A local plan is a document which the borough council is required to produce. It sets out local planning policies, how land is used, and determines what is built where.
The local plan sits below a national document, called the National Planning Policy Framework. The local plan is required to meet the standard set out in the NPPF.
The plan has to achieve certain objectives. This is ensured by a Planning Inspector. Planning Inspectors are key to examining local plans, as independent experts.
With regard to housing, the plan must set out how the local authorities will meet the Objectively Assessed Need (OAN) for housing in their locality.
The Welwyn Hatfield Borough Local Plan was submitted to the Planning Inspectorate in May 2017, and is currently under examination by Planning Inspector Melvyn Middleton. It covers the period 2016-2036.
The contents of the plan were subject to a series of hearings, the most recent being Stage 9 hearings in March 2021. The purpose of the hearings is to examine the evidence submitted by the Council in justification of each site and the overall strategy of the plan. If the Inspector is satisfied, the plan will be found ‘sound’. If not, the plan will be found ‘unsound’ and the Inspector will give an opportunity to make changes to it in order to make it sound. These are known as Main Modifications. If the Council choose not to make the changes suggested by the Inspector, the plan process will start again.
The Interim Report
On the 9th July 2021, the Inspector released a report containing his preliminary findings. In it, he stated that Gascoyne’s sites at Coopers Green and Creswick were technically sound and can be included in the final plan. He outlined his satisfaction that many of the questions relating to Symondshyde had been answered, and that the site could be included in the overall strategy if the Council considered that there were no alternative sites which could fulfil the same function.
The Objectively Assessed Need
The Objectively Assessed Need (OAN) is the total number of houses needed in the borough during the plan period. This accounts for several factors, including migration, job growth, natural population change and affordability. The process of arriving at the OAN is a technical – as opposed to political – one.
In the light of changing forecasts, Councillors doubted the validity of the OAN as provided by the Inspector (16,000 homes). Instead, they voted for a lower number of 13,800. However, the process does not allow for this and a technical debate on the OAN was scheduled for the Stage 9 hearings. Following the debate, the Inspector concluded that the OAN could indeed be reduced, but only to 15,200 homes. If the Council elects to dismiss this figure – or is unable to agree upon the sites required to meet it – the plan will likely be found unsound.
31st July 2021
Deadline for the Council to submit a timeline for the completion of the examination.
17th September 2021
Deadline for the Council to submit sites sufficient to meet the OAN of 15,200 homes.
Autumn/ Winter 2021
The examination continues. Main modifications are proposed and, if accepted, the plan is found sound.
The Welwyn Hatfield Local Plan is adopted.