Agenda item


Report of the Assistant Director (Planning)



The Planning Officer introduced the report as set out in the agenda.  The application was for the retention of fencing following removal of two kissing gates. The application was before DMC as it had been called in by Cllr Rowse.


Three late representations had been received bringing the total number of representations to 50. There were 26 objections, 21 comments in support and 3 comments. Hertfordshire Constabulary had commented in support of the application.


One of the kissing gates had been removed and fenced off over six years ago and the other was removed and fenced off in 2020.  Due to substantial vegetation between the site boundaries and Roe Hill Park, there were limited views of the fencing to the south of the site from Roe Hill Park. Views of the fencing to the north of the site were visible when entering or leaving the park via the alleyway to the north of the site due to its positioning and limited screening. The design and scale of the fencing was not considered to detract from the character or appearance of the area and would be in keeping with the residential setting of the site.


The gates provided direct and convenient access into Roe Hill Park from the application site and allowed park users into the application site. The park was the closest open or public amenity space for residents of the application site and the alleyway was now the most direct way for residents to access the park since the fencing was implemented.


Some residents had commented that since the gates were closed, accessing Roe Hill Park was more difficult and inconvenient; the alleyway did not feel safe and people who were not residents of the site were using the gates to access the site which had led to antisocial behaviour.  Hertfordshire Constabulary had commented in support of the fencing and said that reports of crime and antisocial behaviour had reduced since the gates were closed.            


Due to the closure of the gates, residents of the site now had to leave the application site to access the alleyway in order to access Roe Hill Park, an increase in distance and therefore journey time compared to using the gates.  


It was noted in recent site visits that there was some litter in the vegetation that lined the alleyway; no other antisocial behaviour had been observed.


Local and national policy emphasised the importance of access to good standard amenity space and external open spaces. Safe, convenient and direct routes should ensure such spaces were easy to access for all. Vegetation from the alleyway did not prevent it being used and it was suitable for people with limited mobility, wheelchairs and pushchairs. It was acknowledged that the most direct route into Roe Hill Park from the application site were the gates; however the alleyway to the north of the site was considered safe, convenient and straightforward as a route to the park. On the basis that safe, convenient and straightforward access to the park remained available to residents of the site as well as a reduction in reports of crime and antisocial behaviour since the fencing was implemented, it was considered that the fencing was in accordance with the relevant policies and the retention of the fence should be approved subject to the inclusion of relevant conditions and a S106 deed of variation.  


James Ryan, resident, spoke in favour of the application:

“Good evening. I am speaking on behalf of my family and our neighbours who are in huge support. Let's keep the fences up and remove the gates and have this planning application approved. This is due to the horrendous events of anti-social behaviour and crime we have all experienced. One gate has been fenced off for approximately eight years now, the other gate has been closed for approximately three to four years. The issues we faced as neighbours were as follows: eggs being thrown, damage to properties, kids playing Knock Down Ginger, public urinating against the properties next to the gate, the public looking in through people's windows to see inside the houses, dog fouling and urinating, general food waste and litter. People used driveways to park their cars whilst they went into the fields, the public was being abusive to homeowners, people were drinking alcohol resulting in fights and causing huge amounts of noise disturbance, people were smoking cannabis behind the fence which resulted in me having to close my windows so no harm was done to my baby, and residents having to invest into CCTV due to attempted thefts. Residents were being intimidated and feeling very unsafe. On one occasion, youths started a fire in the woods next to the gates and the fire brigade were called. There was an occasion where a police helicopter was looking for some suspects and they made their escape through the gates. I need to emphasise this was happening the majority of the time and not as a one-off, especially the drinking, drug taking and antisocial behaviour. I've read the report written by Kirsty, who recommends that the planning application should be approved. We have a few key supporters: Herts Police and Grant Shapps who also visited the sites when these issues were happening and agreed with the closure all those years ago.


I would really urge you all to understand that the antisocial behaviour and crime has now disappeared since closing the gates, and this has been confirmed by Herts Police. The report states that the walk to Roe Hill via the alleyway is only six minutes and hardly an inconvenience for the pleasure of living in a safe environment.


Roe Hill were aware of the antisocial behaviour happening on their land and the gates closed in the evening, yet our gates were left open 24-7. RMG conducted numerous residential meetings re the issues around the gate and looked into other options, ie fob access only or gates at the front of the development, which were declined by residents due to the costs. It was decided the best thing to do was to close the gates. RMG have all the information regarding these meetings; I also have some minutes here that says the majority of residents voted to have the gates closed.


My final plea to you is to please consider all the points and comments made in support of keeping the fences up for the sake of all the neighbours that are immediately impacted by antisocial behaviour and crime, and for all the residents in the development to be able to live in peace and in a safe environment, to have our children playing safely outside and to help environmental issues, minimise footfall and traffic and of course to avoid any further fear or distress in living in our homes just for the sake of an extra few minutes walk. I urge you to agree with the report and approve this application. On behalf of our neighbours in support of the application, thank you for your time.”


Leanne Lackmaker, resident, spoke against the application:

“When we moved into the property in 2014 I was pregnant with my eldest son. The easy access via the gates to the green space was a major factor that drew us into buying a property. We didn't have any green space in the property so we thought [having it] behind us was perfect.


Having spoken to a lot of neighbours, they've also said that one of the things that drew them to buying the property there was the park and the free space behind, and its easy access by the gates. The route of the alleyway on Bishops Rise to access Roe Hill Park is not safe. There is found to be broken glass used by fly-tippers, pet and human faeces and overgrown vegetation, although I've been aware that the vegetation has been neglected due to time being spent on the gates being reopened and streetlights to be put in; there are no streetlights at all along the alleyway. Myself, with two young children, one being an infant, don't feel safe walking down there at any time of the day. Dog walkers would have to be mindful of these factors if they don't want their pets to be injured, as well as bike users who obviously don't want punctures on their journeys. As the autumn and winter months draw in and it gets darker earlier, you might be able to see the problems you might face.


Our visits to the Park have significantly reduced since the gates were removed, and I believe this could be the case for others as well. For some families, the time taken to get to their child's school has significantly increased; the walk to their children's school is much longer now they have to walk down Bishops Rise and then along the alleyway, as opposed to just cutting back through the gates. In the winter when the days get shorter, the walk back from school won't be an enjoyable one if the alleyway still needs to be used as part of their route.


Other families in the development don't have gardens, especially those in the flats, so this quick doorstep access would be important to them, especially again if they have children.


Finally, I've been led to believe the closure of the gate contravenes Policy OS3 and the place-based and informal open space provision policy, whereby new residential developments should either provide play and open space onsite or support the provision of a facility elsewhere. As no on-site facility was provided, it follows that appropriate access to local facilities must be maintained. With the access gates to Roe Hill Park closed, the distance to local play facilities significantly exceeds recommended walking distances to a local area for play or local equipped area for play. The gate must therefore be reinstated and I urge you to consider to do this. Thank you.”


Cllr Timothy Rowse addressed the meeting as the ward councillor who had called in the application:  

“You will have seen from the comments that the issue regarding the removal of the kissing gates in Peregrine Way has divided a section of my local community. Whatever DMC determines tonight, one of these groups will be disappointed and my community will therefore remain divided.


Before coming to my recommendations, I wanted to focus on an area of common agreement, albeit not within the remit of this committee. There was a stabbing in the alleyway that links Bishops Rise to Roe Hill Park in the summer of 2020 and it was this event which resulted in the closure of the second gate from Peregrine Way into Roe Hill Park. Whilst this happened in broad daylight, it has undoubtedly played on public consciousness, and as the footpath has no lighting it is an unwelcoming and insecure access point to the park, especially when the nights draw in. Despite my best efforts with the Police and Crime Commissioner's office and subsequently a County Councillor, light provision in this alleyway is not seen to be a sufficient high priority.


So to the substance of tonight's decision. I urge Members of the DMC to reject it on the following grounds:


Firstly, the estate has no play area of its own and the original planning permission was granted based on ready access to the nearby park and investment in play facilities there. In their comments, the police say ‘On balance, I would support the permanent closure of the gates due to the demonstrable reductions in crime and the available alternative options to access the park, which would only add a few minutes to the journey.’ I believe this statement will have influenced Council officers to say the alleyway to the north of the site provides a route that is considered safe, convenient and direct to Roe Hill Park. One can argue whether or not it is convenient, but in the absence of any lighting I dispute that it is safe. In their comments, the police also say proposals for a lockable gate have been discussed with management company but the expense to residents diminished enthusiasm for this. I believe this statement to be largely hearsay based on RMG effectively discounting this option as unviable and refusing requests by some residents and myself to put the matter to the vote. Whilst they say it isn't viable, like many, I used a fob to access Hatfield House for many years, and so, if practical for Lord Salisbury, then why discount it for Peregrine Way? Thirdly, opposing this application will provide a further opportunity for the developer and the management company to properly engage with the community and look for an option which might be more acceptable to a wider proportion of the community.


If you do choose to reject this proposal tonight and the gates would be reinstated, then I wish to reassure all residents that I will work with the police and other parties to take effective measures to deter antisocial behaviour and I will continue to put pressure on both the police and County to install lighting in the alleyway which links Bishops Rise to Roe Hill Park. I will also work closely with the Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council Environment Team to ensure better upkeep of the vegetation along the sides of the path. Thank you.”


Cllr Cathy Watson addressed the meeting in her capacity as a Hatfield Town Councillor:

“Good evening everyone. I am here this evening in my capacity as a Hatfield Town Councillor.


Having reviewed this issue carefully we know that there are strong opinions on both sides and appreciate the arguments being made. On balance we believe that access to Roe Hill Park should be made as easy as possible and conclude that the benefits of reinstating the kissing gates, especially the most southernly gate, outweigh the reasons why the gates were removed. We therefore advise the Committee to reject the proposal to vary the planning conditions.


We are all aware of the benefits of regular exercise and spending time outdoors. Roe Hill Park, which the town council own and operate, provides a well loved recreational space for Hatfield locals. It has a children’s playground, adult gym equipment and extensive playing fields. However, in response to concerns about antisocial behaviour the two kissing gates on the housing estate were removed by the applicant and direct access to Roe Hill Park was blocked. As we know, this was in contravention of the planning conditions put in place when the development was granted planning permission, and hence why we are here today.


Whilst we recognise that there are concerns about antisocial behaviour, we believe this can be dealt with by other means.


During their engagement with residents, the applicant would have been well aware of requests and suggestions to improve the passage linking Bishops Rise with Roe Hill Park (for example through better lighting); or to introduce a key fob system to limit access through the gates to residents only. Both these options would go some way to discourage antisocial behaviour, and provide reassurance to residents. However the applicant has chosen not to pursue these ideas.


The act of removing both kissing gates, and the proposal to confirm their removal by changing this planning condition, is a very blunt tool.


Town Councillors have walked the area and the alternative routes are, in our opinion, significant enough to put off visitors to the park. We therefore assess that there are insufficient reasons to favour removing the gates and continuing to block residents from having easy access to Roe Hill Park. 


We would therefore urge the Committee to reject the proposal and advise the applicant to work with the residents to find a solution the majority of residents can support.”


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

·       A Member sought clarity as to who had fenced off the area. Officers said they believed this was done by the agent on behalf of RMG and that the management company had removed the gates. The Member assumed the management company would have been aware they were contravening a planning condition. Officers responded that they were not able to speculate; it was a question for the company, which was not present, rather than staff.

·       A Member commented that Hertfordshire Police said there had been a reduction in crime but no data was provided. Officers had asked for further detail but police had been unable to share specific details of their records. The Member reflected that it would have been helpful to have access to this data and to understand the severity of the antisocial behaviour in context of the application.  Officers agreed this would have been useful and noted police recommended closure of the gates.

·       A Member observed that it was serious that a condition on a planning application had been breached and it showed contempt for the Council. Blocking public access was also a serious matter. Members asked whether the area had become a public right of way. Officers said it had not; there clearly had been a breach of planning permission and discussions about enforcement had led to the current application. The Member said the application should have been brought to Committee before the area was blocked off rather than some years later. He also felt police should have provided more information.

·       A Member commented on the need for public safety and that vulnerable people were unlikely to use the alleyway at night without lighting. She also expressed concern that police had responded to the consultation but not provided data. Responding to the safety issue, officers said the entrance and exit of the alleyway could be seen at most points from it; it was considered sufficiently wide and it had a level surface appropriate for wheelchairs and pushchairs.

·       A Member reflected that whatever decision was made, one side of the community would be disappointed and she understood both sides. She was concerned this was effectively a retrospective application; the condition had been added for a reason but had been ignored. She noted the issues of vegetation in the alleyway, lack of lighting, safety issues and a lack of data in terms of crime reduction but wondered about the planning reasons for refusing the application.   

·       A Member was unsure what powers the Council had in this respect but felt it was evident pressure should be applied to the management company who had instructed the gates to be closed to find a more satisfactory solution. Officers advised the Committee needed to determine the application before it and if it was felt to be unacceptable, it would need to put together a reason as to why, which would mean the applicant would need to rethink. The Legal Advisor noted the application was about whether the fencing would be retained, and the issue of the gates would be pursuant to any enforcement action the Council might take.

·       A Member agreed with what had been said earlier about planning reasons for refusing the application. He was concerned access to the park was via the alleyway which was not under the control of the site’s managing agent and was seen as potentially unsafe. Officers said Policy D7 required the design of new development to contribute to safer communities; police had said the gates closure resulted in a reduction in crime and antisocial behaviour and so it was considered the fencing would be a safer development.  

·       A Member asked for whose benefit the gates had been installed and officers replied they would primarily have been for residents of the estate but this did not prevent anyone else using them. The Member felt there were ways to mitigate the antisocial behaviour, eg gates that could only be used by residents on the estate or which could be closed after dark; different options should be explored by the management company. When she had visited the site the alleyway had felt unsafe and it was not possible to see from one end to the other due to a bend.  Officers reiterated that members needed to determine the application in front of them; they were not being asked if this was the best possible solution but if it was acceptable in planning policy terms.   

·       Members asked who was responsible for the upkeep of the alleyway. Officers said it was not shown as a Hertfordshire County Council right of way maintained alleyway and so were not able to provide a definitive answer.

·       Members asked whether there was merit in postponing a decision in order to obtain more information. Officers replied that the applicant’s submission explained the steps taken to look at alternatives and deferring a decision would not necessarily mean more information would be provided; the applicant could appeal non-determination and if so the decision would go before the Planning Inspectorate.

·       A Member noted fob access had not been sufficiently explored by the management company. She commented on the number of unknown factors and did not feel she had enough information to make an informed decision, saying the agent needed to satisfy the Committee that all options had been explored.

·       A Member noted that paragraphs 9.11 – 9.20 in the report put weight on the amenity of the park on residents; restriction of the amenity from the original planning permission was therefore a reason for refusal. While police said antisocial behaviour had reduced, this might be due to reduced numbers of people using the park due to the gate closures; it was difficult to ascertain this without police data and the number of unknown factors made it difficult to make a decision.

·       A Member asked who was responsible for the park and recreation ground; if it was Hatfield Town Council then the developer had blocked access to a Council-owned amenity. Officers advised the two access points were owned and managed by the management company, so while it had restricted access to a public amenity space it had not done so on ground owned by another party. The Member replied that the park was publicly owned land and so access should not be restricted, particularly given the numbers of children in flats without access to green spaces.

·       Responding to a question, the Legal Advisor explained that the fencing was a development control breach as it contravened a condition and the application sought to retain the fencing which was what the Committee was being asked to determine. If it wanted to address the development control breach the Council had to serve an enforcement notice which could be appealed which would be a lengthy process. As the Council was recommending the application be approved, it might not be expedient to proceed with enforcement. If the application was refused the fence would remain until the Council served an enforcement notice and it was upheld.

·       Members noted that rejecting the application would allow other possibilities to be explored in the longer term. Officers advised they needed to determine the application before them; however if it was refused, officers would speak with the applicant, could consider whether formal enforcement action was appropriate or might find an alternative solution although this could not be guaranteed. Members felt they needed additional information including police data prior to making a decision.

·       Members noted there had been a breach of planning control and it was confirmed no informal enforcement action had taken place; the application had come about as a result of an enforcement complaint and had been submitted to try and regularise the situation.             


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




FOR: 2




The Committee then voted on the following reason for refusal:


The development as built resulted in the loss of safe and convenient access to the nearby open space to the east of the site without adequate alternative provision, contrary to policies D1, D7 and D9 of the adopted Local Plan and paragraph 130 of the National Planning Policy Framework.   



FOR: 10




Supporting documents: