Watton at Stone Neighbourhood Plan

N E W S

Pre-submission (Regulation 14) Consultation

We are now seeking your views on the Pre-Submission Draft Neighbourhood Plan.

The consultation will be open from 17 January 2022 until midnight 6 March 2022. Information on how to respond is given in the pre-submission Summary Brochure When the plan has been assessed by an independent examiner, there will be a public referendum. If the Plan is adopted it will have the same legal status as the East Herts District Plan and will influence planning decisions impacting on the Watton-at-Stone Neighbourhood Plan area between 2022 and 2033.

January 2020 Exhibition

Many thanks to all those who attended the consultation exhibition on the Neighbourhood Plan for the village which was held on January 19th. More than 270 residents came along to view the draft policies for the future development of the village and speak to members of the local Steering Group and some developers.

The 145 questionnaires returned have provided a considerable amount of useful information on local views of the draft plan. There was overall support for the approach being proposed and the wide range of detailed comments now need to be considered before finalising a pre-submission draft of the plan for statutory consultation later in the year.

The Steering Group was extremely pleased with the level of interest and support for the work done so far. Further information on the plan, including copies of the draft policies, maps and explanations which were displayed at the exhibition, is available on the Neighbourhood Plan website.

Village Open Meeting – 20 May 2019

On 20 May the Neighbourhood Plan Team held a meeting at the school to report back on progress and set out the programme for the preparation and consultation on the draft plan. More than 40 people attended. Members of the neighbourhood plan steering group were in attendance to give presentations and listen to the views of the attendees.

Presentations were given on the current status of relevant local and national planning guidance, the current position on development of the draft plan, the outcome of discussions with potential developers, the current position on planning benefits, and information on the proposed on the proposed next steps for publication and consultation on the final draft plan. A copy of the presentation slides used are available here.

It was reported that the East Hertfordshire District Plan was adopted last October and together with updates to the National Planning Policy Framework provides a clear role and context for our Neighbourhood Plan to influence and determine the location and scale of future development in the village.

It is essential that development proposals respect the strengths of the village and provide benefits to overcome any impact on local infrastructure and services. An overall strategy has been prepared to locate the additional development in a way that can meet the future needs of the village and be fully integrated into the village structure.

Discussions have taken place with proposed developers and agreement has been reached on the broad scale, location and form of development at the key sites. Progress is already being made on the development of the brown field site at the key sites. Progress is already being made on the development of the brown field site at the Depot near the station. Discussions have also sought to achieve benefits for the village which reflect the outcome of previous consultations with the local community. These include the provision of youth football, environmental benefits, and improvements to facilities at the school. It was stressed that this was the beginning of the process and there will be a range of future formal consultations which enable the local community to influence the final approved plan.

Questions from the floor covered a wide range of issues. Concerns were expressed about the impact that the development of the Walkern Road site could have on existing highway infrastructure and the need to develop workable sustainable transportation and environmental options. Issues were raised about whether the proposed benefits and the scale and density of the development would be delivered and not be changed during implementation. Particular comments were made about the need to secure a new Scout Hut, deal with the old Mill site and address the impact on the local school.

The Neighbourhood Plan team thanked people for attending and proving useful comments. Further work will now be carried out to develop the proposals and present the draft plan and policies at a formal public consultation in the next few months.

Update on the WAS Neighbourhood Plan – February 2019

As 2019 has come and we are starting a very significant year for the Neighbourhood Plan we felt it would be helpful if we published a note of the current position and what we are planning to do later in the year.

Firstly, we acknowledge that we have been rather quiet lately, however there has been quite a bit going on in the background which has prevented us from making progress. As you are probably aware one of the main factors affecting what we could do was getting the East Herts District Plan formally adopted by the Council. This was scheduled to happen in September but was then delayed by Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government. It was eventually formally adopted by the Council on the 28th October 2018.

Another factor that affected us was some changes that were being made to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). The NPPF sets out the Government’s intention to “provide local communities with the tools they need to energise their local economies, meet housing needs, plan for a low-carbon future and protect the environmental and cultural landscapes that they value.”

In Paragraph 136 of the latest NPPF it states:

”Where a need for changes to Green Belt boundaries has been established through strategic policies, detailed amendments to those boundaries may be made through non-strategic policies, including neighbourhood plans.”

This is really important for us as it means that EHDC can now choose to use the recommendations and policies that are published in properly adopted Neighbourhood Plans to influence their decisions on whether to approve developments.

The actual wording in the EHDC District Plan that sets out the bits that matter to us are as follows:

Firstly, Policy GBR1 Green Belt

I. Planning applications within the Green Belt, as defined on the Policies Map, will be considered in line with the provisions of the National Planning Policy Framework.

II. The villages of Hertford Heath, Stanstead Abbotts & St Margarets, and Watton-at-Stone will be encouraged to consider whether it is appropriate through the formulation of a Neighbourhood Plan to accommodate additional development especially where it contributes to wider sustainability objectives and the delivery of community benefits.

And also this extract from EHDC Plan Policy VILL1

III. Within the Group 1 Villages of Hertford Heath, Stanstead Abbotts & St. Margarets, and Watton-at-Stone, as defined on the Policies Map, development for housing, employment, leisure, recreation and community facilities will be permitted subject to (VII) below and all other relevant policies in this Plan. These villages will be encouraged to consider whether it is appropriate, through the formulation of a Neighbourhood Plan, to accommodate additional development especially where it contributes to wider sustainability objectives and the delivery of community benefits.

This is complicated stuff but what it means is this. The District Plan confirms that Watton at Stone must allow for at least 92 dwellings to be built over the next 15 years. Due to the lack of sufficient brownfield sites, some of these will need to be built on what is presently Green Belt land, however what land is released from the green belt will only be that which has been designated in the Neighbourhood Plan. And that will have to have been approved by the residents of the village by means of voting in a referendum. We are planning on holding the referendum later this year.

The important bit of GBR1 is where it states:

“whether it is appropriate through the formulation of a Neighbourhood Plan to accommodate additional development especially where it contributes to wider sustainability objectives and the delivery of community benefits.”

We are therefore going to be asking potential developers to work with us to identify what community benefits may be obtained if we were to recommend their sites to you. This is what we are working on now and will be reporting on the results of those meetings in our next round of consultation which will take place in the next few weeks.

To summarise then, we know that the village has to provide at least 92 new homes over the next 15 years. What land is used for these can be determined in a Neighbourhood Plan provided it is approved by the local community and accepted by East Herts District Council. If the plan does not identify sufficient land for 92 properties it will not be accepted as a valid document. Although we can identify some brownfield areas for housing development there isn’t enough on which to build all 92. So to accommodate the rest then some Green Belt land must be released.

However, it also encourages our village to consider whether the release of green belt land could contribute towards the delivery of community benefits. We consider that that balancing exercise is essential if our parish has to lose open fields.”

When we started on the journey of producing our plan we conducted a number of surveys asking the villagers what benefits you would like to see in the village. The results of those surveys are on our web site. We are currently in discussion with potential developers to determine if their projects will deliver the benefits that the village identified as being the most important.

Once these discussions are completed we will hold another exhibition in the Community Hall outlining our findings in detail. This should be in the next few weeks.

Village Meeting – May 2018

Tuesday 1 May 2018 at 7.30 pm

Watton-at-Stone Nursery and Primary School, Rectory Lane

Please come along to hear the Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group present the first draft of the Watton-at-Stone Neighbourhood Plan. The presentation and following discussion will include the vision and objectives for the Plan, potential village sites for development, an amenities ‘wish list’ and planning policies.

TELL US WHAT YOU THINK!

Village Meeting – 5 December 2017

Village Meeting – 7.30 pm, 5 December 2017, Watton-at-Stone School

Summary of the position of the Watton-at-Stone Neighbourhood Plan Steering Committee

We have decided not to continue our work to make a firm recommendation to EHDC about the release of green belt land in Watton at Stone for development.

This conclusion has been reached in light of the following:

  • As the EHDC Local Plan Examiner has highlighted, we do not have the legal power to take this decision, which the NPPF places at district council level;
  • EHDC might take our views into account but cannot fetter its discretion on the issue by making any commitment to follow our recommendation;
  • There are two main candidate plots of land which we believe to be deliverable but there is no front runner between the two plots – both have very different pros and cons when considered from the perspective of (i) the physical characteristics of the land, (ii) the identity of the potential developer and (iii) the potential of the plots to contribute to wider sustainability objectives and the delivery of community benefits;
  • We believe the owner/option holder of both plots are keen to proceed with development and are therefore conscious that a recommendation of one plot over the other could be challenged by the other landowner/developer;
  • It has not proved possible to obtain a professional review of the individual merits of the two green belt plots (without incurring considerable expense)*. Without such a report, we consider that our evidence base would be insufficiently robust;
  • Despite focusing on this issue for almost two years, we have struggled to make headway, apart from gathering local opinion; and
  • Time spent on the complexities of the green belt issue is at the expense of the core objective of our neighbourhood plan, which is to establish local policies for development in our parish.

Given our limited resources and difficulties in progressing the green belt issue, we have decided to put it to one side, in order to focus on finishing drawing up a neighbourhood plan comprising locally driven policies applicable to any development (with the possibility of additional plot-specific policies which could relate to either of the two candidate green belt plots). We believe that this is the most effective way for us to use our limited volunteer resources to generate maximum positive impact on future development in the village.

We will not abandon the work done so far on the green belt issue, but will incorporate it into our conclusions and policies in the neighbourhood plan. We will continue to liaise with the landowner/option holder of the lead candidate plots. We will actively engage with any later EHDC consultation on green belt release in the parish.

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* We took steps to obtain a professional assessment of the candidate green belt plots, to supplement the evidence about the wishes of the village which has already been collected. Locality put us in touch with the AECOM scheme. We were told that we were a complex case and were entitled to professional support from AECOM to build our evidence base, free of charge. With the balancing test originally proposed by EHDC in mind (green belt contribution on the one hand; community benefits on the other), we requested two pieces of work from AECOM: a detailed evaluation of the contribution to green belt objectives of the various individual parcels of land around the village which might be suitable for green belt release, and a second piece of work looking at what each plot of land might generate in terms of CIL or s106 monies, so that we could identify which plot would be capable of generating the community benefits which the village would like.

AECOM’s neighbourhood plan work is based on various predetermined templates. They were initially surprised that we were asking them for detailed green belt assessment, on the basis that there was no legal basis for this to be done at neighbourhood plan level and so it didn’t fit within their templates. But we understand that they reverted to EHDC and discussed this query with them, and then agreed to proceed.

A draft AECOM green belt report was received after a number of months of waiting. However, it fell a long way short of what we were expecting, and basically summarised past work on the green belt issue, with minimal new assessment. In fact it recommended, as a next step, that a detailed green belt assessment of the individual plots should be prepared. When we pointed out that this is what we thought we had asked them to prepare, AECOM came back and said, essentially, that they could not prepare such a report for us since green belt release does not fall within the remit of neighbourhood plan groups. This was a very frustrating outcome.

The second piece of work on potential benefits from the various plots was not drafted.

Woodhall Exhibition May 2017

Recently residents may have received a flyer from the Woodhall Estate advertising an exhibition which will be hosted by them in the village in May 2017. The exhibition is regarding possible housing development in Watton-at-Stone on their land.

In response to this, the Watton-at-Stone Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group would like to make the following statement:

“The Parish Council and Neighbourhood Plan steering committee wish to make it very clear that they have not ‘engaged’ Woodhall Estate to put forward land for development. The Estate team had a few meetings with the Neighbourhood Plan team but they have not had any greater degree of access to them or insight into their emerging thinking than anyone else, and it certainly not being preferred over any other option. The process of deciding whether any land (and if so, which plot_ might properly be released from the green belt remains very much under discussion. Following the public consultations, professional advice on the green belt issue is being sought. No decisions have yet been made. Woodhall has apologized for this misleading error in their flyer.”

Consultation – April 2016

Consultation 1 – 23 April 2016

Starting with a blank sheet of paper, the Steering Committee collected existing evidence about the parish, and ideas from people living and working in the parish about issues relevant to the Neighbourhood Plan. The Open Day on Saturday 23 April 2016 was the start of the broad consultation process.

The Open Day was followed by six weeks of active consulting by the Steering Committee, Parish Council and wider volunteers, going from door-to-door to ask questions, speaking to landowners, local businesses and other employees, and anyone else, interested in the future development of the parish’s residential housing, commercial properties and wider amenities.

Set Up – January 2016

The decision to create a Neighbourhood Plan for Watton-at-Stone Parish was taken at a village meeting in November 2015. A meeting of the Parish Council and people who had expressed an interest was held in January 2016, during which the Steering Committee was chosen to lead and co-ordinate development of the plan, on behalf of the Parish Council.