Agenda item


Report of the Assistant Director (Planning)



Cllr Hellyer rejoined the meeting.


The Committee received the report of the Assistant Director, Planning. Before a presentation, the Planning Officer provided an update on the part of the report regarding the monitoring fee for Hertfordshire County Council contributions; the sum was not stated in the report and is £340 per trigger point.


The application seeks planning permission for 63 dwellings in Little Heath and was before Committee as North Mymms Parish Council had submitted a major objection, set out in paragraph 9.1 of the report.


The application site is located within the Metropolitan Green Belt to the northern side of Hawkshead Road and adjacent to the northern edge of the town of Potters Bar. The site has an area of approximately 2.9 hectares and is made up of several compartments. It is mainly grassland, but to the south-east corner is a large residential dwelling Videne, with its residential curtilage and associated outbuildings. To the immediate north-west of Videne is a pond feature which is surrounded by trees. The dwelling, outbuildings and curtilage associated with Tanum Farm are to the north-western side of the site.


A significant majority of the application site comprises proposed allocation HS47 (LHe4/5) for 63 dwellings as identified in the January 2023 main modifications to the emerging Local Plan. The remaining part of the site is outside the proposed allocation, but does not extend beyond the proposed amendment to the Green Belt boundary for Little Heath in the emerging Local Plan.


63 dwellings are proposed, comprising 2, 3, 4 and 5 bed houses. 40% of the proposal would be affordable housing. Materials used would respect the character and appearance of the area and would also create visual interest within the site.  The proposed landscaping scheme has been revised and enhanced during the course of the application to address comments raised by the Council's Landscape Consultant. It is considered that the proposed landscaping scheme would provide appropriate mitigation for the impacts caused by the development on landscape, character, and visual amenity.


The proposal would result in a loss of Green Belt openness, and conflict with one of the purposes of including land in the Green Belt. No other harms are identified by the proposal. Due to the harm to the Green Belt, very special circumstances are needed to justify the development. Substantial weight must be attached to any harm to the Green Belt.


Against this harm, the applicant had noted several considerations and benefits. Very substantial weight is afforded to provision of affordable housing. The affordable housing position in WHBC is extremely acute and in a recent allowed appeal for 100 dwellings in Colney Heath the Inspector stated in her decision that the persistent under delivery of affordable housing in this local authority areas presents a critical situation.


The Council cannot demonstrate a 5-year supply of affordable homes and the shortfall in Welwyn Hatfield is considerable and significant. Substantial weight is afforded to the provision of market housing, which would make a positive contribution to the supply of market housing in this Local Authority area.


Significant weight is attached to the site’s status in the emerging Local Plan.


Moderate weight is attached to the proposed sustainable design measures.


Other benefits include off-site highway works, a 10% net gain for biodiversity and other economic and social benefits, which each carry limited positive weight.


Officers consider that the totality of the other considerations clearly outweigh the harm to the Green Belt and, subject to an effective S106 agreement, very special circumstances exist to justify a grant of planning permission in this case. It is recommended that planning permission be approved, subject to the completion of a satisfactory Section 106 agreement and an extension of time to cover completion of this agreement; referral to the Secretary of State; and the conditions listed in the officer report.


Neil Farnsworth spoke in favour of the proposal:

“Cala Homes is a national five-star housebuilder based in Welwyn Garden City which has built numerous successful developments across Hertfordshire. It is widely known progress on the emerging Local Plan has been slow. The shortfall in the provision of housing in the area has been frequently described tonight as significant and there is an acute need for affordable housing.  There were over 3,000 households on the Housing Register as at March 2022, and no affordable housing in this parish has been provided since 2000.


Notwithstanding this, it is encouraging to see the progress made with the plan to enable planned housing delivery to take place. Our application is for 63 new homes, comprising a mix of two to five bedroom dwellings. We have gone above the current plan policy of 30% affordable housing, above the emerging policy of 35%, and instead are proposing 40% affordable housing and an additional 6 affordable homes above the current plan requirements.


The site is allocated for 63 new homes within the emerging plan. The examining inspector has found the site sound and has recognised the need for new development within Little Heath to satisfy local need.


Whilst the emerging plan has not yet been formally adopted, the NPPF is explicit that the refusal of planning permission on the grounds of prematurity would not be justified, and your officers have stated how the granting of planning permission will not undermine the plan-making process. The plan is at an advanced stage of preparation and should be afforded significant weight as the policies and allocations have been thoroughly considered by the examination. Many other emerging allocations have already been approved by the Council.


A mix of properties are proposed, forming a traditional street layout that compliments the shape of the site. Established landscaping features, such as the existing natural pond and grade-A trees, have been retained, we have worked closely with your officers to achieve this.


A traditional form of architecture, the response to the site's context is proposed, with a mix of materials to provide variation to the streetscene. The layout has been fully tracked for the purposes of fire and refuse vehicles. The scheme has no objection from Herts Highways and the additional traffic generated by the development has no detriment to highway safety. Our package of off-site highway works has also been approved by the County Council.


From a sustainability perspective, the development proposes air source heat pumps for all properties, eliminating use of gas. This will see a dwelling emissions rate 35% better than the Building Regulations baseline. Electric vehicle charging points are to be installed to all properties, along with numerous biodiversity features such as bird and bat boxes and swift bricks. Heads of terms for the S106 obligation have been agreed, and this includes over £1.4m towards local education and leisure and local sports facilities.


In conclusion, this development brings forward much-needed new sustainable housing and an attractive and well-designed development on an emerging allocation. There are no consultee objections to the proposal and it is wholly compliant and in places goes over and above both national and local planning policy. We sincerely hope the Committee can support these proposals. Thank you.”


Simon Polledri, Objector, spoke against the proposal:

“This is the second site in Little Heath in Green Belt land in the Local Plan that has been up for another planning application. After the stage 9 hearings about the Green Belt boundary issue, the Inspector's comment was the proposed new boundaries are erratic and not clearly defined to follow the recognisable features. Whilst that has been changed, it still juts into the Green Belt and takes this from a moderate to a high harm scenario. This is not the same site as in the plan, this is bigger, and the density is far higher. In terms of environment and sustainability issues, after the stage 9 hearings the Inspector asked if this was a suitable location for development.


The Institute of Highways and Transportation say a development is acceptable 400 metres from a town centre or 1,000 metres from commuting from regular transport. The maximum should be 800 metres from a town centre, yet this is 1,600 metres from the nearest shop and 1,866 metres from the train station. A practical example of this is Little Heath Primary School which is 650 metres away from the site; in some years the furthest child admitted is only 400 metres away because of the oversubscription.

Herts County Council shows a surplus of school places in the area at the moment, but that is before the impact of Oakmere Primary reducing its intake from two form entry to one, and that reduces the school places in the Potters Bar area by 12%. That quite likely will mean many more car journeys to further afield.


There seems to be some kind of lack of accuracy in due diligence in some of this. One resident has said to me some trees are not detailed in the plans, the elevation imagery is not correct or sympathetic; there has been a lack of community involvement and I certainly feel it is not consistent with national planning policy. We accept Welwyn Hatfield needs more homes but we also see that highway safety issues that have been raised; Hertfordshire constabulary has raised concerns; there are issues about mobility, access, cycling and car parking; and objections from Herts County Council, Highways and the Flood Authority.   


We ask that the application is denied at this stage and that the Local Plan be allowed to assess it or for the applicant to reassess, bearing in mind all our objections. Thank you.”


Cllr Americanos-Molinaro, North Pymms Parish Councillor, spoke against the proposal: 

“The parish submitted a major objection to the proposed development for several important reasons. Although we recognise that this site is in the emerging Local Plan, the development is still on Green Belt and the number of properties is excessive. Based on the space available guidelines per hectare and boundary change issues. We believe the maximum number of houses should be 47, not 63. Even at 47 houses there remain major concerns for us and the local community. The site is not fully sustainable. Few buses service it, and it is too far away from local shops to manage without the use of a car. Medical and travel facilities are a mile away and as the closest primary school is full with no room to extend, it is inevitable that parents must drive to another school if they can find one able to take their children.


Lack of sustainability of travel to essential amenities will increase motor traffic and there is not even a functioning cycle lane; the one shown uses an existing pavement and does not lead anywhere.


The developers obtained just 33 responses from local people. Even the Parish Council was approached only after the planning application had been submitted. As a result of this inadequate community involvement, serious concerns such as traffic and highway safety have been overlooked. Traffic hazards could be mitigated however by building fewer houses so that points of access and egress can be factored into the design.


The developers recognise that more cars will be needed by the community, but they provide parking spaces at the cost of garden space. This sacrifice of soft, landscaping spoils the visual amenity and ignores the good design aims. Furthermore, the hard landscaped parking spaces reduce both natural drainage and net biodiversity.


There has been a blatant disregard for the openness of the Green Belt by including three storey houses. These will have severely detrimental effects on the visual amenities. Comments that these properties are actually only two and a half storeys are nonsense. People do not live in half height spaces.


The design is unsympathetic to the character of this lovely area, clearly demonstrated by the proposed removal of many of the established trees which line Hawkshead Road, as well as the use of grey roof tiles that are not the local vernacular.


Of concern to the Parish Council is the treatment of the boundary between the proposed development and our open space. The developers still haven't approached us regarding access to the parish’s open space and other access permissions. We request that if this development is to be considered due to its inclusion in the Local Plan, at the very least it should be sustainable. It must be sympathetic to its rural setting and the area's character, and must minimise the loss of openness to the Green Belt as ratified in the recent appeal case in this parish. Thank you.”


Members discussed the application and a summary of the main points raised is below:

·       40% affordable housing is positive.

·       From an environmental perspective, not having gas is positive.

·       A query was made about density in relation to the objection from the Parish Council. The Planning Officer said the density in this site was 21.7 dwellings per hectare. The Legal Advisor added that density by itself was not a reason for refusal. The NPPF encourages planning decisions to make efficient use of land subject to certain criteria, so when there are density concerns, material weight can be given to the planning harms arising from that. Officers drew attention to paragraph 10.7 of the report which summarised the Inspector's comments following those at that stage of the hearing sessions. As a result of that, the capacity of the site was increased to 63 dwellings, so it accorded with the revision to the capacity of the site that was progressed through the Local Plan.  

·       Members noted affordable housing was 40% and asked how much of that was affordable and how much was social. The Planning Officer said 35% was policy compliant in accordance with the emerging Local Plan, equating to 11 social rent and 11 shared ownership, with the remaining 5% (3 units) as additional shared ownership.     

·       Reflecting on the response to the density query, a Member asked whether overdevelopment was a consideration for refusal. The Legal Advisor clarified that density alone was not a reason to defend at appeal; overdevelopment is essentially similar, so it is the matters that arise from the density, e.g. impact on character and appearance.

·       There was a question about what harms officers had identified and their mitigations in terms of very special circumstances. The Planning Officer said the harms identified were to the Green Belt. These were: inappropriate development in the Green Belt, loss of Green Belt openness, and conflict with one of the purposes of including land in the Green Belt (failure to assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment) which attract substantial weight.  Against that harm were the benefits set out in the presentation and within the report including very substantial weight to affordable housing, substantial weight to market housing, significant weight to the site’s status in the emerging Local Plan, moderate weight to the sustainable design measures, and other economic and social benefits had positive weight. Officers therefore considered the totality of these outweighed harm to the Green Belt.  

·       Members asked if the Inspector had indicated if this was a site that could accommodate more housing. The Planning Officer said the site was put forward in 2019, initially for 34 homes; the Inspector had said the Green Belt boundary in this location was erratic and recommended it be adjusted. The Green Belt site was amended and the site capacity was increased to 63 dwellings.

·       Some of the site design and layout was a concern with the middle of the site appearing particularly congested; that land could be used for more amenity space as there did not appear to be play areas or green space.

·       While Potters Bar town centre has many amenities, there did not seem to be many in the local area. A question was asked about whether the County Council had commented on how S106 funding might alleviate issues raised with finding spaces. The Planning Officer said that although the nearest services and facilities are a mile away in Potters Bar, officers felt the condition of roads were conducive to walking and cycling which was supported by the County Council. A walking and cycling path within the site leads onto Hawkshead Road and connects to a nearby residential street and will be provided as an off-site contribution.

·       Asked how much weight should be afforded to affordable housing need in the circumstances, the Planning Officer said very substantial weight was attached, given the extremely acute need in the borough.

·       Officers advised the report set out the requirements required by the County Council in respect of education provision (paragraph 10.211); a toolkit is used to work out what the development is likely to produce in terms of child yield.

·       Officers said that in terms of the sustainability of the site, the examining Inspector considered whether sites were suitable and this site was seen as acceptable for residential development. The Council had previously granted planning permission to the smaller site next door; the Inspector had indicated these two sites could be found sound, so these are material considerations. The cumulative effect is considered though the plan-making process, planning application process and by infrastructure providers when stating what contributions may be required to mitigate the impacts of development on the infrastructure.   

·       A Member raised a few concerns: access and egress to the site seems poor; there is limited parking, and it will be difficult for the site to cope with the likely number of cars as residents will not cycle to do the family shop. Therefore, the application was likely to damage the environment and the necessary infrastructure was not in place. Another Member commented on the prevalence of online shopping.  Officers noted the off-site highways plan associated with the application included traffic calming measures and that pedestrian and cycle paths connected to Osborne Road which led to the centre of Potters Bar. 

·       Responding to a comment about the application not referencing additional GP facilities, the Planning Officer responded that the NHS had been consulted and had not requested contributions for primary care.

·       In response to a comment about the S106 money not referencing the junior school which is full, the Planning Officer said the County Council had said there was sufficient capacity within Potters Bar to absorb the development for primary school children. The Member replied that this was likely to mean parents drove their children to school which would impact on congestion.

·       Asked whether the electricity supply would cope with additional homes, officers said utilities providers had not objected and have a duty to connect. If planning permission was granted, the housebuilder would need to resolve this with them to ensure there was sufficient capacity.

·       A Member commented positively on the proximity of Little Heath playing field as a space for children.   

·       Officers noted the plan shows an indicative access to the playing field from the site and understood that the applicant had not yet contacted the Parish Council to see if it would be agreed; there is good access to the playing field from existing footpaths.

·       A Member observed heat pumps are new technology which does not always fully heat larger homes and wondered whether residents might fit gas boilers. It was noted there is no gas network on the site. 

·       In respect of school places, officers advised the responsibility of the local planning authority and developer is to pay the contributions requested by the Education Authority and the County Council had calculated the growth request.

·       Replying to a Member query about the impact of the site on elderly and disabled people who are unable to walk a mile, officers said while this was recognised, it was important to try and secure mechanisms through planning applications that made alternative travel viable. Another Member noted the steep hill to Potters Bar station which may increase car use.

·       A Member had some reservations about the application. There is a site next to the proposal which cumulatively represents a lot of housing and overdevelopment was a concern; harm to Green Belt weighed more than very special circumstances. Highways did not normally reject applications and it was a concern that maintaining the area would fall to others. The Legal Advisor explained the applicant could not be compelled for the roads to be adopted. The County Council has powers under the Highways Act if private roads are being developed. The S106 would secure normal open space provision which would include the road and an obligation would ensure management of the road. Development can only be refused on highways grounds where it would have an unacceptable impact on the highway or highway safety, or the residual cumulative impacts on the road network would be severe. Highways authorities do make objections. In this instance, the Highways Authority had looked at the transport assessment and trip generation.

·       Asked about how Members should consider the development next to the site in terms of density which has received planning permission, officers said that if Members felt there was a cumulative effect for the two sites, they would need to identify a consequential harm. The Legal Advisor concurred and noted Members needed to be mindful of the emerging Local Plan situation; sustainability is reviewed as part of the process. Officers added that Highways and Education growth team makers look at assessments in terms of additional permissions that have been granted. 

·       Given the site next door has planning permission, Members asked about the cumulative impact on Green Belt. The Legal Advisor noted each application is determined on its own merits, there should be consistency in decision-making and there need to be reasons if Members depart from previous decisions; therefore, while they did not have to grant this application because the previous site had permission, they would need to give reasons if it was refused and give weight to them.

·       Responding to a question about whether the Local Plan provided a strategic framework about how Green Belt was used, the Legal Advisor confirmed this was correct and said the application should be determined in accordance with the development plan unless material considerations indicated otherwise. Officers added that although the emerging Local Plan was not yet adopted, weight was afforded to it given its state of preparation.

·       In answer to a question about enhancing green open spaces and addressing biodiversity, the Planning Officer said a landscape consultant had been involved throughout. There is provision for additional tree planting, tree-lined streets and enhancing the site boundaries. There is open space to the to the southern side of the site including the pond feature which will be usable, and there is a planning condition requiring furniture etc to be included to encourage use.  A similar condition appliesto the northern side of the site which will also be a useable space. The Council’s Supplementary Design Guidance also says that open space in the local area should be taken into account and this is a material consideration; the open recreational space is very closeby and a contribution secured through this application will further enhance the play area. The landscaping scheme is considered effective with an appropriate balance of soft and hard landscaping on the site that makes the most efficient use of the land. There will be a loss of biodiversity on the site but biodiversity offsetting will be secured through the legal agreement to compensate for the loss and a 10% net gain is proposed.

·       A question was asked about the extent of boundary consultations, given Osborne Road is known for rat running. Officers advised consultation on a scheme like this is mandated to take place in a certain way; immediate neighbours would have been consulted and site and press notices produced. It was emphasised that the County Council as the Highways Authority had not objected and considered the scheme impact could be mitigated on the highway.  

·       A Member noted infrastructure problems are not a reason not to address the housing shortage.

·       Asked whether the distribution of bedrooms in social housing mirrored those across the scheme, the Planning Officer said social housing had 2 and 3 bedrooms and market housing had 4 and 5 bedrooms; the social housing will still be family housing and the Housing Development team had not raised objections about affordable housing being 2 and 3 bedroomed properties. These homes would meet an identified need.    


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



(9 in favour and 4 against)


That planning permission be approved, subject to:

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


b)    Referral to Secretary of State; and


c)     The conditions set out in the report.


Supporting documents: