Overall Strategy - Sustainable Development


2.1 The overall aim of the District Plan is to improve quality of life in the district by providing for sustainable development. This is now the central theme of national and strategic planning policy and it has been identified as a key issue in Welwyn Hatfield through consultation with the community in preparing the Plan.

2.2 The concept of sustainable development is fundamental to the future of people's lives. It is concerned with ensuring a better quality of life for everyone, both now and for generations to come. Simply put, it means:

'Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs'.(World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987).

2.3 The UK strategy for sustainable development 'A Better Quality of Life' identifies four key objectives underlying sustainable development:

  1. Social progress which recognises the needs of everyone;

  2. Effective protection of the environment;

  3. Prudent use of natural resources;

  4. Maintaining high and stable levels of economic growth and employment.

Achieving sustainable development means addressing these four objectives equally, both for present and future generations.

2.4 In addition the UK strategy identifies ten guiding principles for Government policy to take account of:

  1. Putting people at the centre;

  2. Taking a long term perspective;

  3. Taking account of costs and benefits;

  4. Creating an open and supportive economic system;

  5. Combating poverty and social exclusion;

  6. Respecting environmental limits;

  7. The precautionary principle;

  8. Using scientific knowledge;

  9. Transparency, information, participation and access to justice;

  10. Making the polluter pay.

2.5 The strategy recognises the important role of the planning system in securing sustainable development, whilst accepting that it is not the sole means by which it can be achieved. This is reinforced by government planning policy guidance. The planning system exists to provide for the current and future development needs of the population, such as homes, places of work and other buildings, but also to control the way that land is used and developed to meet these needs, whilst at the same time conserving and enhancing the built and natural environment. PPG1 requires this to be done in a way that is 'consistent with the principles of sustainable development'.

2.6 At the heart of the planning system is the development plan, the purpose of which is to set the planning policy framework to guide future development at the local level. In Welwyn Hatfield, the development plan comprises the Structure Plan, the County Minerals Plan, the County Waste Plan and the District Plan. The strategy for the Structure Plan is based on sustainable development. It sets a framework for sustainable development in Hertfordshire and all development is expected to be consistent with its principles. The overall strategy for the District Plan is set within this national and strategic policy framework.

2.7 At the same time, it is important to recognise that there are many factors influencing sustainability and people's quality of life which are beyond the scope of the planning system. Some of these are controlled by other legislation or agencies, but ultimately the Plan can only control the development and use of land. In implementing the Plan and its policies, the Council will consult with other agencies and seek to take account of wider issues where they are relevant to planning.

Key Planning Issues For The District

2.8 As a result of its own unique location, geography, social characteristics and economic structure, Welwyn Hatfield has a particular range of needs, which the District Plan aims to address. These have been identified through consultation with the local community in preparing the plan.

Protecting the Environment and Preserving Natural Resources

2.9 Welwyn Hatfield is an area that experiences considerable development pressure, particularly for housing, but also business and other uses. Its proximity to London and attractive environment make it a desirable place to live. Whilst it is important that the district remains attractive and competitive, the resultant threat to the countryside and wildlife, the district's natural resources, its historic environment and the quality of the environment in its towns and villages are major concerns. It is essential to identify those elements of the environment which are irreplaceable or valuable and therefore need to be protected in their entirety, but also those elements which although able to accommodate some change need to be protected or enhanced to avoid their degradation. The District Plan seeks to integrate the need for housing and other development with protecting the natural and urban environment. The strategy must be to concentrate development into the main towns and villages, mainly on land which has already been built upon, and to identify those elements of the natural and historic environment which need to be preserved or enhanced, so protecting the quality of the district's environment in both town and countryside.

2.10 It is also important that the level and type of development occurring in the district is sustainable in terms of available natural resources. Water resources, minerals, fossil fuels, clean air and wildlife are all naturally-occurring resources, which once used or destroyed cannot be renewed. The Plan seeks to ensure that development is located and designed to conserve these resources, for example through water conservation and energy efficiency measures and through policies to reduce the need to travel. Protecting these assets is important for the health of the local community as well as the quality of its environment.

Maintaining and Developing a Sense of Community

2.11 A key issue in maintaining quality of life and sustainability is the importance of a strong community spirit, both within existing settlements and neighbourhoods in the district and in new developments. The environment in which people live can have a strong influence on the strength of a community and its identity. The Plan has an important role in shaping future living environments in a number of ways. Community facilities, such as meeting halls, places of worship, shops, sports and entertainment centres, schools and health facilities, play areas and recreation grounds, are important to the life, health and identity of communities. The Plan seeks to protect these facilities and ensure they are provided as an integral part of any significant new developments. The redevelopment of Hatfield Aerodrome is the major development in the district, for which the master plan seeks to create a new community with facilities to support itself. The design and layout of development has an important impact on sense of place and community. Environments which are attractive and well designed, with public spaces which people can enjoy and where they feel safe, can generate civic pride and help to counteract vandalism and anti-social behaviour. The Plan gives priority to this in new development.

2.12 Sense of belonging and community is strengthened if people are able to live and work in the same town. As new towns, both Hatfield and Welwyn Garden City were planned to be self-contained, with most people living and working in the same town. However, today 43% of those resident in the district who work now travel outside the district to work, the largest proportion to London. By the same token a significant proportion of the jobs in the district are taken by people who live outside and commute in each day. Welwyn Hatfield is a net importer of labour, with 51,000 jobs and only 48,000 economically active residents. This pattern is due in part to the success of the district's economy, the strategic importance of its two main towns as employment centres for the county, its good north-south transport links and its proximity to London's employment market. But it does not help to strengthen the community spirit, nor does it help to reduce the need to travel. Whilst the Plan cannot control where people choose to live or work, it can seek a more even balance between jobs and houses to try to influence overall commuting patterns.

2.13 Community participation and empowerment are also crucial to building sustainable communities. This is recognised by the government in its sustainable development strategy and it has been an ongoing feature of the review of planning policies and development schemes in Welwyn Hatfield. The Council wishes to encourage greater involvement of local people in the future in shaping and taking ownership of plans and proposals for their communities.

Reducing the Need to Travel and Dependence on the Car

2.14 Welwyn Hatfield is a heavily car dependent district. In 1999 the County Council undertook a survey of journeys in the district. It found that just over 71% of journeys were made by car, 8% by bus, 4% by train, and 14% walk or cycle. Whilst enabling personal mobility, the dominance of the car has widespread, negative impacts on people's quality of life, in terms of pollution, noise, congestion, pedestrian safety and health. Road traffic accounts for up to 75% of certain pollutants in the district and congestion occurs on key roads, such as the A1(M) and A414 at peak times.

2.14 Clearly, the growth of car ownership and the increased freedom and mobility which it offers are the biggest factors in this. However, the nature and pattern of settlements and the distribution of jobs and services in Welwyn Hatfield generates significant travel demands within and through the district. The district has a number of small and medium sized towns and villages, none of which are completely self-contained. As a result people often need to access employment and services outside their place of residence. The other key factor is the limitation of public transport services in the district. Welwyn Hatfield has good north-south rail services and good bus services within towns, but generally bus services between towns are less frequent and take much longer than the same journey by car.

2.15 To tackle these issues, a holistic approach is required, integrating planning and transport policies. The objectives are to reduce the overall need to travel and encourage a modal shift from the car to other means of travel, using 'carrot and stick' measures. The Local Transport Plan (LTP) for Hertfordshire sets out a programme of investment by which this can be achieved. The role of the District Plan is to ensure that the planning and design of development accords with this objective, by locating it where it is accessible by a range of modes, giving priority to pedestrians and cyclists, improving public transport services and reducing car parking provision in new development.

Meeting Local Housing Needs

2.17 Welwyn Hatfield will continue to need houses, jobs, shops and other facilities to meet the needs of its residents and maintain quality of life both now and in the future. A key purpose of the Plan will be to provide for the development required to meet these local needs. In terms of housing, the County Structure Plan requires the district to provide some 5,600 new dwellings between 1991 and 2011, to meet the growth in the number of households locally. Whilst a number have already been built or granted planning permission, sites for some 3,500 dwellings are identified in the Plan. Government guidance in PPG3 makes clear that the priority should be to provide these on previously used land to minimise the use of 'greenfield' land.

2.18 A significant proportion of the new housing will need to be 'affordable' dwellings, since house prices in the area remain high and there continues to be a problem of affordability for some households. In addition, some will need to be built to standards which meet the needs of elderly people, as the population continues to age, and for disabled people. The Plan will aim to help reduce inequalities in access to housing.

Maintaining Economic Prosperity and Jobs

2.19 Although Welwyn Hatfield has a prosperous economy with low unemployment, there is still a need to encourage economic development that will maintain prosperity and is socially inclusive, enabling all sections of the community to participate in the economy. Therefore, it is important that the district remains attractive to businesses and can offer jobs of the right type and skills to local people. The Plan will have a central role in enabling development to secure this.

2.20 Over the past 10 years the district's economy has strengthened and diversified, with growth in services and 'knowledge-based' activities to offset the decline which has occurred in manufacturing and aerospace. It is important that this diversity is maintained, to avoid over-dependence on any one business sector. As business practices change, so the amount and type of floorspace required will change. It is important that the district's employment areas are able to offer land and floorspace of the right quality and quantity to meet the expansion or modernisation needs of local firms. This includes the specific requirements of small businesses and other business sectors whose requirements are under-provided for. The redevelopment of the former Hatfield Aerodrome site will be a key to achieving this, but the Plan must also enable redevelopment and flexibility for a wider range of employment uses within the existing employment areas.

Sustaining the Countryside and Rural Communities

2.21 The district contains substantial areas of countryside and a number of rural communities, ranging from villages like Essendon and Northaw to hamlets like Bell Bar and Swanley Bar. Whilst there is a closer dependency between the rural and urban communities in Welwyn Hatfield than in more remote rural areas, the countryside here sustains economic and social activity, which must be maintained in its own right. As such, the Plan seeks to enable people to continue to live and work in the countryside. This means supporting agriculture and other rural business, allowing for recreational and leisure pursuits in the countryside on which the rural economy depends, protecting and providing for village shops and community facilities, and ensuring affordable rural housing for those who must live in the countryside.

2.22 At the same time the whole of the district's rural areas lie within the Green Belt where there is a presumption against inappropriate development in an effort to contain urban growth. The countryside also contains attractive landscapes and is important in supporting semi-natural habitats and their associated wildlife, which need to be preserved, both for their intrinsic value and their importance for people's health and informal recreation. Therefore, the Plan attempts to protect the Green Belt and quality of the countryside, whilst allowing limited development to sustain rural communities.

Revitalising Town and Village Centres

2.23 Town centres and village shopping centres are vital to the sustainability and quality of life of their communities. They provide shopping, services, community facilities and entertainments which meet the needs of local residents. They are a major source of employment; over 20% of jobs in the district are in the retail distribution and services sector. In addition, they offer the greatest potential for reducing car travel, since they usually have the best public transport access and offer a range of facilities all within walking distance of each other. The growth of out of town shopping during the 1980s and 1990s has threatened the viability of town and village centres, which have been unable to compete with the greater car accessibility and cheaper land values of out of town sites. However, government policy has now changed, directing shopping and leisure development back into town and village centres.

2.24 Within Welwyn Hatfield, all of the main villages retain some local shops and services, perhaps the most vibrant centre being Welwyn village. The Plan seeks to protect their core shopping and service function and enhance their accessibility. The main centres in the district are Welwyn Garden City and Hatfield, which have different requirements. Welwyn Garden City town centre has remained the most competitive, thanks largely to the development of the Howard Centre shopping centre and the continued presence of John Lewis. It is now one of the main retail centres in the county, recognised in the Structure Plan as a 'minor sub-regional centre' and an historic centre. The Plan seeks to ensure that it remains competitive by creating opportunities for additional retail floorspace and enabling it to offer a wider range of services to the local community, particularly restaurants, pubs and leisure, without harming the amenities of nearby residential areas. Hatfield town centre, on the other hand, has experienced significant decline as a retail centre over the past 10-15 years. Its smaller size and ageing new town infrastructure have limited its attractiveness and competitiveness. However, it continues to perform a vital shopping and service function for the community of Hatfield, but needs regeneration. The Plan aims to respond to this by creating the opportunity for a comprehensive redevelopment scheme, which will build upon the confidence generated by the new Asda supermarket and exploit the opportunities for new community, leisure and residential uses in the centre.

Objectives Of The Plan

2.25 In the light of these issues and to achieve the overall aim of securing sustainable development in the district, the Plan has the following objectives. To:

  1. Preserve and enhance the district's wildlife and biodiversity, landscape, urban open land and historic environment, and minimise the use of natural resources.

  2. Provide for development to meet the recognised needs of local people in terms of housing, jobs, shopping, leisure, services, health and community facilities, education and training.

  3. Maintain the Green Belt and concentrate development within the main towns and villages of Welwyn Garden City, Hatfield, Welwyn, Oaklands and Mardley Heath, Digswell, Woolmer Green, Welham Green, Brookmans Park, Cuffley and Little Heath, in particular on previously developed land.

  4. Seek to sustain the countryside and rural communities, allowing development in rural areas where this helps to sustain the rural economy and community life, preserves the quality of the countryside and supports the purposes of the Green Belt.

  5. Minimise the overall need to travel by encouraging more balanced and self-contained settlements, promoting mixed-use development and locating development where it is accessible.

  6. Reduce dependence on the car by requiring development to be located and designed so it is accessible by and gives priority to pedestrians, cyclists and public transport.

  7. Maintain and enhance the quality of the urban environment by protecting open space and requiring good quality, sustainable design in all new development.

  8. Foster a 'sense of community' through the protection and provision of services and facilities and through careful design of new development.

  9. Maintain and improve the vitality and viability of Welwyn Garden City and Hatfield town centres and the district's village and local centres, by protecting their primary shopping functions and encouraging a greater diversity of uses.

  10. Increase economic prosperity through the regeneration of key areas of the district, in particular Hatfield Town Centre and the former Hatfield Aerodrome site.

2.26 The policies and proposals in the Plan seek to implement this strategy. In preparing these policies the Sustainability Appraisal has been used to ensure that they are sustainable.

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