Venue: Council Chamber, Council Offices, The Campus, Welwyn Garden City, Herts, AL8 6AE
Contact: Democratic Services
To note any substitution of Panel Members in accordance with Council Procedure Rules.
The following substitutions were received:
· Councillor Panter will be substituting for Councillor Zukowskyj
· Councillor Roger Trigg for Councillor Jonathan Boulton
· Councillor Julie Cragg for Councillor Craig Stanbury
· Councillor Stan Tunstall for Councillor Sunny Thusu
Apologies for absence were received from Councillors Zukowskyj, Boulton, Stanbury and Thusu.
To confirm as a correct record the Minutes of the meeting held on 16 February 2023 (previously circulated).
The minutes of the meeting held on 16 February 2023 were agreed.
NOTIFICATION OR URGENT BUSINESS TO BE CONSIDERED UNDER ITEM 7
There were no items of urgent business.
DECLARATION OF INTERESTS BY MEMBERS
To note declarations of Members’ disclosable pecuniary interests, non-disclosable pecuniary interests and non-pecuniary interests in respect of items on this Agenda.
Councillor Kingsbury declared a non-pecuniary interest as a County Councillor.
PUBLIC QUESTION TIME AND PETITIONS
Up to thirty minutes will be made available for questions from members of the public on issues relating to the work of the Committee and to receive any petitions.
The below question was received from a member of the public:
“Singlers Marsh in Welwyn Village is the subject of an application to register it as a Village Green. This application is opposed by the owner of part of the land, namely Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council, despite this being at odds with the wishes of a huge number of local residents.
In the three years since the application was made, Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council has reluctantly produced a series of explanations to justify its opposition to the application. These include:
· An (unspecified) incompatibility with its existing Local Nature Reserve and Local Wildlife Site status
· A claim that, in 2000, there was signage leftover from a council body that ceased to exist in 1974 but which is somehow still relevant now
· An opinion that a landowner cannot consent to its land becoming a Village Green if the legal criteria are not met, despite there being a straightforward process for “voluntary registration”
· Past requests for use of the land for community events constituting proof of use “by right”, when the claimed requests were not actually made, and when they wouldn’t be relevant if they had been
· Fear of loss of control by Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council about how it manages the land in future
· Risk of opening the land up to traveller settlement
· Risk of unfettered grazing rights for horses (based, we know, solely on one Google search by a former Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council head of planning)
· Requirement for construction of boundary fences all around the land
· Danger of inappropriate cricket pitches being laid down on the land
· Parked cars for community events blocking dog walkers
Village Green law is 200 years old, and well understood by lawyers who specialise in the subject. Not a single one of the many reasons given for Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council’s objection survives expert scrutiny. We have repeatedly asked to debate these points constructively with the council, but have been rebuffed throughout.
We had understood that WHBC had received specialist advice on these matters, apparently confirmed in an email dated 12th September 2022 which said that it had “taken legal advice […] so [its objections are] certainly more robust than just officer’s opinion or misunderstanding.” However, in its response to FOI request #9034, Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council told us that it had not procured any external advice on the Village Green application from any specialist solicitors or planning consultants, and that the various claims set out in its press release on 27th February were simply views held by the council’s officers.
The FOI response also divulged that Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council has spent £17,000 on a barrister’s fees to represent it at the public inquiry into the application. As an aside, I note that the annual income from WHBC’s allotment holders (a recently controversial subject) was just £14,500 in the last financial year. We expect WHBC’s barrister’s fee if the inquiry continues to be of the order of a further £100,000. ... view the full minutes text for item 48.
SUCH OTHER BUSINESS AS, IN THE OPINION OF THE CHAIRMAN, IS OF SUFFICIENT URGENCY TO WARRANT IMMEDIATE CONSIDERATION
There were no other items of business which required immediate consideration.
Report of the Assistant Director (Planning) on Lemsford Village Character Assessment and Conservation Area Designation.
The Panel received the report of the Assistant Director (Planning).
A review of the Lemsford area had been undertaken by the Council’s heritage consultant, Essex Place Services, and a Draft Character Assessment was produced. The assessment identified areas of special architectural or historic interest within the Lemsford area and included a discussion on the suitability of conservation area designation as well as a suggested conservation area boundary. Existing assets such as listed properties would remain in place and the conservation area would act as an extra protection.
A six-week consultation was carried out on the Draft Character Assessment. Letters were written to 140 addresses in the area, 40 statutory consultees and 3 local resident groups were contacted as part of the consultation. Seventeen responses were received in response with the majority being overwhelmingly in support of the conservation area designation.
The comments received have been considered by officers in conjunction with Council’s consultant Place Services, and a final version of the Character Assessment has been produced and included an amendment to the conservation area boundary.
It was clarified that conservation area designation is a matter that would need to be taken into account in deciding a planning application or on an appeal against a planning decision. Also, should the area be designated a conservation area, alterations/works that have already been carried out will not be the subject to retrospect assessment.
1) That the results of the public consultation which took place for six weeks in February and March 2023 be noted; and
2) That the Panel recommends to Cabinet and Council that Lemsford Character Assessment is to be adopted and Lemsford is designated as a new conservation area.