Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Supplementary memorandum by Welwyn Hatfield Council (NT 23(a))


  Welwyn Garden City

  Howard's concept of a garden city was developed in the early part of the 20th Century and is accepted as the original model of development of sustainable living. A key element was the bringing together the best elements of living in a town and the country, and this carefully approached was a fore-runner to the development of the new town concept.


  Hatfield developed as a direct consequence of the employment needs of the aircraft industry which dominated the town until the closure of the British Aerospace site. At its peak some 11,000 persons were directly employed on the site.


  Welwyn Garden City

  The legacy of Howard's vision remains in the overall quality of environment that is present throughout the town. However the improvement in the mobility of the individual and the proximity to London has resulted in considerable number of the working population commuting out of the town to work. Having said this the town has a healthy economy and the daily outward migration of employment is matched by an equivalent inward migration. In terms of the quality of the environment throughout the town this has generally been maintained as it has expanded.


  The original objective of providing homes for those working in the aircraft industry was achieved. Following the closure of aircraft works (British Aerospace) in 1992 the redevelopment of the 400 acre site for mixed use development is taking place.


  Both towns have modest populations (Welwyn Garden City 41,000, Hatfield 25,000) and are tightly constrained by green belt, being typical of towns in Hertfordshire. It is therefore difficult to ascribe a role to either town in a regional or sub-regional context. In the context of Hertfordshire the towns contribute significantly to the employment needs of the County particularly following the redevelopment of the former aerodrome site. In addition the general expansion of the University of Hertfordshire and its consolidation into a single location in Hatfield will continue to change the economic and social structure of the town. Hatfield will become the focus of higher education in the County and beyond.


  Neither of the original masterplans are used for the guiding of development although the principles of design and layout upon which Welwyn Garden City was established still guide development albeit with the recognition of modern living requirements. The development of the former aerodrome site lies outside of the original masterplan area for Hatfield.


  Generally, new development in both towns has integrated well. However the expansion of Welwyn Garden City to the north east has been somewhat remote from the town centre and whilst its proximity to the employment areas is beneficial this large residential area is somewhat divorced from the main amenities. There is a specific need to improve cycle and passenger transport facilities.

  The old, historic town of Hatfield was devastated by 1960's development and is now divorced from the rest of the new town. There is no potential for further development and thus efforts are being made to improve pedestrian and passenger transport linkages to the town centre.


  This has been achieved.


  Information not available.


  The demand for commercial land remains robust but the level of demand is now being influenced by the lack of a local supply of labour. The high cost of housing is resulting in serious recruitment difficulties which in turn is increasing the cost of labour. This is potentially the single most important factor which could have an adverse impact upon the economy of central Hertfordshire. Commercial values are generally less than the larger towns of Watford and St Albans.


  This question is largely irrelevant as development is not influenced by sub regional policies but generally by the County Structure Plan and more specifically by the district plan.


  Hatfield Town Centre was mainly completed in the 1960s and whilst its role was very much as a local centre it did provide the full range of amenities and shops.

  Over the last 15 years it has seriously declined and is now in need of urgent regeneration. Its decline has been due to a number of factors which include competition from out of town retail parks, the closure of the British Aerospace factory an ageing built environment requiring investment, fragmented land ownership and shop units of the wrong size.

  The Council has produced a development brief which will involve the demolition of over half of the town centre and its replacement with an increase in retail floorspace together with residential and community facilities. The Council has entered into partnership with English Partnerships although the future is uncertain due to the current government review of EP. The Council is also prepared to use its compulsory powers to achieve the redevelopment and the partnership is currently undertaking a short listing process which by the end of the year will result in a developer achieving preferred status.

  In Welwyn Garden City the role of the town centre is somewhat different. A combination of the quality of the environment of the town and the existence of a John Lewis department store and an 180,000 square foot shopping centre (the Howard Centre) makes it a significant sub-regional attractor. However the town centre faces increased competition from other towns in Hertfordshire and shopping centre located around the M25. As a consequence, in the current review of the District Plan the Council proposes to increase the retail floorspace within the town centre. The District Plan will be subject to a public inquiry next year.


  The 1983 transfer from the Commission for New Towns included Category 2 clawback land, where the clawback started at 100 per cent and reduces by two per cent per annum. Such an arrangement is bad estate management practice. There is no incentive for the landowner to dispose or develop such land for its best and most effective use and effectively the land is sterilised for many years.

  Restrictive covenants have a similar effect, although the compensation is negotiable and not fixed as in Category 2 clawback.

  It is difficult to give examples of things that have not happened due to the above as there can be many reasons why land or property remains undeveloped. But the following is a small example of difficulties caused by the clawback provision.

  For example, recently an application was received for a small section of amenity land from an adjoining resident, which in principle would be acceptable. However this is Category 2 land and the repayment for the clawback, and the added complications involved, make it difficult to justify proceeding with such a transaction.


  The transfer of assets from the Commission for New Towns in Welwyn Garden City included large areas of amenity land, open space and private footpaths, service roads etc. The budget requirement for ground maintenance for the District is £1.3 million, the majority of which is for former CNT land.

  Much development in the New Towns was designed on the basis that the commercial owner would receive income from the properties and retain responsibility for common areas, service roads, yards etc. Unfortunately the commercial properties have been sold privately, and the liabilities have passed to the local authority. We are therefore left with the task of maintaining and policing common areas to industrial and commercial estates over which we have no landlord control and no income to offset the extraordinary revenue costs.

  For this authority we are left in the difficult position of having additional revenue costs arising from the degree of environmental maintenance required in both towns and no means of generating income even if the remaining EP assets were transferred to the Council because they are so minimal. Indeed such transference could result in additional financial burden due to the nature of the assets the majority of which are in community use.


  It is our understanding that English Partnerships have little assets left within either Hatfield or Welwyn Garden City and the financial liabilities far outweigh their current market value. They own two buildings which have been boarded up or derelict for many years, and subject to much vandalism, and several community buildings in various states of repair.


  Until recently EP has played no role in the regeneration of either of the towns. However this Council has recently formed a strategic partnership with EP to take forward the redevelopment of a significant part of Hatfield Town Centre. This has now reached the developer selection stage and English Partnerships continuation in this project is now uncertain pending the outcome of the stage two review. This uncertainty will undermine the Council's ability to deliver the redevelopment having raised considerable expectations of the public and the development industry.

  The Council's Chief Executive has urged the Chairman of English Partnerships for an early decision and whilst her response has been extremely encouraging it is the Council's understanding that the final decision rests with the government rather than EP.


  See answer to Q13.


  It has not affected our ability to prepare a housing strategy but clearly the predominance of three bedroom family housing means that the Council finds it difficult to meet the needs of specific sectors of the population that requires smaller properties eg the elderly and the young.


  The issue is generally less about the original design of the dwellings or the materials used but the fact that with two first generation New Towns this District is faced with a large housing stock that is of the same era which means that large sectors of the housing stock require maintenance at the same time. The Council runs a programme of planned maintenance and improvement a major portion of which has been a window replacement programme, many of the windows having been metal framed. Other significant costs have included those relating to the removal of asbestos from the stock.


  Sadly many of the qualities that enrich townscapes are at odds with minimising opportunities for crime. But there's little about Welwyn Garden City or Hatfield that is especially problematic. The quality of the truly planned parts of town are a good basis for the kind of high quality environment and sense of ownership that help with informal social suppression of misbehaviour.

  Undoubtedly nuisance can take place in the public open spaces, and a profusion of convenient pedestrian ways are seen by some residents as making it easy to commit and escape from criminal offences. The demands of widespread motor car ownership, unforeseen when the towns were designed, can also lead to conflict.

  Things which might ideally have been handled/designed/managed/controlled differently include:

    —  It's harder to maintain the degree of control when the ownership is fragmented—and the uniformity of the planned environment somehow makes it easier for local people to expect the Council to act.

    —  Low density (and general prosperity) undermine the prospects for good and well-used public transport.

    —  More residential space in town centres would help to keep them well-used and therefore safer. Conversely it adds to the number of people prone to complain about other lively town centre activities.

    —  It's generally acknowledged that the layout of Welwyn Garden City centre and continued access by road makes for a real and perceived safer environment than the pedestrianisation in Hatfield.

    —  Layouts that separate car parking from the owners' homes do leave vehicles vulnerable.

  We'd have fewer complaints about young people if there were more space for recreation convenient to, but not adjoining, homes and shops. And very specifically, we could avoid leaving flank walls of houses for kids to entertain themselves (or alternatively afford to landscape and/or fence those that remain).


  Welwyn Hatfield Council supports and contributes to the Hertfordshire County Council's Local Transport Plan. This plan sets out policies, which are aimed at encouraging and raising awareness of alternative modes of transport, as well as reducing the need for the movement of people and goods through integrated land use planning.

  The Council is actively involved in the development of the Mid Herts Package, where the objectives will be in line with the policies set out in the Local Transport Plan. In addition to this, the Council also supports unremunerative bus services, by paying 25 per cent of the net cost of operating Contract Services in the District.

  The Council has also adopted a Parking Strategy, which includes the commitment to introduce parking charges in all its car parks within five years and supports the principles set out in the County Council document "Car Parking Management in Hertfordshire", ie as a general principle car parking at shopping centres should not be free, and that the pricing structure should be set to discourage long stay and encourage short stay parking, with long stay charges being set to be unattractive in relation to bus and train fares.


  The Council has for some time provided free advisory parking spaces for disabled people on the highway close to their residence. The Council also contributes to HCC Safer Routes to School schemes aimed at increasing the number of children who walk and cycle to school. The Council provides free parking for blue badge holders in the Council's shoppers' car parks, in Welwyn Garden City, and discounted travel for the elderly through concessionary bus fares. The Council has also supported the Welwyn Hatfield Access Group in the production of a guide to retail premises, and worked with them in the provision of parking spaces for the disabled in the Council's car parks.

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Prepared 23 August 2002