council’s website (reference EX88)

Section 7 of this report identified a number of risks associated with different development strategies and the risk of the inspector finding the plan unsound, defaulting to the NPPF standard methodology for calculating local housing need and/or the Council having its plan-making powers removed.

Members received a presentation on the Local Plan and Green Belt Study which covered the follow:

·      Local Plan - Objective need is for about 16,000 homes

·      Green Belt - Main characteristics of green belts is their openness and permanence

·      Green Belt Study - NPPF requires Council to consider sustainable patterns of development when deciding which green belt land to release

·      Washed-over Villages - Study reviews whether villages that are currently covered by green belt should remain so, and if not, could any of them be expanded to deliver new homes

·      Parcel Assessment

·      New Settlement

·      Findings and next steps

Members gave consideration to the three approaches listed within the report and the implications to each approach. Approach three would be quicker but the harm to areas within the green belt would be high.  Concern was expressed regarding high density building and harm to green belt land together with meeting housing numbers.  The use of employment land was discussed and Officers advised that there would be implications for the Borough in terms of the Housing Delivery Test and the five year land supply with the longer timescale associated with Approach One.  This was a difficult decision and one that had to be balanced taking into account the situation and being guided by the inspector.  The implications of having planning powers removed from the Council were discussed together with the potential impact on the community.

In respect of the Green Belt Study, one member observed that it was very objective in respect of NPPF purposes and harm judgement and pointed out that residents, parish councils and community groups could have very subjective thoughts on which bits of green belt they consider to be most important and worthy of protection in their local area.  Members generally accepted that a number of ‘washed-over’ villages would probably need to be released from the green belt and that some of these would have potential for housing development.


In respect of the two development scenarios, there were mixed views.  Members observed that more working-from-home could offset the need for so much employment land, whereas other members commented that the loss of employment land would harm the desirable live/work potential that currently exists in the Borough and would force more people onto already congested roads and a struggling rail service in order to commute to job opportunities elsewhere.


In respect of Approach One (involving a new call-for-sites exercise), Members observed that this approach was the most democratic but recognised that it would have the greatest impact on the timetable and could have an impact on the Council’s five year housing land supply in the meantime.


In respect of Approach Two (to allocate lower harm sites plus broad locations or areas of search), Members noted that the NPPF states that sites should be identified in Years 11-15 (where possible) and acknowledged that the new requirement to review the plan and update out-of-date policies every five years would represent the opportunity to identify specific sites within broad locations or areas of search, which would be set out in the Local Plan.  This approach would therefore allow for a housing requirement to be set for the full plan period; specific sites for 10+ years (as some strategic sites will continue to deliver homes in the last 5 years) and set the strategy for where the remaining sites should be identified.  Members accepted that this would be quicker than Approach One as these sites were already in the public domain and there would therefore be no need for further public consultation prior to the hearing sessions.  Members also noted that this could be preferable to Approach Three as it would reduce the reliance on ‘high’ harm sites.


In respect of Approach Three (to allocate sites that have already been promoted), Members observed that this approach would probably result in the allocation of land that has been identified as ‘high’ harm in the Green Belt Study.  A Member expressed concern regarding the Plan treated sites identified in the Green Belt review as moderate-high harm/higher harm which may be quite significant and could outweigh the need in which case some Members would not be able to support the Plan.  This approach would have a similar timetable to that of Approach Two above, which would allow hearing sessions on the new approach to take place in late Spring 2019.                         



1              That the Panel expressed the above comments on the conclusion of the Green Belt Study.


2          That the Panel expressed the above comments on the two development scenarios set out in Paragraph 4.28. Scenario One is the loss of some employment land and the release of some land from the Green Belt. Scenario Two is the retention of proposed employment land designations and the release of more land from the Green Belt than the option above.

3             That the Panel expressed the above comments on the merits and risks of the three approaches set out in Paragraphs 4.32-4.43 and seeks to identify a preferred approach. Approach One is to carry out a call-for-new-sites exercise and consult on new site modifications prior to the village hearing sessions. Approach Two is a development strategy based on allocated sites and sites that have already been promoted to the Council in the first ten years of the plan period and to identify ‘Broad Locations’ or ‘Areas of Search’ for the remaining five years. Approach Three is a development strategy based on allocated sites, extra capacity on some existing allocations and the selection of sites that have already been promoted to the Council and analysed by officers.

4          That the Panel agreed that the Head of Planning in consultation with the Leader of the Council could write to the Inspector setting out the Council’s views as expressed above on the three approaches and implications for the examination programme.


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