Agenda item


Report of the Director (Governance) bringing Members the results of the Housing and Employment Land Availability Assessment (HELAA), to consider any policy implications associated with sites which are considered to be technically ‘suitable’ coming forward and the cumulative impact associated with combinations of sites and to consider which sites should be included in the Local Plan.





The report of the Director (Governance) brought to the attention of Members the results of the Housing and Employment Land Availability Assessment (HELAA), and considered any policy implications associated with sites which were considered to be technically ‘suitable’ coming forward as well as the cumulative impact associated with combinations of sites and to consider which sites should be included in the Local Plan.


Appendix A (Employment Sites Selection – Background Paper 2016) and Appendix B (Housing Sites Selection - Background Paper 2016) to the report considered the results of the Green Belt Sites Review, the implications for defining a new Green Belt boundary, the conclusions of the HELAA, infrastructure issues, the sequential test, the extent to which the site would help to deliver strategic objectives, and the interim sustainability appraisal of the site.


The Panel then received a presentation from Colin Haigh (Head of Planning) and noted that the Council had a duty to prepare a Local Plan and to co-operate with adjoining authorities and other bodies. The Local Plan would cover the period 2013-2032 and would contain a strategic vision, strategic policies, site allocations and development management policies plus a Policies Map which would show allocations and designations. Once adopted, planning applications would have to be determined in accordance with Local Plan policies (unless material considerations indicate otherwise).


The Panel was informed that the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) expected Local Plans to deliver sustainable pattern of development and it stated that “Local Plans should meet objectively assessed need for development, unless any adverse impacts would significantly and demonstrably outweigh benefits, when assessed against policies in the Framework as a whole or specific policies indicate development should be restricted”. Consultation responses to Emerging Core Strategy (2012) favoured that growth be more fairly distributed to towns and villages around the Borough while consultation responses to Draft Local Plan (2015) had raised concerns about the impact of growth on green belt and infrastructure, and had warned against the risk of settlements merging and suggested the potential for a new settlement should be considered for inclusion in the Local Plan.


An assessment of the need for additional employment land and the potential for jobs growth had been made in the Economy Study which had been conducted by independent consultants. This assessment results in the need for an additional 5.4 hectares of Class B (office, general industry, warehousing) employment land over the plan period, as well as protection of all existing designated employment land. A Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) had also been conducted by independent consultants taking into account the results of the Economy Study and had concluded an Objective Assessment of Housing Need of 12,616 - 13,433 new homesover the plan period. It was considered that a target at the lower end of the OAN range would best meet the needs of the borough taking account of evidence and consultation responses but would represent a considerable increase in housing supply.


Table 4 in the report identified that completions, sites under construction, permissions and windfall sites could deliver 3,905 homes which would leave 8,711 homes to find against the lower OAN and 9,528 against the upper OAN.   


The Housing and Employment Land Availability Assessment (HELAA) was an objective analysis of the suitability, availability and achievability of all promoted urban and green belt sites, using methodology that followed national best practice guidance. The analysis divided the sites into 3 categories –


·           Stage 1 Fail = site is unsuitable because: subject to policy constraint or environmental designation, in flood zone 3, there is significant physical barrier to development, not contiguous with urban settlement boundary

·         Stage 2 Fail = site is not suitable, available, achievable for development

·         Stage 2 Pass = site is suitable, available, achievable for development


All sites were shown on maps in Appendices A-K of the report and all sites big enough to be allocated in Local Plan were accompanied by an appraisal table.

The HELAA had identified suitable sites with potential for 11,789 dwellings and they could be considered as a “menu of options.”


The Housing Sites Selection Background Paper set out at Appendix C to the report was a subjective review of “menu of options” sites which weighed up impact on green belt purposes, green belt boundaries, transport issues, flood risk, infrastructure capacity, school provision, sustainability appraisal, any strategic advantages or disadvantages and cumulative impacts. It was estimated that current sources of supply together with suitable urban sites after a subjective weighing up exercise and suitable safeguarded land after subjective weighing up exercise could total 6,554 which would leave 6,062 to find against the lower OAN and 6,879 to find against the upper OAN.


With regard to the identification of employment sites (Appendix A), independent consultants had recommended a need for additional 5.4 hectares of employment land, equivalent to about 138,000 square metres (sqm) of floor space and the Panel was informed that the sites listed below could deliver the following levels of floorspace:


  • Vacant sites*                                                                         47,300 sqm
  • Planning permissions                                                         95,400 sqm
  • Development sites**                                                            54,400 sqm
  • Estimated losses (from office-to-housing schemes)     -80,700 sqm 


Net Total                                                                                            116,400 sqm

  • *includes 17,700 sqm at Broadwater Road West                                  
  • ** includes 13,900 sqm at Hat1 North West Hatfield and 40,500 sqm at WeG4b Marshmoor                                                                              


This represented a slight shortfall against the OAN, but projections were subject to uncertainty and there was no direct correlation between floor space and jobs.


The position with regard to infrastructure could be summarised as follows –


  • Herts CC as highway authority highlighted that growth would create congestion that must be mitigated but did not anticipate any ‘showstoppers’


  • Rail companies planned to improve East Coast mainline with more frequent services


  • Herts CC as transport body were planning for more public transport and walking/cycling opportunties


  • Utility companies anticipated that growth could be accommodated but suggested that schemes might need to be phased to allow utilities to be upgraded/provided


  • Herts CC as education authority had advised on new school provision


  • NHS was likely to seek financial contributions to invest in clinical care in Herts and highlighted that growth was likely to create need for two new GP surgeries


School provision had been an important factor in the subjective weighing up exercise with the following conclusions -


  • Likely growth levels would require three new secondary schools in borough

§  Welwyn Garden City and northern villages required two new schools and expansion of existing schools by 1 form of entry each

  • Hatfield required one new secondary school
  • Primary school provision constrained growth options in some settlements
  • Welwyn school was a listed building
  • Welham Green school was next to ancient woodland and wildlife site and cannot be expanded
  • Brookmans Park school could only expand by ½ form of entry
  • A new school was needed in the south of Welwyn Garden City


The risks facing the Council were that the Government had threatened to intervene where Councils had not submitted their Local Plans by early 2017. That duty to co-operate bodies would object to a Local Plan which did not meet the Objective Assessment of Need. Also, a risk of Local Plan being found unsound if it did not meet the Objective Assessment of Need. The Examination Inspector might require that modifications be made to Local Plan by adding additional sites in order to achieve Objective Assessment of Need and the risk of planning applications for rejected/refused green belt sites being won on appeal.


The timetable for the next stages of the Local Plan consideration were -


CHPP Proposed Submission Local Plan                                    20 July 2016

Cabinet Proposed Submission Local Plan                     2 August 2016

Public consultation for 8 weeks                                        August - October 2016

Analyse consultation responses                                      Late 2016

Submission Local Plan                                                      Early 2017

Public Examination                                                             Mid 2017

Inspector’s Report                                                                Late 2017

Adoption                                                                                Late 2017


The Chairman thanked Colin Haigh for the presentation and officers for the work they had carried out to date on the Local Plan.


Members of the Panel and, with the consent of the Chairman, other Councillors then asked questions and commented on the report during which the following points were made –


  • Good that the issue of proportionality had been addressed  to achieve a better spread of sites
  • Good that Hat-2 was not being suggested for inclusion and that a combination of Hat1 and Hat-15 was a less worse scenario than Hat-1 and Hat-2 would have been.
  • Although Hat-2 was considered to be beyond the Plan period would the site be safeguarded for future consideration
  • Appropriateness of having gypsy settlements too near major development questioned 
  • Should site GTLAA09 shown on the map at page 221 also be shown on the map at page 148
  • Improvements to existing road infrastructure were required including to the Coopers Green Lane/Green Lanes junction
  • Lessons needed to be learned from the Hatfield Garden Village and Salisbury Village developments to ensure that Herts CC adopted any new roads at an early stage
  • Had consideration been given to development proposals for WGC4 and WGC-7 which would involve both the retention of an airstrip and  a housing development
  • Had the implications of the development proposals for WGC4 and WGC 7 for Sir Frederic Osborn school been considered
  • Was the total number of gypsy and travellers pitches sufficient
  • Had road infrastructure and the impact on the A1-(M) of the Council’s proposals together with those of other authorities been given sufficient consideration and would the infrastructure be put in place first.
  • On what basis was it proposed that only 2 new GP surgeries be provided
  • Could employment land be protected for that purpose
  • Had an impact assessment of traffic been carried out of the Gosling site where it was proposed to build 250 new homes
  • Why was the site at Hat15 being favoured when it was too isolated and small with only 1 shop and a shortage of public transport.
  • Why wasn’t the idea of a new town or garden city considered
  • Site BRP4 was shown as favoured but had issues relating to assessment by Natural England and the potential for flooding been considered.
  • Site GTLAA01 where it was being proposed that the Foxes Lane site being expanded from 4 pitches to 12 when residents were wishing for enforcement of the original numbers. Also, was a travellers site appropriate at what was a gateway site to Welham Green village
  • Site WeG4b had drainage issues there been considered and was the site deliverable
  • Secondary school provision in Welwyn Garden City had been reduced from 6 to 3 but even with the planned expansion of the remaining schools would there be sufficient capacity now that it was proposed that the City’s boundaries were being pushed out still further. Providing additional primary school spaces by expanding existing schools was not altogether desirable
  • Site WGC4 Panshanger: had consideration been given to a realignment of the airfield, would a travellers site be appropriate there, and would the development proposed result in a shortage of green space
  • Woolmer Green (and the problem of travellers exceeding the number of pitches permitted and the need to consider sites which could not be over occupied). Also the proposal to develop 150 homes there should take into account development proposals from North Herts District Council for Knebworth and the combined impact on infrastructure locally particularly the B197 road.
  • If Green Belt sites Cuf4, Cuf5 and Cuf12 were all to be considered suitable for allocation then it would increase the size of the existing village by 57% and have major implications for the road network.
  • Haldens residents had expressed concerns about the difficulty of recruitment of GPs for the proposed new surgeries. Also, the impact of developments on nursery school placements and worsening of existing traffic problems.
  • Although there were no development sites in Handside there would still be an impact there and infrastructure improvements were essential. Schooling had to be available with minimum travelling while the style of housing, dwelling mix and dwelling type should be subject to careful consideration.
  • Concern that taken together both Hat1 and Hat15 would result in too much development for Hatfield while other parts of the borough could take more and that the response from Herts CC as highways authority was disappointing in relation to the likely impact on roads and how to mitigate it.               
  • Hatfield Villages and while the comment in relation to site Hat2 that it was beyond the Plan period was welcome should the site be permanently omitted


Councillor Perkins (as Executive Member for Planning, Housing and Community) pointed out that the Council had a responsibility to prepare a Local Plan, so that planning decisions about the future of the Borough and where development would occur, was not taken out of the Council’s hands. Planning officers had done an enormous amount of work to ensure that sites had been properly assessed and that infrastructure issues associated with each site were understood, as has been explained to the Panel by the Head of Planning.


However, the need to take into account the views of residents was acknowledged while still having regard to the number of houses and amount of employment land that had been objectively assessed as being needed.  Also, developers and landowners needed to be sure that this process has been carried out in a transparent way, in accordance with the National Planning Policy Framework and Guidelines.


The Panel’s attention was drawn to the Risk Management Implications on pages 18 and 19 of the report of the Director (Governance), in particular the need to have prepared a Local Plan by early 2017. With regard to the various sites the following comments were made -


Welwyn Garden City and the northern villages


The idea of a criteria-based policy for the selection of an additional secondary school site to serve growth in Welwyn Garden City and the northern villages should be supported.  This would be a pragmatic way of progressing the Plan, rather than pausing the process and waiting for a suitable site to be identified, as the Government had threatened to intervene if we do not submit our Local Plan by early 2017.


WGC4 Panshanger

As far back as 1993, Panshanger Aerodrome had been identified by an Inspector as safeguarded for future potential growth needs, and it was released from the Green Belt for this purpose.


With regard to the continuance of the Aerodrome, business cases from third parties had not been conclusive in demonstrating that rent and capital investment could be paid back within a reasonable number of years. There had to be severe reservations about delaying the Local Plan to investigate the very late proposal by Mr Fitch, when that proposal relied on a number of landowners being willing to redevelop their land.  Indeed, the Council had previously decided that it did not want Panshanger golf course to be redeveloped for housing as it was a well-used community facility.


The need for housing and the importance of preparing a sound Local Plan outweighed the desire of some residents to see the airfield retained and it was acknowledged too that there were many people living in Digswell who were pleased that planes no longer flew over their community.


Hat2 West of Hatfield


Officers had advised that Hat2 was considered suitable for development, but only beyond the plan period. Herts CC, as the mineral authority, had received a planning application for the extraction of minerals along St Albans Road West and it could take up to 30 years before the land could be fully remediated.


However, the development of Hat2 would result in the loss of country park land that was master planned as part of Hatfield Business Park and it would not be right to take this valuable asset away from local residents until new country park provision had been made. Because of the uncertainty of how long it would take for minerals to be extracted and the land to be remediated as a country park, it was suggested that Hat2 should not be considered suitable at this stage, not even beyond the Plan period. This view was further compounded by Herts CC advice that the cumulative selection of Hat1, Hat2 and Hat15 would make local congestion worse, even with mitigation, such that one site might be rejected at this stage to provide more time to consider the transport constraints and improvement options.


Hat5 and Hat19


Officers advise that Hat5 and Hat19 could be considered to help achieve the Objective Assessment of Need, but they would impact on Green Belt purposes and narrow the gap between Hatfield and Smallford in St Albans and should not be included.


Hat11 Southway


It was noted that Officers' advice was that Hat11 was in a fragile gap between Hatfield and Welham Green, but were of the view that it could be reconsidered as suitable for housing.


The gap between Hatfield and Welham Green was already partly compromised by existing employment development along Travellers Lane and by the presence of the New Barnfield site.  The understanding of the NPPF was that New Barnfield was a brown field site that could be suitable for redevelopment even if it was not allocated for a particular use/activity and would be considered as "windfall".


The promoters of Hat11 had identified scope to expand the Lawn cemetery on Southway and the Borough needed to find new land for this purpose, so the opportunity for extra cemetery space was a strategic advantage that should be given more weight. Consequently, Hat11 should be added to the list of suitable sites for 120 dwellings, with an assumption that its master planning included a strong landscape belt to separate it from Welham Green.


Welham Green


It was suggested that the officer’s opinion that the level of growth in Welham Green should be limited to match the capacity of the existing primary school be endorsed. The level of growth needed to justify a new primary school would be far greater than the proportionate amount for Welham Green and would put enormous stress on its road network and other community facilities.


Brookmans Park


The level of growth in Brookmans Park should be limited to match the capacity of the existing primary school to expand by ½ form of entry, as this was Herts CC’s preference as education authority, and this had been well articulated in the report of the Director (Governance).


However, further consideration should be given to the weighing-up exercise as development of the site BrP12 would reduce the gap between Brookmans Park and Welham Green and residents had made it very clear in their consultation responses that they did not wish to see settlements merge. There would also be concerns about traffic volumes along Bradmore Way if BrP12 if it were to accommodate 110 dwellings and a 2 FE primary school.




There was no question that Cuf4 and Cuf5 would represent a significantly disproportionate increase to the size of Cuffley which would place a great deal of stress on its road network and community facilities.


In summary there was disappointment that it had not been able to identify enough suitable sites for housing to meet the Objective Assessment of Need, as there was a risk that the Local Plan would not be found sound or the Inspector would ask the Council to consider the inclusion of additional sites. However, as elected Councillors there was a responsibility to listen to the views of residents, who had repeatedly told Members that they were concerned about too much development taking place on Green Belt land, about the merging of distinct settlements and the loss of identity as a consequence, as well as concerns about the pressure of growth on the road network and vital community facilities such as schools and GP surgeries.


The fact that sites for some 12,000 new homes had been identified should be recognised as this would represent a 26% increase on the current housing stock over the next 15 years. It was also important to note that the selection and release of Green Belt sites for about 5,400 new homes, although something the Council would not choose to do, equated to a loss of only 4% of the Green Belt land in the borough.  Even with these difficult decisions, over 75% of the borough would continue to be designated as Green Belt land, where development would only be able to take place in very special circumstances.


The Panel having thanked Officers for their work over many months in getting to this stage in the process it was




That having considered all of the information provided that the sites proposed by Officers be approved with the addition of site Hat11 and the deletion of any reference to site Hat2 and that the Head of Planning now draft the proposed submission Local Plan on the basis of these sites.



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