North Herts District Council’s Local Plan Preferred Options document and background material, the guide for developments over the next 16 years, is available here.
Hitchin Town Action Group (HTAG -Hitchin Forum, The Hitchin Society and Hitchin Historical Society, with support from Hitchin Initiative) has sent a 60 page response to North Herts District Council for the consultation which ended on February 6th. This has been prepared following extensive consultation and discussion with the public in workshops and with our respective memberships, and was written by a panel of our members. Click here to see the HTAG response . This may seem to be a long response, but the NHDC plans amount to thousands of pages!
The consultation is now closed. NHDC expect to be publishing the next draft in September this year.
Hitchin Committee discussed the Local Plan on Jan 29th following a short presentation by HTAG and a presentation and discussion by Councillor David Levett who is responsible for the Local Plan. From what was said then it seems that council officers may defend the number of houses they estimate as required (14,200) and not the lower number that we have suggested (10,700). It was clearly stated by councillors that the numbers for affordable housing should not be reduced, and that seems right, but the calculation for total housing numbers should be revised downwards to reduce pressure on the Greenbelt. It also seemed that Priory Fields may yet be included as an area that can be developed, reversing an earlier decision by the Council, but this has been refuted by the portfolio holder in the Hitchin Comet – article here.
Following the workshops hosted by HTAG on Saturday 17th January, people asked for more guidance on issues they could cover in any response they made to NHDC. They are –
4 main points to consider. It is important to remember this is a Plan for the District as a whole so, as well as mentioning Hitchin concerns, it was good to include some of the more general points that are in the HTAG outline after the following 4 questions.
Q1. Are you concerned about housing numbers and loss of Green Belt? If so consider:
•Supporting our call for lower housing numbers that still enable affordable housing to be provided (see Section 6 in the HTAG paper attached).
•Making comments on specific Green Belt sites, including support for the exclusion of Priory Fields; and set out issues for the currently included sites such as access (see Section 5).
Q2. What about the future of our town and district centres and the main employment area? If these are of concern consider:
•Supporting our call for greater coverage of the unique character of each of the towns, and the need for a greater range of leisure and cultural facilities in Hitchin town centre (see Section 3).
•Commenting on the need for existing employment areas to attract more investment and a greater range of businesses, by improving access and environment (see Section 3).
Q3. Are you concerned about the infrastructure we need up to 2031 to protect and improve the quality of life of existing and new residents? If so consider:
•Supporting our call for clearer strategies to be outlined in the Plan on sustainable transport, the range of community and recreation facilities needed, policies for sustainable energy and water provision, and protection of landscape character and the historic environment (see sections 5, 8, 9 and 10).
Q4. Do you have concerns about the standards of design for housing and other development? If so consider:
•Making comments on the need for additional policies to ensure a mix of housing types and suitable space standards, energy efficient homes and work places, and high quality of design for buildings and the local environment (see Sections 6, 7 and 10).
HTAG: OUTLINE OF RESPONSE TO LOCAL PLAN CONSULTATION
Members of Hitchin Town Action Group (HTAG) have been analysing the documents and drafting a response. HTAG held two public workshops (17th January) to understand the concerns of local people and also help them make their own responses.
2. Vision and Objectives
Despite its title, this section of the main report does not provide any vision of the sort of place North Herts (and Hitchin) could be by 2031. We think it should cover, for instance, the distinctiveness of the different towns and the roles they will be playing, the high quality design of new housing meeting the full range of local housing needs, and the wider provision of local employment that will reduce the need for long distance commuting.
3. Economy and Town Centres
We think that more attention should be given to the opportunities for investment in existing employment areas with, for instance, consideration of starter workshop units and provision for creative/art/design related industries. Access to Hitchin’s industrial area remains a serious issue: the metal recycling plant should be encouraged to relocate and a new link road created to Stotfold Road. The encouragement of live/work units (as we highlighted in ‘Planning Hitchin’s Future’) in the town and district centres could also meet needs and help increase activity. Town centres should provide for a greater range of community, cultural and leisure facilities as well as shopping – with for instance, support for Hitchin becoming increasingly a ‘destination’ centre, drawing visitors from a wider area to its market, specialist shops and services.
4. Countryside and Green Belt
There may need to be some drawing back of the Green Belt for this Local Plan (see Section 6 on Housing), since there is now minimal ‘brown field‘ land in the towns, but we urge that local councils co-operate on the need for a new settlement to the north of Hertfordshire for the period after 2031. HTAG’s steering group has considered the implications for the proposed developments in Hitchin’s Green Belt at Highover Farm and on the sites west of Hitchin in the light of feedback from the workshop: there are very serious issues related to transport and access which must be clarified and any new Green Belt edges must be defendable in the long term. We accept the argument that Luton needs to expand within strict limits behind the ridgeline; but do not accept that Green Belt land should be lost for expansion of Stevenage when the need has not been established.
This is one of the weaker sections. Although implementation is not always NHDC’s responsibility, the Local Plan needs to set out clearly what measures are to be taken to move to a system of sustainable transport. Co-ordination of bus and rail services, improvements to east-west public transport routes, proper provision for cyclists and improving the environment for pedestrians are all topics which need to be dealt with properly. Continuing expensive and environmentally damaging alterations to speed up traffic, such as in the Paynes Park gyratory, should be rejected in favour of environmental measures to calm traffic. Improvements to existing parking provision need to be outlined, such as pay-on-exit and better signage. It also needs to be made clear how and when further car parking capacity in the town centre will be provided if there is further development, for example of Churchgate.
6. Housing and Development Strategy
The main point here is that the figures are not dictated by government. It is up to NHDC to decide the need it should be trying to meet in the context of constraints such as Green Belt. It looks as though a lower housing target for the District of 10,700 dwellings would enable the need for affordable housing to be met, and be more feasible in terms of building rates than the target suggested in the current Draft (14,200). In this context there is no requirement for NHDC to raise the target further to respond to new nationally based figures. There should be additional policies to ensure that the new housing meets local needs and is of high quality: a mix of housing types on all sites; provision for self build and sheltered accommodation; and conformity with space standards and the guidance on zero carbon homes.
This section covers a wide range of issues but is weak in terms of clarifying what it is seeking to achieve. It presents policies that are illustrative rather than providing a comprehensive set of criteria to be taken into account in design. NHDC’s existing Design Supplementary Planning Document is important but its principles need to be included in the Local Plan to give them weight. Protection of the living conditions of existing residents is of major importance, including noise and overlooking. There also needs to be coverage of the issues related to construction which will be very important for the development of the new housing sites (some of which will take several years to build).
8. Healthy Communities
As elsewhere, this section (which covers community facilities and green space) concentrates on issues that arise when a private development is proposed, and covers, for instance, developer contributions to leisure and cultural provision. There is no consideration of the overall needs of communities, no identification of gaps in provision and no specific proposals. On green space, two major pieces of work are relevant: NHDC’s Green Space Study, whose conclusion on open space standards has been modified in the Draft Local Plan to reduce provision, and their Sports Facilities Study which has not yet been completed. We are concerned that the modified open space standards will affect the nature of the town; the distance for residents to travel to green space is important.
9. Natural Environment
This section also concentrates on the issues that arise when new development is proposed, rather than providing an overall strategy for protection and improvement, against which development can be assessed. Local Planning Authorities have been told not to include local landscape designations in their Local Plans. We think that there should therefore be more emphasis on the full range of Landscape Character Areas in the District, and the related opportunities and constraints. In terms of infrastructure, there should be a more coherent analysis of the growing demands placed by the increasing population, particularly with regard to ensuring adequate water supplies and sewage treatment facilities.
10. Historic Environment
This section is unusual in that it does accept that there is need for a heritage strategy and commits itself in policy to undertake it. However the rest of the single policy is concerned with proposals affecting buildings of local interest. There is no policy related specifically to proposals affecting Listed Buildings, Conservation Areas and Historic Parks and Gardens. We suggest there should be an appropriate policy to cover the full range of historic assets, and that Priory Park should be included in the register of Historic Parks and Gardens.
11. Infrastructure and Delivery
Although there is much uncertainty about the way development will evolve, there needs to be a better attempt to define the schedule of housing growth over time and to estimate the infrastructure requirements to support the growth in population. NHDC’s 2013 Infrastructure Development Plan is out of date and needs to be updated to reflect the developments now proposed. A more comprehensive method of monitoring the Plan needs to be set up to ensure that development takes place with the infrastructure to support it and meets specific needs in relation to, for instance, mix of housing types.
This is meant to be the section where the implications of the policies in the earlier sections are made clear for the different towns and villages. However, apart from the most minimal description of each community, there is only a summary of the housing and employment sites, with related figures. We suggest that the towns should be considered together at the beginning of this section, and each provided with a full analysis of the likely impacts of the complete range of policies – for instance, on the opportunity areas at Paynes Park, Churchgate, Hitchin Station, and Cadwell Lane/Wilbury Way. There should also be consideration of the needs of each of the housing sites – including the wider implications of access and the need for an appropriate defendable landscape edge to development. We suggest that, if Highover Farm is included for development, a Master Plan should be prepared to address the range of issues.
Our conclusion is that it will be important for there to be significant alterations to the current draft for it to meet the needs of local people and improve the places where we live our lives.
HTAG Steering Group