Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Learning a Little More

From the moment the news broke of new housing proposed for Symonshyde there has been a near-universal condemnation of the plans.  The reason for the negative response is undoubtedly similar to the outcries of the other housing proposals which have ever been made at various times, some of which have come about and others sunk without trace; "we're here and we don't want anyone else".  We have been offered a minimal amount of information: that the new plans for east of St Albans are part of the national requirement  to build thousands of new houses (of which Symonshyde would be a small part).  Because St Albans District Council currently has no coherent district plan, while Welwyn-Hatfield is announcing its proposals, St Albans' residents naturally feel embarrassed while the neighbouring council is getting its act together on St Albans' very doorstep.

Site of the proposed Symondshyde New Village.

Then there is the terminology: housing.  What do you imagine?  Does it leave a mainly positive or mainly negative impression?  We might substitute estate, or sprawl, or suburb.  Or perhaps village, hamlet.  We can also be conclusive, usually negatively, about its impact with terms such as destroying our green space, or ruining the countryside. So, let's explore what is actually proposed a little further.

We can all do a little digging on the internet at where there are a number of outline projects, all in the Welwyn-Hatfield area.  Gascoyne Cecil Estates is a major land owner, representing the Cecil family, and centred on Hatfield House over several centuries.  Large land owners occasionally "play" with their acreages and choose to sell peripheral fields for private development; either for housing or commercial functions. 

The evidence from Gascoyne Cecil Estates is rather different, adopting a more acceptable, almost fatherly approach to responsible management of its holdings.  So, what is actually planned for Symondshyde?

Symondshyde New Village as shown in the Welwyn Hatfield Local Plan

The charette report states: “a satellite village is a settlement which is dependent on a nearby town but which avoids urban sprawl and does not block views of open countryside.  A village would be separated from existing urban settlements by an enforceable green corridor of a size which remains capable of being easily walked or cycled.”

Other earlier settlements, such as Letchworth Garden City, have similar rural rings limiting their size and preventing encroachment from outside.

While the proposals for Symondshyde sketch in important amenities, including shops, schools, offices, bus links, and community spaces such as sports clubs and a pub, enabling any or all of these to be sustainable in the modern world is a tall ask.  If, in the fullness of time, these begin to fail, the sustainability of the village is lost and endless car journeys would develop between it and Welwyn Garden City, Hatfield and St Albans.

The planners' concept drawings are always made to appear more acceptable
by using watercolour on textured paper.
The distances between the proposed village and nearby towns is little different than for most other villages in the southern half of the county, and will therefore be no exception.  But because the risks outlined do nevertheless exist is no reason to deny the plan an airing and a reasoned debate.

There is little doubt that, at the beginning, the development will look like any other; its newness cannot be avoided.  As for the cost of living in the village, that is all wrapped up in the price of housing on a national and regional scale, and directly linked to real  shortages of accommodation.  But this village, as with hundreds of other new settlements in build or planned, will be making its own contribution to alleviation.

We will keep our eyes and ears open for a genuine community debate on the issue.

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