Planning in Hertfordshire

4th July 2022

Hertfordshire is an attractive and prosperous place to live and work and is part of the fastest growing region in the UK for both residential and economic development.  Together with its strong connections to London and access to open countryside, there is a continued and increasing demand for housing and development in the county.

Hertfordshire consists of ten councils – Broxbourne, Dacorum, East Herts, Hertsmere, North Herts, St Albans, Stevenage, Three Rivers, Watford and Welwyn Hatfield.  The county contains a number of main towns including Watford, St Albans and Stevenage as well as a number of large and small villages providing a mix of urban, suburban and rural areas.   Large areas outside the main towns are largely designated as Metropolitan Green Belt, which makes up just over 50% of the county.

Hertfordshire Local Plans

To ensure future development can take place, it is critical that each authority has an up-to-date Local Plan setting out designated housing and employment sites, especially given the extent of land protected as Green Belt.  However, three of the ten authorities have significantly outdated Local Plans – with St Albans Local Plan being the second oldest in the country having been adopted in 1994.   St Albans are currently preparing a new Local Plan after the withdrawal in 2020 of the previous Local Plan , which had been submitted to the Secretary of State.  Welwyn Hatfield and North Herts submitted Local Plans for examination in 2017 which are yet to be found sound.  Additionally, whilst their current Local Plan is not amongst the oldest, Hertsmere also withdrew their draft Local Plan in April 2022.

The levels of growth proposed and the release of Green Belt land in many of these Hertfordshire authorities’ emerging Local Plans have become highly controversial and contentious issues, slowing the progress of plan making and subsequently planned strategic growth.   Watford submitted its draft Local Plan for examination in August 2021, Three Rivers is at the draft preparation stage and Dacorum has its Local Plan under review, all of which may present some opportunities to bring land forward for strategic development. However, the allocation of strategic development sites in Hertfordshire is a slow and cumbersome process.

Tilted Balance

The most recent housing land supply statements from the Councils show that six of the ten authorities cannot demonstrate a five year supply of deliverable housing sites.  Additionally, the Housing Delivery Test shows that six of the ten were also substantially below the housing requirement over the previous three years.  A number of these councils are therefore operating under the ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’, which means there are immediate opportunities for landowners in these locations to move their sites through a planning application while the balance is tilted in their favour.

These councils are now exposed to applications for speculative development which may not meet their borough wide spatial vision or align with sites allocated in emerging Local Plans.  Many of these planning applications will end up at appeal, which is costly and risky. However, this is the practical effect of delays and uncertainty over changes to the planning system.

The Levelling Up & Regeneration Bill

The Levelling Up & Regeneration Bill (May 2022) proposes alterations to the plan making process with the aim of helping to increase the speed.  Amongst other things, the Bill includes; setting out general policies in a new national suite of Development Management policies within a new NPPF; and appointing a new Local Plan commissioner to support authorities in producing a plan or taking over if authorities fail to deliver.  Critically, changes will be made to the Framework to remove the need for authorities with an up-to-date Local Plan to demonstrate a rolling 5 year housing land supply.  This should incentivise local authorities to secure an up-to-date Local Plan meaning there would be less scope to appeal.

Moving Forwards

However, as with all Councils, what is absolutely crucial and one of the main challenges, is to ensure that local planning authorities are appropriately resourced with the correct expertise to deliver the much needed growth.

Given two recently allowed planning appeals in Hertfordshire, which were both in the Green Belt and where the Councils could not demonstrate a 5 year housing land supply, there are some opportunities for speculative development.

The situation is not sustainable and the lack of housing land supply was given significant weight by the Inspectors.  If you have a site that you would like to develop in Hertfordshire, please do get in touch and we can help and advise on the best strategy for you.

Sarah Smith, Associate

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