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To note any substitution of Panel Members in accordance with Council Procedure Rules.
The following substitution of Members had been made in accordance with Council Procedure Rules:
Cllr Jane Quinton for Cllr Paul Zukowskyj.
Apologies for absence were received from Cllr Paul Zukowskyj.
To confirm as a correct record the Minutes of the meeting held on 17 August 2023 (previously circulated).
The minutes of the meeting held on 17th August 2023 were approved as a correct record.
NOTIFICATION OR URGENT BUSINESS TO BE CONSIDERED UNDER ITEM 8
There were no notifications for 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.
Councillors Jonathan Boulton, Sunny Thusu and Tony Kingsbury declared non-pecuniary interests as members of Hertfordshire County Council.
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 question set out below was received from a member of the public:
“In June 2019, councillors received a petition with 922 signatures from Welwyn residents, delivering a clear message that the possible development sites around Singlers Marsh should not go into the Local Plan. Receiving the petition in person, the then Council Leader was quoted as saying: “We will look at each specific case and do all we can to support residents.”
From a recent FOI response, we now know that, just one month later, a council officer was tasked with negotiating an MOU to sell part of Singlers Marsh to the developer who was promoting those sites. The purpose of the sale was to build a road across Singlers Marsh to enable development of those sites. As a reminder, Singlers Marsh is a Local Wildlife Site and a Local Nature Reserve, is listed as an Area of Archaeological Significance, and hosts an environmentally fragile and distressed chalk stream, for which WHBC receives Higher Level Environmental Stewardship payments from DEFRA. The developer confirmed that the discussion began only after receiving a clear signal from WHBC that a sale could be discussed. This indicates how unimportant all those environmental protections seem to be.
Recently, the current Council Leader confirmed that there is no policy bar to developing the land at Singlers Marsh, and that WHBC’s objection to the Village Green applications there is purely for fiduciary reasons. He has written that “the council is obliged by law to maintain best value” and “the council is obliged to object, on the basis that not to object may adversely affect future decisions with a fiduciary bearing.”
Many will feel that WHBC should only be objecting if there are reasonable grounds to do so, not for contrived reasons that suit an ulterior motive. It wastes time and money, as well as trust and goodwill.
WHBC’s public reasons for objecting to the applications are threefold: there is no need as the land is already well-managed; it believes the criteria for registration are not met; and there would be a “statutory conflict” with environmental obligations. The first point is purely subjective, is controversial within the Welwyn community, and has not been advanced in the inquiry. It is simply not relevant.
However, it is now crystal clear that WHBC’s objection to the Village Green applications for Singlers Marsh is nothing to do with its environmental situation, nor with any belief that the criteria for registration have not been met, and everything to do with maximising its income from selling part of the land for development.
There is therefore no “statutory conflict” at all. Realistically, becoming a Village Green will do far more to enhance the environment at Singlers Marsh than the status quo, given the inevitability that the status quo will lead to development, either in the current Local Plan or in later rounds of activity. WHBC should cease claiming the statutory conflict as a basis for its objection. It should also produce some credible evidence ... view the full minutes text for item 66.
Report of the Assistant Director (Planning)
The Panel received the report of the Assistant Director (Planning) on the adoption of the Welwyn Hatfield Local Plan (2016) and a presentation.
The Planning and Policy Implementation Manager highlighted that three of the Inspector’s modifications set out in his schedule at Appendix 2 were not shown in the consolidated version at Appendix 3. These related to further Main Modifications 8 and 15, which would be incorporated into a revised Appendix 3 as part of the agenda for the Council meeting on 12 October 2023.
The following points were raised during the discussion:
· Members commented that it was important for the next Council meeting to deliberate on the Local Plan as it affected all wards; while councillors needed to focus on the borough as a whole, they also needed to consider the needs of their ward constituents.
· Members asked how many homes needed to be built over the next ten years, how many had already been built, and how many homes the Council would potentially need to find if Council was to reject the Local Plan. Officers advised the Inspector had identified 15,200 homes were needed; the ten year requirement was 9,400 homes. Our supply was 9,200 homes (including completions and commitments) and so the Inspector had said we were close to the 10 year requirement and had allowed us to move forward. If the Local Plan was to be rejected, the completions would not count towards the number of new homes (13,380) that would be required. Asked about the minimum number of dwellings that would need to be found in the three year review period, officers said the Local Plan provided for 13,400 homes (9,200 over 10 years) against a target of 15,200 with a shortfall of 1,800.
· Officers noted this meant there was a shortfall for the Plan; a review was required which would need to plan for 15 years in the future which would consider housing need; it would straddle this Plan as well as going beyond it.
· Asked about sites which had been deemed unsound, officers advised sites can be re-promoted and other sites could also be put forward which would go through the assessment process using criteria that linked to strategic objectives. It was theoretically possible that the criteria could change so an unsound site could be assessed as sound in the review period; the new Plan would be formulated in the planning system of the time and there would need to be a rigorous assessment of all sites that were put forward, as the sites that had been found unsound were unsound in the context of this Plan whereas there was potentially different criteria for the next Plan in a different planning system.
· Concern was expressed about the allocation of a number of sites on the Green Belt. If the Local Plan was not adopted, an excess of new homes not in the green belt could be built.
· A Member asked whether, if the Local Plan was rejected and another was established with 13,380 ... view the full minutes text for item 67.