FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
What is a Local Plan?
The Local Plan sets out how Watford will grow between 2020 and 2036. It identifies how much growth will happen and the sites that are considered suitable for redevelopment. The Plan also includes policies that will be used to determine planning applications.
Why do we need a Local Plan?
A Local Plan is a statutory document that is used to guide new development. This ensures that new development is co-ordinated and reflects the aspirations of the local community.
Watford’s existing Local Plan, consisting of the Part 1 Core Strategy 2006-31 (2013) and saved policies from the Watford District Plan (2003), is out of date. This means existing planning policies have less weight when making planning decisions. It is important to develop a new Local Plan to ensure that moving forward, we are able to better manage the planning process and deliver the development needed in the area.
The new Plan should also capture changes to national planning policy and emerging evidence to better address current issues.
What can the Local Plan control?
The Local Plan can influence how land is used, including whether land is used for housing, employment, open space or other leisure/community facilities. Some of the other issues that planning policies can influence are:
- The level of affordable housing in a new development
- The type of housing and the housing mix
- Cycle and car parking provision in new developments
- The protection of land for employment, retail, community or leisure uses
- The Protection of parks and open space
- Allocating land for residential or commercial development
- Establishing policies for air quality, noise and contaminated land
- Flooding and energy efficiency policies
- Design and the protection of heritage assets
Issues regarding the road network, highways, public transport, schools and health facilities are not in the remit of the Local Plan. Infrastructure is provided by a number of different public and private organisations. Although the council cannot directly provide new infrastructure, the council discusses these issues regularly with the relevant providers.
What is the purpose of the consultation?
This stage of the plan process is referred to as a Preferred Options consultation and is used to develop and consolidate views on draft planning policies. A Preferred Options consultation can also be called a Regulation 18 Consultation. This is because Regulation 18 of the Town and Country Planning (Local Planning) Regulations 2012 requires early engagement in the plan making process.
Because we are consulting on a first draft of the Local Plan, changes can be made based on your feedback before a final draft of the Local Plan is published. The findings of any new evidence may also alter the Plan before the next stage.
How does the South West Herts Joint Strategic Plan fit in with the Local Plan?
Watford is currently working with its neighbours in South West Herts (Dacorum, Hertsmere, St Albans and Three Rivers) to produce a Joint Strategic Plan (JSP). It will be a more strategic framework to guide the region’s growth and so its policies won’t be specific to Watford. The JSP will cover the period up to 2050. This is a longer time frame than the Local Plan, which only looks up until 2036.
The JSP is still in its early stages and so will not inform the preparation of the New Watford Local Plan. However, it is expected to support the Plan when it is time to be reviewed at a later date.
Why has the number of homes that will be delivered under the New Watford Local Plan changed since the Issues and Options Consultation last year?
Last year, the Government gave Watford Council a housing target of 793 units per annum, which would have meant about 14,000 new homes between 2018 and 2036. This target is called an Objectively Assessed Need (OAN) and is calculated without considering any potential problems or constraints that could affect how many homes are actually able to be built. This includes the amount of land available for development. This target was the number that was discussed at the Issues and Options consultation last year.
Since then, the council has undertaken a Housing and Economic Land Availability Assessment (HELAA). The HELAA is a robust assessment of the borough’s capacity to provide enough sites to meet this target. Watford’s HELAA concludes that the borough has the capacity to deliver 463 units per annum between 2020 and 2036. This final figure falls below Watford’s housing target.
What will happen if Watford doesn’t meet its housing target?
A second iteration of the Housing and Economic Land Availability Assessment (HELAA) will need to be undertaken to see if anything more can be done to increase Watford’s housing supply. This may include Green Belt sites.
However, this second iteration is still unlikely to provide for enough land to meet our target. In this case, joint working with our neighbouring authorities (Dacorum, Hertsmere, St Albans and Three Rivers) will be needed to see if they are able to help address Watford’s shortfalls. The Localism Act (2011) and National Planning Policy Framework requires local authorities who share cross boundary issues to work collaboratively and constructively with stakeholders when preparing a Local Plan. This is referred to as the ‘Duty to Cooperate’.
Why have no changes to the Green Belt boundary been made?
The Draft Plan does not propose any changes to Watford’s Green Belt boundary. This is because evidence we gathered for this stage of the Local Plan has shown that Watford does not have enough brownfield land to meet our housing target. We are now undertaking a review of the Green Belt. This study could inform which sites, if any, would be suitable for redevelopment. Therefore, changes to the boundary may need to be made at the next stage of the plan process, the Final Draft Local Plan.
It is important to remember that although land designated as Green Belt covers 19% of Watford’s land area, the majority of this is public open space, including parks and recreation grounds, playing pitches and woodland. These spaces are covered by other environmental designations and policies which would make them unsuitable for redevelopment.
Will Watford’s infrastructure be able to cope with the scale of growth planned?
New homes and businesses will need the necessary infrastructure to support them. However, different types of infrastructure are provided by many public and private organisations. For example, the NHS is responsible for providing new GP surgeries and Hertfordshire County Council deal with issues related to the road network. The Council is working with the different organisations responsible for delivering new infrastructure on an ongoing basis. We are also preparing an infrastructure delivery plan to identify new infrastructure requirements, including social, physical and green infrastructure.
New infrastructure can sometimes be financed through the Community Infrastructure Levy and Section 106 agreements. These are development contributions that can be used to help finance the infrastructure required to support development.
The Plan itself includes a policy to ensure that infrastructure can support any new development and plans for new facilities on some of the larger sites, such as new schools.
Will all this new development planned make the roads more congested?
South West Hertfordshire is growing. More new residents in the area could mean that there are more people using cars in Watford. This is why the Local Plan tries to make it easier to walk, cycle and use public transport. This includes providing car clubs, more secure cycle parking and controlling the amount of parking provided in new developments. In sustainable areas, less parking will be allowed in new developments, as these areas are located closer to essential facilities, such as shops, employment areas and public transport hubs. This makes it easier to get around without using a car in these areas.
Where can I view and comment on the Draft Local Plan?
Click here to read and have your say on the Draft Local Plan.
What happens next?
The responses received for this consultation will be used to inform the preparation of a Final Draft Local Plan. These comments, and the council’s response to these, will be made available to the public when the Final Draft Local Plan is published for consultation. This is planned for May 2020.
The council has been updating its evidence base to better understand the needs of the borough. This information will be used to help determine how we can best meet them in a way that is well considered and managed during the next plan period. This work will continue to ensure the new Local Plan is based on the best information available.
A Sustainability Appraisal will need to review the potential impact of the policies on the three elements of sustainability; economy, environment and society. A viability assessment will also be undertaken to assess whether all aspects of the Plan are financially deliverable. The outcomes of these studies may also change the preferred approaches and some figures set out in this version of the Plan.
Can we stop building so many new homes in Watford?
With great schools, open spaces and quick transport links to central London, many people want to live in Watford.
Government policy has established a target of building 300,000 new homes per annum across the country. There is a particular emphasis on building on previously developed land within existing towns and cities. Every council, including Watford, is obliged to plan for significant housing growth to help achieve the government's targets for new homes.This plan is aimed at providing as much local control over how this growth happens, but the planning system does not allow Watford or any other council to opt-out of planning for growth.
If the council does not plan for the new homes that Watford needs, this could have a negative impact on the borough. This is because our current Plan is out of date and therefore our planning policies have less weight. Without a Plan, development would continue to happen, only it would be uncoordinated and potentially come forward where we do not think it is appropriate.
With no up to date policies, we would also be in a weaker position to get what we want out of new schemes, such as new open space and a good mix of housing. For example, in the First Draft Local Plan, there is an emphasis on delivering the types of homes we need such as family homes and accommodation for the elderly. Without a Plan, there is potential for greater focus placed on the number of residential units rather than delivering quality new homes of a mix that is needed.
There also is an increased risk that when we make planning decisions that we believe to be in the best interests of the community, they are more likely to be challenged by a developer. This is called an appeal. This means that ultimately the decision on a planning application will be made by a Planning Inspector rather than the council, who are better positioned to understand the things that are important to the town and our community.
In a worst case scenario, the government could even write the Plan for us. This means that they would make the decision about where new housing would go to 2036. This means that the council and the community would both have even less of a say about how the town will grow and change in the future.