Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council has opened its Emerging Core Strategy 2011-2029 to public consultation (closes Thursday, 31 January 2013). It revealed that the bulk of new housing in Welwyn Hatfield is planned to be built in Hatfield – and on green belt land even though the town has been waiting for over a decade for the redevelopment of the town centre, and High View (Hilltop) – both major brownfield developments which include a substantial amount of new housing. There are also questions as to whether all this additional housing is for the benefit of local residents or a result of Coalition-government cuts to housing benefit, which is likely to force a mini-exodus from London.
There are five sites in Hatfield identified for housing, three in Welwyn Garden City (although the document lists them as WGC 1, WGC 4, and WGC 5). While WeG 8 (Welham Green 8) would actually only be accessible from the Hatfield, but has already been ruled out as it will be the location for the Hertfordshire County Council-Veolia incinerator at New Barnfield.
Of the five Hatfield sites – all on Green Belt land, Hat 4 and Hat 5 are listed as not suitable (although the primary school capacity and road access constraints seem to be just as relevant to Hat 3, which is considered to be suitable). The biggest and most likely are Hat 1 and Hat 2.
Hat 1 is the biggest and probably the most likely to go ahead without strong opposition. It will accommodate 2,000 homes (including a 15-pitch gypsy and travellers site) and will surround Hatfield Garden Village (already being crowded by developments on the airfield business park). It will be bounded by Hatfield Avenue, Coopers Green Lane and the A1M.
Its effect would be to turn Hatfield Garden Village (HGV) into a residential suburb with only a road border separating it from the business park and other parts of Hatfield. With the possible development of the WGC 1 site puts further pressure on the Salisbury Line and will probably eventually lead to the coalescence / merging of Hatfield and WGC. A development unlikely to benefit Hatfield.
Not surprisingly, HGV residents are aghast at the prospect of being converted into surburbia (and, most probably, the bottom-of-the-market version). Residents have already banded together to form a protest group, The Garden Village Preservation Society. They have already set up an online petition and web site.
On Friday, 4 January 2013, a group of 50-100 locals marched from Green Lanes Primary School to the WHBC offices in Welwyn Garden City to hand in a petition.
A public exhibition of the plans is scheduled to be held at Green Lanes Primary School on Tuesday, 15 January 2013 from 14:00 - 20:30 (2 - 8.30pm).
Hat 2 is planned to include 1,400 homes (and if Hat 1 is not viable then quite likely the travellers pitch will be included here). It is located in Ellenbrook Fields Nature Park (which only opened in December 2011) and will border Salisbury Garden Village, Astwick Manor and that end of the Business Park.
There does not appear to be any organised opposition from residents here so far. Although, there are a high number of Houses in Multiple Occupation (mainly students) and the site is listed for future expansion rather than within the plan period so there may not be an immediate threat.
Hat 3 is on a much smaller scale than the previous two (175 homes of which 115 would be in Hatfield, the others would come under St Albans). However, it appears to include Great Nast Hyde House – a Hatfield heritage asset – and lies between the A1057 Hatfield Road and Wilkins Green Lane.
Hat 4 and Hat 5 are in the same area but are even smaller (but are on Green Belt and border the Alban Way) and both have been listed as not suitable.
However, given that there are similar protest groups opposing developments in WGC – who also have the benefit of long established groups fighting their corner, like the WGC Society – then these smaller areas may end being seen as 'soft option'.
The past decade has been a turbulent time in Hatfield's history. There has been a massive increase in housing, particularly with the development of airfield site and the unchecked growth of Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) across the town. Heritage assets like the Old Rectory (older than Hatfield House) and the Art Deco 1930s shopping complex on The Common have been sacrificed to property developers' demands. While at the same time public services have been cut back.
With over a decade of broken promises and excuses, and the incinerator decision looming, 2013 is looking increasingly like it will be a make or break year for Hatfield. Certainly, there are encouraging indications that local residents have had enough of being imposed upon. As one local councillor warned: "Hatfield is at breaking point".