Up to fifteen 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 following questions were received and the Chairman responded:
Question 1 – Alan Perkins
On 6 June 2016 the Council published its Site Selection Report just seven days prior to the Cabinet Housing and Planning Panel meeting on 13 June 2016. This was the first time that the public had seen that report. The seven day period did not allow any landowner or member of the public an opportunity to bring errors to the attention of the Council prior to the decision to adopt the Site Selection Report on 13 June 2016.
In the case of BrP12 in Brookmans Park, the Council found that site to be suitable for allocation, but the Council did not then allocate BrP12 due solely to a perceived lack of capacity at Brookmans Park primary school.
BrP12 could provide 125 new homes, an 80 bedroom care home, a new scout hut and new public footpaths and cycle ways to join Brookmans Park to Bell Bar and Welham Green with Green Routes. All of the land to provide these homes and public benefits is within our ownership.
On 11 July 2016 the solicitor acting for my company, Aurora Properties, provided clear written evidence to the Council from the nationally respected expert, Mr Stephen Clyne at Education Facilities Management, that there was not, in fact, a lack of capacity at Brookmans Park primary school.
Aurora also provided the Council with the outcome of a Planning Appeal at Brookfield Farm, Leicester (APP/X2410/A/11/2161715) where that Council had refused planning permission for 170 new dwellings based on a lack of primary school capacity. The Inspector granted the Appeal and awarded costs against that Council for unreasonable behaviour.
Hertfordshire County Council also informed Welwyn Hatfield Council that it had based its assessment of primary school capacity throughout the borough on its generic pupil yield, not on the local circumstances which would take into consideration the demographics of Brookmans Park and the existing spare capacity at Welham Green primary school, which had 57 spare places at that time while 58 pupils from Welham Green attended Brookmans Park primary school.
Hertfordshire County Council then informed Aurora Properties in writing that Welwyn Hatfield Council had instructed the County Council not to assess the expert primary school capacity report, from Mr Clyne, as submitted by Aurora Properties.
My company made repeated attempts through its planning consultants and its solicitors to engage constructively with the Council, in order to resolve the perceived lack of primary school capacity in Brookmans Park, without success.
The above circumstances were all prior to the submission of the Local Plan for Examination, so the Council had every opportunity to review its erroneous sole reason for not allocating BrP12, but it declined to do so.
At the Examination, the Inspector directed the Council that he would not accept primary school capacity (real or imagined) as a reason not to allocate suitable housing sites.
Also, in January 2018, the Borough Council entered into a Statement of Common Ground with Hertfordshire County Council which confirmed that education capacity would be provided throughout the Borough to meet the needs of housing growth.
That Statement also contained confirmation from the County Council that it did not consider the Welwyn Hatfield Local Plan to be sound because the Borough Council’s policy in respect of primary school provision was unsound.
It is clear from the above that Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council was wrong to use a perceived (but flawed) lack of primary school capacity in Brookmans Park as the sole reason for not allocating BrP12 and, furthermore, the Council’s refusal to engage constructively, when that error was brought formally to the Council’s attention, caused prejudice to Aurora Properties.
Brookmans Park has a primary school, secondary school, 40 shop units, a pub, church, golf club, tennis club, the Royal Veterinary College and many other facilities, services and amenities, including significant local employment and excellent access to the M25 and the A1M. It also has an under-used railway station with four platforms on a scale of size similar to Potters Bar, Hatfield and Welwyn Garden City, which is within walking distance of all dwellings in Brookmans Park and certainly within walking distance of BrP12. Brookmans Park is therefore a highly sustainable location for new housing.
The NPPF (2019) states at paragraph 138: “plans should give first consideration to land which has been previously developed and/or is well-served by public transport”.
The Council is now preparing a new Site Selection Report. Aurora Properties is naturally concerned that the Council will be searching for new reasons not to allocate BrP12 and that the prejudicial circumstances in June 2016 might be repeated again.
Would the CPPP please confirm that it will publish its Site Selection Report in sufficient time to allow proper consideration of and response to that report by landowners and the public before it is considered by CPPP or formally adopted by the Council?
It is not acceptable for the Council to respond that such matters will be considered at the Examination, because the Inspector has clearly stated that he will not consider omitted sites at the Examination. Equally, it is not reasonable to respond that Main Modifications will be subject to future Regulation 19 consultation, because omitted sites will not be included in that consultation.
It is intended that the Site Selection Report will be published in advance of site options being considered by this Panel. The Constitution states that this should be at least one week in advance of the meeting. The Panel agrees that it would be desirable that members and members of the public have more time to consider this information in advance of the Panel meeting, given how extensive it is likely to be. Officers will therefore be asked to publish the information at least two weeks before the meeting to allow members and members of the public more time to consider the information.
In respect of the wider statement, the Panel rejects the accusation that there were any prejudicial circumstances when it considered the Draft Local Plan and site options in June 2016. Officers and the Panel made decisions based on the information available at that time. The Panel is aware that new evidence has been prepared and new information is available since that time and will take that evidence and information into account when officers present site options.
Question 2 – Matthew Perkins
At the CPPP meeting on 3 July 2019 I asked a question concerning Paragraphs 4.17 to 4.22 of Agenda item 8 at that meeting.
The answer provided by the Panel is too vague and does not properly inform the Members of the CPPP or the public.
Paragraphs 4.17 to 4.22 of Agenda item 8 (3 July 2019) set out to the CPPP three scenarios for proposed amendments to the Local Plan period and the consequence for additional site allocations:
Scenario a) additional sites for 2,449 new homes
Scenario b) additional sites for 3,715 new homes
Scenario c) additional sites for 2,529 new homes
As currently drafted, all the above scenarios include the allocation of a new settlement at Symondshyde for 1,130 homes and include 598 new homes on sites which have been found to be High Harm if released from the Green Belt (total 1,728 homes). Given the very clear advice from the Inspector that such an approach would not be sound, the information provided to the CPPP meeting and to the public on 3 July was not an accurate reflection of the present facts and circumstances.
The Inspector has stated at the Examination that Symondshyde should only be allocated after other suitable opportunities for new dwellings adjoining existing settlements are exhausted. The allocation of Symondshyde is therefore a last resort (which may not be required at all) and should be reported to CPPP as such.
The Inspector has also confirmed in writing (EX97B): “Whilst theoretically the already identified sites have the potential to deliver 16,000 dwellings, this would result in the allocation of some sites that would cause high harm to the Green Belt. Additionally, some sites or dwelling numbers, where delivery is uncertain, would also be included. Neither of these would be sound.”
In order to make the Plan sound, with a 15 year horizon after adoption, the Council should be seeking to allocate suitable additional housing sites for the Plan period 2013 to 2035 as follows:
Scenario a) additional sites for 4,177 new homes
Scenario b) additional sites for 5,443 new homes
Scenario c) additional sites for 4,257 new homes
Would the CPPP please direct the Officers to fully report to this Panel on 12 September 2019 (i) the additional sites required to meet the Objectively Assessed Housing Need (based on the Inspector’s site allocation advice at the Examination) (ii) the sequential approach to site allocations and (iii) the additional sites required for housing a) excluding sites which are High Harm to the Green Belt and b) excluding sites where delivery is uncertain and c) only including Symondshyde as a last resort?
The above information is in the public interest.
Planning Officers are currently analysing sites – this includes a review of sites that were reasonable alternatives in 2016 but were not selected for allocation in the Submitted Local Plan; sites that were re-promoted as part of the recent call-for-sites exercise and new sites that were proposed for the first time as part of the recent call-for-sites exercise.
This selection of sites will take account of new evidence that has come to light since the Council agreed to submit the Local Plan for public examination, including the housing and employment evidence that was presented to this Panel last month and the Green Belt Study Stage 3 requested by the inspector.
Decisions will also take account of the 10,000+ representations that were submitted in response to the call-for-sites public consultation.
Officers will present all of this evidence to this Panel at the earliest opportunity (noting the late item this will not be possible by September 2019).
The Panel will expect officers to present site options that will contribute towards meeting the objectively assessment need for housing, to highlight their approach to site selection, to highlight the green belt harm associated with each site and the deliverability judgement made about each site.
It is not appropriate for this Panel to direct officers to only include Symondshyde as a last resort. The Panel expects officers to consider Symondshyde as part of the site selection process and advice on the outcomes of that analysis.
Question 3 – Neil Bedford
At the examination hearing on 7 November 2018 the Council’s planning officers informed the Inspector that proposed Main Modifications would be submitted to the Inspector by the Council at the end of December 2018.
It is now August 2019 and there is no public record of any proposed Main Modifications having been submitted to the Inspector. In fact, the schedule of proposed modifications on the Council’s examination website has not been updated at all since 15 September 2017.
Would the CPPP please explain whether (and if so when) any proposed Main Modifications have been submitted to the Inspector and when these Main Modifications will be published for the public to see?
The Council forwarded an initial set of proposed main modifications to the programme officer in January 2019. These modifications relate to the hearing sessions held so far. It is the Inspector’s decision when the main modifications will be published. The Inspector has not yet considered these main modifications and we are advised that he does not intend to publish them at this stage.
It is anticipated that the Council will propose further main modifications to the Inspector after all of the hearing sessions have taken place. All proposed main modifications will be subject to main modifications consultation once all hearing sessions have been held.
Question 4 – Pauline Perkins
In the Report Pack to the CPPP meeting on 7 March 2019, the officers recommended: “Additional work on Landscape Sensitivity and Green Wedges as these were identified as important during the Stage 3 Green Belt Study examination hearing session”.
Would the CPPP please provide a public copy of the scope of work and the methodology for this new evidence and confirm progress with these reports during the past four months and state when these reports will be made available to the public?
The Landscape Sensitivity Assessment work has been completed and the Council has very recently received the Final Report, so it will be published on the Council’s website next week.
The Green Wedge Assessment work is ongoing. A draft report has been received and is being considered by officers. It is anticipated that this work will be finalised in the next few weeks when the Final Report will be published on the Council’s website.