Up to thirty minutes will be made available for questions from members of the public.
Question 1 :- Colin Campbell, Head of Planning, Hill Residential Ltd
The Inspector concluded, in relation to HS22, that
•“potential harm [to the Green Belt] could be successfully mitigated, and a permanent defensible GB boundary established. This would enable the site’s impact on the wider GB to be limited.” and
•the benefits of HS22 “particularly its movement sustainability, more than outweigh the adverse impact on the purposes of the GB and the loss of the site’s openness.” and
•“exceptional circumstances to justify its removal from the GB.”
The Inspector also concludes that “a fundamentally lower housing requirement [than 16,000] would not support the national objective to boost the supply of housing, which is as relevant in Welwyn-Hatfield as anywhere. It would also fail to address housing affordability issues, affordable housing need and the housing impediments to the successful economic growth of the Borough.”
What are the planning reasons for departing from the Inspector’s well-reasoned conclusions on the exceptional circumstances which justify the release of HS22 from the Green Belt and its soundness as an allocation which is sustainable, is in accordance with the settlement strategy, delivers desperately needed new market and affordable homes, and without which there is a very real risk that the Royal Veterinary College (as a major employer, provider of veterinary services and research output) will be unable to continue to invest in its facilities within the Borough?
The Inspector has made it clear that his report is based on an assessed housing need of 16,000 dwellings and it is in that context that his comments on HS22 relating to exceptional circumstances need to be considered. The Inspector has also acknowledged that a lower OAN could be justified.
The Council has concluded that there is evidence to support a lower OAN but has accepted that there is a need for a significant uplift to address affordability issues.
The exceptional circumstances for releasing this site from the Green Belt have to be reconsidered in that context. Cabinet Planning and Parking Panel have made recommendations to Cabinet on what it considers to be the appropriate balance between making provision for both the economy and the need for housing and the protection of the Green Belt. These will now be debated by Cabinet before a final decision is made by Full Council.
Question 2:- Stuart W.J. Reid, Principal, RVC
On the 17 November CPPP decided to recommend that the Council pursue a lower OAN based on the removal of sites from the submitted plan. In this connection, we would be grateful if the Cabinet could please answer the following questions:
Can the Cabinet please set out how the removal of HS22 and HS24 from the site allocations, against the direction of the Inspector, has been considered and justified with due process in the context of its inclusion in the submitted plan and robust support from the Inspector? The Royal Veterinary College is deeply concerned that the significant changes proposed to the submitted plan risk the plan being found unsound, especially given the Inspector’s clear findings on housing need and the submitted spatial strategy.
Does the Cabinet / Council acknowledge that the new proposals prevent investment in the delivery of a new small animal hospital providing vital services to the local community, along with further campus improvements supporting education and research, required to maintain the RVC’s world leading status? This investment is reliant on delivering HS22 and HS24.
Are the risks to the Local Plan process, together with potential outcomes, and the impact on the RVC’s status fully understood and accepted by the Cabinet?
The Inspector has issued an interim report based on a housing need of 16,000 dwellings. The response to the previous question has referred to the Council’s view that the 2018 Population and Household projections result in a reduced need for housing. The Council considers that the exceptional circumstances relating to the release of this site for housing therefore need to be reconsidered by Members.
The Council is following due process by ensuring these important decisions are fully debated by CPPP, Cabinet and Full Council.
It is acknowledged that the RVC is a charity and that the proceeds from any sale of land for housing would be reinvested in the College but this is not a consideration that should inform the selection on which are the most sustainable local plan sites.