Labour Councillor Glyn Hayes reflects on how it came to this….
One of the first things I recall getting involved with as a Councillor is the Borough Councils handling of the near decade long creation of a ‘Local Plan’ for new housing in Welwyn Hatfield.
Last week I read a letter in the local paper from a Liberal Democrat Councillor saying how they had always campaigned against these plans and how Labour had failed to introduce our own policy. It might have escaped their attention in the rush to claim the high ground that Labour haven’t been in power in Welwyn Hatfield since 2003.
The truth of the past is unavoidable however. Under the old way of doing things, there was a very ‘unlocal’ plan for 10,000 homes in Welwyn Hatfield, with the reality being that a large number of these would already be counted from the significant development on Hatfield’s BAE site.
Of course Grant Shapps and the Conservative Council campaigned against this, the plan was dissolved along with eventually the entire concept of regional planning, and the Coalition Government – of which the Liberal Democrats were an integral part and the department for communities and local government that Grant Shapps was a senior member of– came up with the ‘local plan’ process that has been such a success to date….
Back in 2006, when Labour were in power , it was “No way to 10k” from Grant Shapps who said it was “an attempt by the Government to concrete over large parts of the Green Belt in Welwyn Hatfield”, but his own, government, his own departments plan has left Welwyn Hatfield facing a housing number of sixteen thousand – Mr Shapps seems to have lost his appetite for campaigning.
On the 6th of September I attended a local plan meeting at the Council. The purpose of this meeting was to agree a target amount of homes to be built in our borough over the next 14 years. Of course despite the name – our local plan will be determined by the Government appointed inspector…..
The local plan is currently in the hands of the inspector, and he has indicated that he believes our target of just over 12,000 is insufficient and would prefer a target of 16,000. During the meeting it became obvious that in order to reach this target, large amounts of prime greenbelt land would have to be built on. Our towns and villages would be subject to coalescence. The little employment land we have left would be – indeed already is- under threat of disappearing, rendering us almost a complete commuter town and depriving crucial local businesses of the premises they need to flourish.
Of those 16,000 homes, a tiny number would be social housing, the rest will be private homes, pricing out many local people and ignoring current demands completely. At a time when temporary accommodation is overstretched, there is a very real threat of container homes being placed in our Borough. While plans are made for Houses built that people cannot afford, local people face being put in containers.
Rather than meekly be dictated to by the government, I proposed that the Council undertakes a study to find out a realistic target, upon which we don’t lose prime greenbelt land and only look at a loss of out of favour employment land, to present back to the inspector a robust, fully justified figure that we can stand by. I also proposed that any loss of greenbelt would go through a consultation with the public, with enough time to allow their views to be heard.
This proposal was accepted and agreed at the meeting, but we have to be honest about what is happening right now.
The Housing crisis within this Country has grown immeasurably in the last decade while local councils have spent their time dancing to a terrible tune written way back by the Coalition Government
There is a lack of affordable housing in Welwyn Hatfield as there is across the UK. There is a lack of infrastructure to support the numbers of homes being imposed on us, as with other areas.
This local plan will not address any of the major issues, and there is nothing local about a decision resting with a Government appointed inspector. As we saw only this week in East Herts – it’s the Conservative Government making these decisions, not local councils, not local people.
The Conservatives and indeed the Lib Dems need to take ownership of this fiasco. Labour for our part are clear – this is a major crisis that can only be tackled with radical, ambitious and affordable solutions that treat a decent home as an undeniable right to everyone in Welwyn Hatfield.