Hertfordshire Local Plan Watch - Autumn 2021
Progress for many Local Plans across Hertfordshire is on the horizon, but the role of the Green Belt and uncertainty over national planning reforms may yet lead to more delay and procrastination.
The Local Plan Examinations of North Herts and Welwyn and Hatfield appear to be reaching their conclusions. The outcome for North Herts will likely see the release of sites from the Green Belt and an early review with the opportunity to promote future strategic sites. Whereas for Welwyn and Hatfield it could see a complete restart of events.
Dacorum are currently undertaking another Call for Sites exercise. Sites can be submitted if they are not already on the Council’s register or you would like to provide an update on an existing site. This presents a real opportunity for promoting sites within the area.
It’s promising to see the progress being made in South West Herts under the emerging strategic plan with a flurry of councils progressing their draft plans. This will see significant land being removed from the Green Belt and the continued opportunity to promote strategic sites.
Seven of the ten councils within Hertfordshire are ‘Presumption in Favour’ authorities due to poor delivery against the requirements of the Housing Delivery Test (HDT), with one having to prepare an action plan. The Councils where the HDT indicates that they are a Presumption Area are: North Hertfordshire (36%), Stevenage (64%), Welwyn Hatfield (63%), Broxbourne (74%), Three Rivers (54%), Watford (48%) and St. Albans (63%). Whereas Dacorum (89%) have an Action Plan in place.
Despite the above, the protection the Green Belt affords these authorities limits the opportunity for windfall development. However, there have been some key appeal decisions of late where the extent of the shortfall in certain authorities has been given significant weight to even outweigh the impact upon the Green Belt.
Most notably, the Colney Heath Decisions (PINS Refs: 3265925 and 3265926), which affected both St. Albans and Welwyn Hatfield Council, outlined that there was “acute housing delivery shortages and acute affordable housing need”. The appeals were allowed despite the site not being identified as a preferred allocation in an emerging Local Plan.
The Inspector considered the housing need in these Councils to be 2.4 and 2.58 years respectively, with this position being a “bleak one”. These decisions are more crucial due to the majority of the County being covered in Green Belt designations. This precedent may encourage developers to actively pursue opportunities within the Green Belt in the area in advance of Local Plans where similar circumstances exist.
Hertfordshire is consistently among the most desirable locations for residential developers thanks to its proximity to London, highly desirable towns and cities, and high sales values. This has been compounded by the strong growth in the housing market driven by homeowners reconsidering their living arrangements during the pandemic. It is no surprise that Hertfordshire has recorded annual house price inflation of over 7% in the past 12 months.
The impact of Green Belt and other landscape designations increases competition for development opportunities, as Bidwells has experienced on several sites where there was a high volume of bids at values significantly above expectations.
The Colney Heath decision potentially sets a precedent and opens the door for developers and promoters to take a more aggressive approach on Green Belt sites in areas of acute housing shortage that they would not previously have considered.
For detail on emerging Local Plan position in every authority please click on the map below.