Agenda item


Report of the Assistant Director (Planning)


Cllr Hellyer excused himself for this item in accordance with his declaration of interest.


The Committee received the report of the Assistant Director, Planning, and a presentation.


The outline proposal is for a residential-led development of up to 210 residential units, with associated infrastructure, landscaping provision of allotments and 12 Gypsy and Traveller pitches with all matters reserved except access. The application was accompanied by an Environmental Statement submitted under the Town and Country Planning Environmental Impact Assessment regulations 2017. The site is located to the north-east of Welwyn Garden City, just beyond the northeastern edge of the settlement of Welwyn Garden City and is positioned directly to the north and east of land which has already received outline planning permission for up to 650 homes, a school, community facilities, a convenience shop, custom and self-build house-building, housing for older people and supporting infrastructure.


The land has formally been used as a general aviation aerodrome but the airfield closed in 2014. Since then, the site has been put forward by the Council for allocation in response to a need for additional housing sites to meet the borough’s housing need. In February 2020, outline permission was granted for up to 650 houses, a primary school, 6 Gypsy and Traveller pitches, a new local centre comprising retail and community uses and other associated works. Amendments to this consent were then approved in June 2022, but the principle of the development remains the same.


The application site is located in the Metropolitan Green Belt and the use of the land for residential development would be classed as inappropriate development in the Green Belt due to failing to meet any of the specified exceptions in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). In addition, the nature of the development would result in a spatial and visual loss of openness of the Green Belt and officers consider the proposal would result in harm to some of the Green Belt purposes by introducing built form into the currently open, undeveloped nature of the site and extending the edge of the settlement beyond its current designation. This identified harm carries substantial weight against the proposal and consequently the benefits and other considerations of the scheme are weighed against the identified harms in the planning balance.


The application site is allocated for development in policy SP 18 and forms part of a larger strategic site. Through the examination process, the Inspector and officers considered the potential for an additional capacity to deliver homes at the land to the north-east of Welwyn Garden City through expanding the original allocation which was for 650 homes; this was underpinned by Green Belt studies undertaken by the Council and an extensive evidence base. Therefore the proposed allocation, as it is now, would provide for up to 870 new residential dwellings with 30% affordable houses, Gypsy and Traveller provision sufficient to accommodate a total of 12 pitches, new community facilities, a convenience shop, primary school, self-build housebuilding and housing for older people, and it also proposes sustainable transport measures, access arrangements, formal and informal spaces for leisure and recreation, landscaping and ecological enhancements, utilities and sustainable drainage, and flood mitigation measures.


Given the advanced stage the draft Local Plan has reached, and the deliberation which has been afforded to our allocation SP 18 as part of this process, officers consider substantial weight can be afforded to this emerging policy in accordance with paragraph 48 of the NPPF, which states that local planning authorities may give weight to relevant policies in emerging local plans according to various criteria, one of which is how advanced the preparation of the plan is, as greater weight can be given according to that.


30% of the homes to be delivered would be affordable and compliant with the Council's requirements of 51% social rent and 49% intermediate. 2% of the total number of plots will be custom-built plots which is consistent with the emerging Local Plan policy; and a condition is also required to secure 20% of the proposed dwellings to be accessible and adaptable housing standards.


The proposed development is located near several designated and non-designated heritage assets. The proposed development embeds various mitigation measures to reduce impacts of the development to adjacent designated heritage assets, and whilst there will be short term impacts during construction and as the enhanced structural landscaping planting establishes, it is considered that when it reached full maturity it should effectively screen all but occasional localised glimpse views of roof lines of the new housing. Therefore, less than substantial harm at the lower end of the spectrum is identified.


A landscape and visual impact assessment has been submitted by the applicant which has been reviewed independently as part of the assessment process; while the submitted landscape and visual impact assessment is sufficient to assess the likely impacts of the development, it is considered that the assessment itself underestimates the likely effects of the proposed development on landscape and visual amenity, and this is largely due to the elevated nature, prominence and position of the application site. The proposed planting in its current form would not be sufficient to overcome the harm and, based on this level of mitigation, there would still be some adverse impacts on the local landscape, character and visual amenity. Despite this, it is considered that there are opportunities for further mitigation measures, for example to the northern boundaries of the site, and through the detailed design stages there is still scope to address some of the harms identified. A number of these matters can be addressed at reserved matters stages and through planning conditions. This will ensure landscape and visual harm is appropriately mitigated and further opportunities taken to enhance the landscape and visual resources.


In terms of public access, the primary access point would be from Herns Lane in the form of a two-way signalised junction, another key access point would be entry-only other than for specialised uses, and there are two more secondary points of access on Halifax Way and Bericot Way which will be restricted to buses, emergency services, cyclists and pedestrians. Off-site highway improvement works are proposed to the to the B1000 Herns Lane junction in the form of a signalised junction layout, which will help alleviate pressures on the local road network. In addition to the key routes, connections are also probable through the proposed cul-de-sacs and smaller roads within the site. Parking matters are reserved for future applications when the layout and number of dwellings have been finalised.


Proposed ecological enhancements will be secured by a Landscape and Ecological Management Plan. In terms of providing a Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG), a metric has been provided. Although 10% BNG cannot be demonstrated at present as required by the Environment Act 2021, as this is not yet a legal requirement in planning law and in the absence of an adopted local plan which states otherwise, it cannot be insisted upon that this is addressed prior to determination. Furthermore, it is considered there is an opportunity to address the outstanding percentage and trading rule issue via means of a suitable legal agreement. Natural England consider the proposed open space provision across the site and the footpaths sufficient to adequately mitigate against increased recreational pressures of the development. The proposal integrates large areas of open space and structural landscape areas as well as a biodiversity enhancement area which would be provided to the north-west of the site and the provision of allotments to the south-east. The Council's Landscaping Officer considers there is no in principle objection, subject to further details being secured at later stages and by condition.


Other technical considerations are acceptable subject to the suggested conditions and obligations. These include drainage and flood risk, noise, vibration, contamination, ground conditions, minerals recovery and impacts on local infrastructure and services.


Members were advised that since the publication of the report, there had been some amendments to the recommended conditions and planning obligations. Further justification was received from the growth team at Hertfordshire County Council for a contribution towards the fire and rescue service and subsequently this contribution has been included in the heads of terms. The Construction Environment Management Plan was missing a reference to some measures to control light during the construction process and wording has also been added regarding details of prevention techniques, permits, contingency plans and mitigation measures to minimise environmental impacts. The minerals recovery strategy condition was missing a sentence about the updating of records on a weekly basis and submitting details after each phase has been completed. Some plans which were not included in the report have now been added to the conditions. The report also included a condition for Biodiversity Net Gain to ensure 10% would be secured, but this is no longer required as the 10% requirement would be secured by the legal agreement, which is considered a more robust approach.


Officers advised based on the findings of the assessment of the proposed development there is identified harm in the form of inappropriate development to the Green Belt, harm to the openness and purposes of the Green Belt, harm to landscape character area, and less than substantial harm to heritage assets.  All these factors weigh against the proposal. The benefits of the proposed development are set out in detail in the Officer report. As the Council is unable to demonstrate a five-year supply of deliverable housing sites and the shortfall of homes in the borough is recognised as considerable and significant, the delivery of up to 210 new houses is afforded very substantial weight. Very substantial weight is also attached to the provision of 63 affordable homes, of which 51% would be social rented, to address the priority needs within the borough. The site is designated in the Draft Local Plan for residential development and forms part of the Council’s strategic approach to meeting its future housing need. The Draft Local Plan is at an advanced stage, therefore the policies relating to it should carry substantial weight. Further substantial weight is afforded to the provision of 12 Gypsy and Traveller pitches, as the Council is currently unable to demonstrate a five-year supply of Gypsy and Traveller sites. Moderate weight is attached to the provision of custom build houses, in addition to the proposed enhancements to landscaping, addressing surface water, flood risk and drainage, sustainable modes of travel and the other objectives set out in the report, and the economic benefits of the proposal.


Taking all matters into consideration, officers were of the view that the material considerations and benefits of the proposal would outweigh the identified harm. For these reasons, it is considered that the tests in paragraph 148 of the NPPF are met and very special circumstances exist to justify the grant of planning permission. Officers therefore recommend planning permission is approved, subject to referral to the Secretary of State, completion of a Section 106 agreement and the conditions set out in the officer report.


David Jobbins, Agent, spoke regarding the application.

The proposals comprise a sustainable extension to the existing permission comprising an additional 210 dwellings, with extensive new public, open space, landscaping and 10% biodiversity net gain within the borough. Furthermore, as you've already heard, the site is allocated for this development as part of the emerging Local Plan, which in itself has been through a very considerable consultation process, and this is all set out fully within your officer's report.


As I said, we'd been working with your officers on this project for the last two years and have ensured that all technical matters have been fully addressed. As a result, your officers have summarised these comments received as comments received on page 11 to 15 and the vast majority of which raised no objection to the application including Herts County Highways, Historic and Natural England and others.


As a government body, Home, England is committed to bring forward development of the highest quality and it is intended the proposals would be subject to a design code which requires that any future proposals follow Garden City principles in all respects. This will ensure that new neighbourhood is befitting of Welwyn Garden City and, in addition, it includes an extension to the Garden City Centenary Walk.


I would also respectfully draw your attention to paragraphs 12.27, 12. 28, and 12. 29 of the report, which deal with housing supply and provision of affordable housing. If approved, this application will result in 63 affordable new homes in the borough.


I would like to draw attention just to two paragraphs in the report which I will quote.

The NPPF attaches great importance to housing delivery that meets the needs of groups with specific housing requirements. The Council cannot demonstrate a five-year housing supply of deliverable homes and the shortfall is considerable and significant. It is considered the delivery of up to 210 new homes should attract very substantial weight in favour of the proposal.


Finally, in terms of affordable housing, it states, there is an acute, affordable housing need in the borough. The delivery of up to 63 homes, which would be affordable, would offer significant social benefits to the local community and is also afforded very substantial weight in favour of the proposal which of course we would naturally concur with this. I hope, in the light of the above, and particularly your officer's commendable report and recommendation, you are able to support our application, which we believe is a logical extension to the existing permission and will result in significant gains to a local community. Thank you.”


Sarah Manning, Objector, spoke regarding the application: 

“This meeting is in reference to 210 dwellings and the infrastructure being put in place to support them, however, we are assuming that the discussed infrastructure will eventually need to cope with 870 families. Panshanger has existing problems which are likely to be exacerbated by additional dwellings. Sewage problems have been ongoing and escalated with each Panshanger extension. Current drainage on Hillyfields is no longer suitable and residents are greatly concerned about flooding. Medical and dental facilities are already overstretched and there are no guarantees of adequate increase of these. Existing shops are overcrowded and parking areas are often full. The new development is insufficient in this area.


Then there's the impact of the proposed development, the spine road. This will run parallel to and only a few metres away from, existing houses and have a whole estate’s vehicles driving along it, including buses. It will generate unwanted light, noise and pollution and the landscape buffer is inadequate. It's also likely that we'll feel vibrations from large vehicles. We are told this will not happen, but we were told this about the archaeological dig.


Vehicle access is either signalised, restricted or controlled. The access points at Baricot Way and Halifax Way will not be used for general traffic, which is the right call due to current levels. Access for the new primary school is currently rather unclear as the Panshanger Lane End is entry-only. Will parents have to drive through the whole development to exit? Shouldn't there be an exit point on Panshanger Lane?


Work on the site so far, such as test digging, and the archaeological dig have led to cracks appearing in the walls of residents’ houses and an indescribable amounts of dust and noise. How will residents be protected from this in the future?


Hours of work for the construction will begin at 08.00, 6 days a week. Noise from the archaeological dig began at 07.15 as vehicles could enter the site and use reverse beeps before official working times. Residents will be living with this for years.


Six Traveller pitches have increased to 12. There have been numerous previous objections in writing about this, including the close proximity to the primary school and insufficient screening between the two sites. School security is a concern.


To conclude, this development impacts on Green Belt, goes against the ethos of Welwyn Garden City and does not seem to be able to sustain its own future. It does, however, intend on negatively impacting current residents who feel that consulting us on an 870 dwelling development in stages is illegitimate. Thank you.”


Members discussed the application and the main points raised are below:

·       Members asked whether the additional 210 houses would be on additional or existing land. It was noted the land that had been granted planning permission for up to 650 homes was the original part of the land to the south and this application site would be additional land to the north.

·       It was noted that the proposed increase in homes from the original 650 was 32%.

·       Members asked whether the development was likely not to be adopted by the County Highway Authority. Officers advised that conditions included for outline consent would require a management company, including a condition which referenced public realm management strategy; the spine road would be built to adoptable standards as a minimum as a bus would use it, and further design and layout would be considered at the reserved matters stage. Members commented that in their experience, adoptable roads are not always adopted.

·       Members asked what new amenities would be provided in addition to those set out for the original 650 homes. Officers said the Draft Local Plan allocation was for the whole site and so amenities would be in line with what the emerging allocation required; the majority of community facilities were already secured in the phase 1 permission.

·       Members queried whether the additional homes would mean additional children would need to be accommodated within the new primary school and were advised that only outline permission is currently being sought. The County Council generally works on the basis of a one form entry per 500 dwellings, so a two form entry primary school is proposed on the site.

·       Members commented that the Inspector had been inclined to raise dwelling numbers and asked how this had come about.  Officers said that through the local planning examination, the Council was asked to consider whether there was capacity to extend land to the north of the development, which was why the allocation has now increased.

·       It was asked how decisions about parking spaces would be made. Officers said this was not currently known as the application is for outline permission but this would be considered when reserved matters applications are submitted.

·       Members asked if there were implications for the application if the Local Plan was to be rejected. Officers responded that there was no direct implication as the report and presentation set out the weight that had been given to different considerations. Housing need would not decrease if the Local Plan was not adopted and in such circumstances greater weight might be given to housing need as the planning balance would be different. 

·       Members asked about the electric vehicle charging points that should be included in the development. Officers replied that reserved matters applications would consider the more detailed design in future.

·       Members asked whether flooding, sewage and drainage should be looked at now. Officers said Thames Water had reviewed the proposal and had not objected. The Lead Local Flood Authority had also reviewed the proposal and proposed sustainable drainage measures, including a sustainable drainage design code, which had been considered and was addressed by the suggested conditions. 

·       Members asked whether the damage to biodiversity could be rectified within the application site rather than through the S106 agreement. Officers explained the applicant had submitted a biodiversity net gain metric which had been reviewed by the Council's statutory consultee for ecology; it suggested a biodiversity net gain of nearly 5% is achievable, but there are some measures, such as the trading rules embedded in the metric, which have not been satisfied and those require a like-for-like or like-for-better replacement. As this is an outline application, it is considered that there are later opportunities to address the outstanding percentage and trading rules issues at the reserved matters stages, which is why the legal agreement has been suggested. The Legal Adviser added that there is a hierarchical process and the S106 agreement would seek for the developer to submit a plan to provide mitigation onsite first which was the preference, and would also stipulate provision for this to be provided offsite if it cannot be met onsite. Details in respect of the national biodiversity net gain regime are expected to come into force around November 2023. There is flexibility for developers if this cannot be provided onsite as that will not always be possible.

·       The emphasis on high quality design, open spaces and integrating landscaping into the design was commended, and it was noted it was key to keep an eye on this as the design stage progressed into the detailed stage; it was hoped that green corridors in the new proposed open spaces provided a sense of openness given the loss of Geen Belt.

·       Members asked whether conditions could address the noise issue. Officers responded that there is a condition for a Construction and Environmental Management Plan for the construction phases which would secure measures in reducing dust and mitigating noise. A Member observed that this seemed to be an issue in practice and it would be helpful to see how this could be improved.

·       Members asked whether lessons could be learned about other sites with management agencies in respect of management of this site in future. Officers advised this was outside of the Council’s control; it cannot mandate that all roads should be publicly adopted, for example, and it is the developer’s decision as to whether to have a management company.


The Chair confirmed all Members were content they had read and heard enough to make a decision about the application. 



(7 in favour and 5 against)


That outline planning permission be granted, subject to:

a)    Referral to the Secretary of State;


b)    Completion of a satisfactory S106 planning agreement and the agreement of any necessary extensions to the statutory determination period to complete this agreement, and


c)     The conditions set out in the report.


Supporting documents: