Q. How big is the site?
Birchall Garden Suburb (BGS) is around 222 hectares (549 acres). Residential development is proposed on just 80 hectares (200 acres).
Q. How can such a large development be described as a Garden Suburb?
BGS will be created as a sustainable new community, under the principles of Ebenezer Howard’s original Garden City. BGS is a Garden Suburb, which is distinguished from a Garden City. Garden Suburbs are based on and inspired by the Garden City movement, and retain the fundamentals of tree-lined streets, generous public parks and open spaces, thoughtful design and orientation of housing to promote healthier living, meeting housing needs of all social groups, and to have walkable neighbourhoods, while also holding true to the principles of enabling community ownership of land and long-term stewardship of assets.
Q. What does the planning application cover?
The “outline” planning application covers the entire BGS site. An outline application for 2,650 homes aims to establish key principles, such as areas for development and means of access. Further detail such as house design, landscaping and material choices will be addressed in subsequent planning applications (referred to as “reserved matters”). These reserved matters applications will need to follow the design codes that will be agreed with the planning authorities for each phase of the development, following approval of the outline planning application. These design codes will set the standard for overall scheme design and reflect the Garden City principles essential to both Welwyn Garden City and BGS.
Q. What kind of homes are you building?
Birchall Garden Suburb (BGS) will deliver around 2,650 much-needed homes and offer a diverse mix of housing types and tenures. On-site affordable housing will include rental and shared ownership properties to meet the urgent local requirement for affordable homes. There will also be properties, both market and affordable for families, first-time buyers and older people. Options for custom-build and self-build plots will also be provided.
Q. How much affordable housing will there be?
Birchall Garden Suburb will deliver 30% affordable housing within Welwyn Hatfield and 40% affordable housing within East Herts, fully in accordance with both Local Plans respectively. Across the development, BGS will provide a substantial number of affordable homes (approximately 1,000 homes in total). Affordable housing is a local policy requirement. The development will offer a diverse mix of housing types and tenures – including rental and shared ownership. BGS will also include a percentage of first homes, in accordance with national policy. First homes are properties offered at discounted sale on the open market to first-time buyers.
Q. How many homes will be built?
BGS will deliver around 2,650 much-needed homes.
Q. What will the homes look like?
The focus for BGS is to provide much needed, high-quality family housing, with gardens. The architectural designs for the homes will be determined at a later stage, through the ‘reserved matters’ planning applications. The Design and Access Statement accompanying the outline planning permission will set the design parameters or “principles”. A wide range of homes will be delivered for the benefit of a range of occupants including first time buyers and those looking to downsize. (e.g. family housing with gardens and single storey housing, such as bungalows)
Q. Will these homes be for local people?
Yes, anyone who wants to live in BGS will be given the opportunity to do so. Homes will be available to purchase on the open market, including opportunities for part-purchase, part-rent (shared-ownership housing). Self and custom-build plots will be initially advertised to those residents who have expressed an interest via the Councils’ self and custom build registers. Affordable housing provision will be prioritised for local residents and families on the Councils’ housing waiting lists. Under national policy, first homes are prioritised for local first-time buyers and those with a connection to the area (employment, family).
Q. Are these homes needed? Why so many?
Both East Hertfordshire District Council (EHDC) and Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council (WHBC) have an urgent requirement for nearly 32,000 homes by 2036.
BGS will provide 2,650 homes across the two authorities – a significant contribution to the overall number required. These homes are needed in the local area and will help address a critical housing shortage. Notably at national level, the average age of a first-time buyer is now 32 years old*, and this has significant impact for young people, families and local economies.
Notably a national level, the average age of a first-time buyer is now 32 years old*, and this has significant impacts for young people, families and local economies.
*According to research by Halifax, the UK’s largest mortgage lender, as of January 2022.
Q. Will Tarmac develop the homes, or will the site be sold if planning consent is granted?
Once planning permission is achieved the intention is to sell to local and national house builders.
Q. How do I register interest in buying a home in BGS?
If you would like to register interest, please email firstname.lastname@example.org in the first instance.
Q. What height are the blocks? No. of storeys?
Most of the homes at BGS will be consistent with heights across the traditional areas of WGC. The majority being two to three storeys high, with a small number of four storey properties (none that would comprise high-rise development). Properties suitable for older persons can be provided, including bungalows and other single storey property types.
Q. What is the density per hectare? How does the density compare to the rest of town?
As with any development, densities will vary across the site - for example lower than average densities would be expected around the peripheries, with higher densities around the local centres to take advantage of greater accessibility of facilities.
Overall, the average net density of homes at BGS is 30-35 per hectare – a modest density conducive to family housing with gardens and well within the housing densities found within WGC. In compiling the Design and Access Statement, we studied four established areas of WGC to inform our approach to the density and other aspects of the design of BGS. The densities of those four areas range from 13/ha (Beehive Green) to 34/ha (Leysdown, Panshanger).
Planning application and planning context
Q. Why is a planning application being submitted now?
Submitting a planning application is the next step in delivering Birchall Garden Suburb. It follows over 12 years of extensive stakeholder and public engagement, which has shaped the vision & masterplan for Birchall Garden. When the East Herts Local Plan was adopted in 2018, it envisaged homes being delivered on the site by now. These new homes are needed to meet existing local housing needs and in turn, support the local economy.
Q. What is the planning application for?
An “outline” planning application will be made for 2,650 homes and associated infrastructure. The site sits across two Local Authority boundaries; East Hertfordshire District Council and Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council. Both local authorities will receive a copy of the planning application.
The outline planning application includes delivery of supporting infrastructure, a critical aspect of the BGS proposal alongside the much-needed housing. Birchall Garden will provide local shops and services; three schools; space for healthcare; play areas; significant new cycle routes, bridleways and pathways; extensive new parkland; broadband to the door of each home; wildlife corridors; and electric vehicle charging points. BGS will be integrated into the existing and planned local public transport network, including by providing a hub for the planned Hertfordshire Essex Rapid Transit (HERT) project.
Q. Can I make further comments on the BGS development or the proposed planning application?
Members of the public will be able to submit further comments on the BGS development, once the planning application has been submitted to the two Planning Authorities – East Hertfordshire District Council and Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council, as part of the statutory consultation process.
Q. Will any further public consultation be carried out ahead of the planning application submission?
There will be no further specific public consultation events held prior to the submission of a planning application for Birchall Garden.
There has been extensive consultation on the proposal over the last 12+ years and the project team continue to make themselves available for focused discussions with interested parties. If you would like to discuss a particular matter with the project team please email email@example.com.
Over the last 12+ years there has been extensive public and stakeholder engagement, which has shaped the vision and masterplan for BGS. Conversations with the local authorities started in 2010, and the first formal conversations with the community began in 2015 at a workshop event, where local residents helped shape the vision for the Birchall Garden. These workshops were supported by a telephone poll of residents and businesses across the wider area. Since then, the consultation has included several rounds of public exhibitions showing how the plans have evolved as a result of feedback, as well as meetings with specific groups of residents and organisations interested in the proposals. This has all been supported by ongoing technical discussions with key stakeholders within Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council, East Hertfordshire District Council and Hertfordshire County Council. In addition, the public has had opportunity to examine and scrutinise in detail East Herts and Welwyn Hatfield’s proposals to allocate the BGS site for development within their respective Local Plans, which included a day-long hearing in January 2018, and other such sessions since then.
Most recently, in 2022, the BGS project team has held a series of webinars and meetings to update the public and stakeholders about the next step in the Birchall Garden journey – submission of a planning application. A webinar was held on 15th March 2022 of which members of WHBC and EHDC were invited to attend together with relevant members of HCC. A further webinar was held on 29th March 2022 for the local community.
Q. When will the planning application be submitted?
An outline application for the entire BGS site will be submitted in Spring 2022.
Q. When will development begin?
Subject to “outline” planning consent being granted in a timely manner, the pre-development work (mineral extraction & infrastructure provision) would begin as soon as possible – potentially in 2023.
Q. When will the new homes be ready to live in?
Delivery of housing is subject to “reserved matters” planning applications being submitted and determined in a timely manner. The reserved matters applications will provide detail, including housing design, landscaping and materials. These applications will be informed by design codes, which would be approved prior to their submission.
Subject to reserved matters planning consent, indicative timelines show that the first new homes could be completed and ready for occupation in 2025, and that all homes on the site will be completed by 2036.
Q. How will sustainability be incorporated into the development?
Sustainability is embedded within the design and fundamental location of BGS – both in terms of the homes and development, as well as for the long-term health and wellbeing of its community. As a new extension to Welwyn Garden City, BGS benefits from being in a highly sustainable location. Existing bus routes and the Cole Green Way run through the middle of the site, and it lies in close proximity to the A414, which will form the backbone of the Hertfordshire Essex Rapid Transit (HERT) system, and BGS will provide a HERT hub to serve both new and existing residents.
The vision for BGS, carefully crafted through extensive public and stakeholder engagement, seeks to optimise site location and promote sustainability across the development. BGS will provide extensive new open space, connected through a network of cycle and walking routes. New and existing residents will benefit from the new BGS neighbourhood, its space and facilities. BGS is designed to reduce reliance on private car use - through its extensive network of pedestrian and cycleways and overall sustainable location - in addition the development will provide a network of electric vehicle charging points. The 2,650 homes will be constructed to the latest building regulations at the time of construction and each property will have superfast broadband to the front door.
The outline planning application is supported by a Sustainable Construction, Energy, Waste & Water Statement which provides detail on how the proposal will meet current standards, newly arising or proposed standards and possible future standards for sustainable construction. This will ensure Birchall Gardens development meets its needs without comprising the needs of future generations.
Q. Are there solar panels on all the roofs?
BGS is at the outline application stage, so the design details of buildings will follow. However, the design principles of BGS will embed and optimise sustainability, and recognise the need for the development to respond to climate change and energy cost issues, both within the new homes and wider site infrastructure. Details such as solar panels will be addressed within future reserved matter applications.
Facilities and infrastructure
Q. What community facilities will there be for families and young people?
BGS will cater for people of all ages and interests. The plans include:
- Around 113 hectares of new open spaces for woodland, wildlife habitats, recreation and allotments – of which 76 hectares will be new parkland – Birchall Common
- Two centrally located neighbourhood centres, providing community facilities, such as new community centres, space for healthcare facilities, local shops & services
- New sports pitches and children’s play areas
- Three new schools – two primary and one secondary
- Connections into the existing and planned local public transport network (including a hub for the Hertfordshire Essex Rapid Transit (HERT) project)
- Over 5 miles of new walkways and cycle routes, including safe routes to schools from residential areas
- Superfast broadband connection to each front door
These can only be delivered if permission is granted for the whole site. Smaller sites cannot deliver the same range of benefits – which emphasises the importance of BGS being planned and delivered as an entire site; one site, one neighbourhood.
Q. How will BGS impact on local facilities and infrastructure?
Birchall Garden intends to be a net positive development, delivering essential infrastructure to support both the development proposal and wider area. As a Garden Suburb, the new community has been designed to complement and supplement facilities already offered locally, but it is recognised that Birchall Garden can support the wider area through infrastructure provision, namely schools, as the site is able to accommodate space for three new schools which will deliver schools places for both Birchall Garden and the wider area. In addition to schools, Birchall Gardens will provide new community facilities which sit at the heart of community life – including two local centres with shops, space for healthcare, extensive open space for recreation all well connected through a network of footpath, bridleways and cycle paths making Birchall Garden a 15-minute neighbourhood, as everything is located within a 15-minute walk.
Q. Will new school places be created?
BGS will provide space for two primary schools and a secondary school. These school facilities will be sufficient to meet not only the needs of BGS pupils, but also students from the wider area, as required by the education authority – Hertfordshire County Council.
Q. How will you guarantee schools are delivered? Have you already had the relevant conversations with the respective local authorities?
Initial conversations with the County and District Councils have taken place. Guarantees will be provided through a legally binding Section 106 agreement attached to any outline planning permission granted in due course. That agreement will regulate the provision of community infrastructure and secure the delivery of the proposed schools and much-needed school places for families at Birchall Garden and in the wider community.
Q. Will pitches be provided for Gypsies and Travellers?
BGS proposes 15 new pitches for Gypsy and Traveller accommodation. The pitches are located with direct access to/from the A414. In accordance with local planning policy all strategic developments are expected to make provision for Gypsy and Traveller accommodation needs.
Q. What will happen to the household recycling centre?
The household cycling centre will be retained for as long as Hertfordshire County Council wish for it to be there.
Q. What consultation has taken place for emergency services?
Decisions regarding emergency services and site-specific needs will take place during the consideration of both the outline planning application and throughout future reserved matters planning applications.
Q. Will the allotments be new additional ones or will it involve the relocation of those at Moneyhole Lane Park?
The new allotments will be in addition to the existing ones. The proposed allotments are fully in accordance with the Council’s public open space standards. Further detail will come through a subsequent reserved matters application.
Q. What Section 106 contributions will you make to the town?
As a strategically planned site, BGS has been created holistically over the past 12+ years and is set within a comprehensive masterplan, which was shaped through close consultation with the local community and a range of stakeholders. As a result, BGS is a net positive development and in addition to providing 2,650 new homes (a significant proportion of which will be affordable properties) will deliver a range of benefits to the local area, such as:
- A one in a generation contribution to public open space provision, with a vast new, 76-hectare public parkland – Birchall Common -, along with new sports pitches, children’s play areas and allotments
- In excess of 40 hectares of privately owned woodland outside the development boundary will also become part of the wider community benefit, transferring to the BGS management company.
- A net positive contribution to education, with 3 new schools, which will provide a net gain in school places to serve both BGS and the wider area
- A net gain to biodiversity, with wildlife connections from Commonswood through Birchall Common to Panshanger Park
- A net gain in connectivity, providing 5 miles of new public rights of way, including a new strategic cycle link between Cole Green Way and the southern part of Welwyn Garden City. As well as a hub to the planned Hertfordshire Essex Rapid Transit (HERT) project.
In terms of the Section 106, the principle of delivering much needed infrastructure to support the new homes at BGS and benefit the wider area, lies at the core of the development’s strategic plan. These principles have formed the basis for all long-term conversations, consultation, masterplanning and common ground shared with Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council, East Herts District Council and Hertfordshire County Council.
New green spaces
Q. Will BGS deliver new, outdoor spaces for the public?
Creating new accessible green spaces is central to the BGS vision. A vast new public parkland will be created – Birchall Common - extending to 76 hectares. Birchall Common will be central to the development with new footpaths, cycleways and bridlepaths connecting the parkland to homes & new local facilities, and beyond into Welwyn Garden City. At 76 hectares (or 188 acres), Birchall Common is around one and half times the size of Stanborough Park, on the opposite side of the garden city.
Q. How much useable amenity space is there (excluding walkways)?
More than half of the BGS (115 hectares) site will be open, green spaces that form an extensive new community amenity and green infrastructure for habitats and wildlife. These spaces will be connected by a network of green corridors and public rights of way, and will include a new, 76-hectare central parkland called Birchall Common, around four times the size of the area required to meet the councils’ relevant open space standards. In addition, in excess of 40-hectares of woodland outside the development boundary will also form part of the wider site fabric and biodiversity to be available to the BGS community.
Will all existing woods be retained? Will any be built on?
All woodland, expect where required for essential infrastructure delivery, will be retained. Some areas of the woodland will be brought into the management company structure. As such, active management of these areas will be sought to improve their condition through a site wide Landscape Management Plan.
Traffic and cars
Q. Has the impact on roads and local traffic been assessed?
A substantial amount of work has been undertaken to assess transport impacts over several years, including assessment through the site allocation process for Local Plans preparation. The outline planning application will be accompanied by a transport assessment and travel plan, prepared in accordance with Hertfordshire County Council guidance and National Planning Policy guidance.
The BGS vision is all about reducing reliance on private car use, with significant emphasis placed on delivering sustainable transport infrastructure. This includes provision of cycleways, pedestrian routes and bridleways connecting to key destinations, such as Welwyn Garden City and local facilities, in addition to schools and shops. BGS is designed on the principle of 15-minute neighbourhoods, where residents can access a range of essential, everyday amenities and education within a short 15-minute walk or cycle journey, reducing the need to travel further afield.
Alongside the network of pedestrian and cycleways, BGS will also make provision for a high-quality public transport service, with a bus loop connecting the entire site with Welwyn Garden City and providing a connection to the planned Hertfordshire Essex Rapid Transit (HERT).
The traffic impact assessment has demonstrated that BGS will not have a substantial impact on traffic levels in the wider area. Significant mitigation is proposed including improvements to local roads – such as replacing the junction of Black Fan Road/Cole Green Lane with a roundabout, and capacity improvements on the A414/Birchall Lane roundabout.
Q. How will parking be managed?
Car parking will be provided in accordance with Local Planning Authority requirements and will ensure adequate provision on plot (off-street) for these homes. The detail of this will be confirmed at the reserved matters stages of the development. Emphasis will be placed on the provision of high-quality cycle storage and the provision of electric vehicle charging points.
Q. How will you manage the noise generated from the additional traffic?
As part of the Environmental Statement, traffic noise has been fully surveyed and assessed and proposed development areas are acceptable in terms of both national and local policy. As detailed housing layouts come forward at Reserved Matters stage, traffic noise will be re-assessed to ensure designs continue to meet policy standards both for occupants in their homes and for relevant amenity spaces.
Q. How many spaces will have electric charging?
Sustainability is integral to BGS’s design principles, and provision will be made for every property to have access to an electric vehicle charging point.
Cycling, walking & public transport
Q. How will cycling and walking be prioritised to reduce reliance on cars?
The BGS vision is to create integrated, 15-minute neighbourhoods, where residents can access a range of essential, everyday amenities including education within a short 15-minute walk or cycle journey, thus generating a sustainable community, less reliant on private car use. To achieve this, the scheme will deliver cycleways, pedestrian routes, and bridleways, connected to key destinations, such as the town centre and railway stations. BGS will also make provision for a high-quality public transport service, with a bus loop connecting the entire development- internally, externally with Welwyn Garden City, and including a connection to the proposed Hertfordshire Essex Rapid Transit (HERT) service.
Q. How will public transport be integrated into the site and made easy to use for BGS residents?
BGS will be integrated into the area’s existing and planned local public transport network, including providing a hub for the planned Hertfordshire Essex Rapid Transit (HERT) project. It will also include the extension of existing bus services in the local area into the site and increasing the frequency of those services. Walkways, cycle routes and bridleways will also be enhanced to support the BGS vision of creating integrated, 15-minute neighbourhoods, so that residents can access a range of essential, everyday amenities within a short 15-minute walk or a cycle journey.
Q. How will you improve cycle connections?
Birchall Garden Suburb will provide an extra 5 miles of cycle routes and pedestrian walkways.
Whilst much of the detail is reserved for later planning applications, BGS will provide a cycle route alongside Birchall Lane/Cole Green Lane. The crossing of Birchall Lane will likely be a lit Toucan facility.
The Cole Green Way route is a key connector to both WGC and Hertford, for pedestrians as well as cyclists.
Whilst bridging of the A414 is not appropriate, lighting of the existing underpass might be possible.
All Primary Roads identified on the Parameter Plan (available to view on the ‘Webinar’ Page) would include a parallel cycle route alongside them and would be lit.
The Proposed Bus and Strategic Footpath/Cycle Route linking the East Herts and Welwyn Hatfield parts of BGS will also be lit.
Habitats and biodiversity
Why has the grass been cut at Cole Green and new signs erected?
Localised grass cutting has taken place at Cole Green, a former landfill site. The tenant farmer has cut the grass to enable fencing works which will in turn support grazing. No further grass cutting will now take place on site. Tarmac seeks to provide opportunities for wildlife to thrive and agricultural management at Cole Green will be reviewed to ensure this is possible on site. Appropriately managed grazing with livestock can contribute to increasing the biodiversity of such habitats. While the site does benefit from a defined public right of way, it is private land - the signs distinguish the parts that are under active farm tenancy and, therefore, not open to public access. The hope is that, pending determination of the forthcoming planning application for Birchall Garden Suburb, this area will become a new 76-hectare parkland that is open to all.
Q. How will trees around the site be impacted?
Existing woodland will be retained, wherever possible. BGS will see the creation of around 7 hectares of new woodland and, across the site, around 17,500 new trees will be planted, providing a range of benefits such as landscape enhancement, habitat creation, and buffering to the A414. Woodlands and informal open spaces will be managed as part of a site-wide land management plan, designed to encourage biodiversity.
Q. How will wildlife, habitats, and biodiversity be protected and enhanced?
As well as providing homes and community facilities, BGS will make a substantial contribution to biodiversity and green infrastructure in the area. A network of green spaces will provide links for local wildlife into the new parkland, Birchall Common. Birchall Common is around 76 hectares (188 acres) – around twice the size of Stanborough Park or 50 football pitches.
The site has been assessed for a number of years, with several species and habitat surveys having been conducted to inform our designs. We will be delivering a significant biodiversity net gain through the proposals. Birchall Common is currently self-set grassland, some of which is of high ecological value. The remainder of the site within the Common will be upgraded to a similarly high standard, with tree planting and an increased hedgerow coverage to replicate historic field and woodland boundaries. The bulk of the parkland will be for biodiversity enhancement and the safeguarding of nature conservation interests whereas smaller areas of the parkland will be maintained for human recreation.
The area containing meadows is not proposed for development, it is currently tenanted pastureland and as part of the development will be the area of Parkland.
The Environment Act will, in due course, require developments to demonstrate a net gain in biodiversity. As part of its commitment to wildlife protection, habitat generation, and green spaces, BGS will aim to deliver a net gain in biodiversity ahead of the legislation coming into force.
Q. How will BGS accommodate the Commonswood Local Nature Reserve?
Tarmac has produced a comprehensive Green Infrastructure Strategy detailing the BGS site, its wildlife and environment. The site-wide masterplan incorporates existing green spaces and watercourses, and shows how they can be designed to protect and enhance wildlife. A core element of this is the large central parkland, Birchall Common, linked to surrounding areas via a network of green spaces and corridors, designed with local wildlife in mind.
A buffer zone will be created around Commonswood, with wildlife links into Birchall Common and around the southern edge of the site. These links have been designed to accommodate trees, glades and foraging areas, which will make them attractive new features to increase biodiversity and sustainable routes for wildlife.
Q. Why are you proposing a development on Green Belt land?
The part of BGS that sits within East Hertfordshire is no longer in the Green Belt. Following its allocation for development in the East Herts District Plan, which was adopted in 2018, that part of the site was removed from the Green Belt. The remainder of the site was proposed for allocation and removal from the Green Belt in the draft Welwyn Hatfield Local Plan.
The future of the draft Welwyn Hatfield Local Plan remains highly uncertain. In the scenario where the draft Local Plan is withdrawn or found “unsound” by the planning inspector, a planning application on the Welwyn Hatfield portion of the site can still proceed on the basis of “Very Special Circumstances”, which requires applicants to demonstrate particular considerations that clearly outweigh harm to the Green Belt and any other harm.
In the context that BGS is a site allocated by East Herts and has been proposed to be allocated by Welwyn Hatfield, the principle of development has been set out by the councils and the benefits of the development are well rehearsed.
Q. Part of the site was previously used as a landfill, so will there be any safety issues when houses or infrastructure are built there. Will BGS be safe?
No houses will be built on areas of former landfill, although suitable uses including roads, pedestrian/cycle routes, and utilities will be constructed on filled land. Tarmac and its predecessors have continuously and carefully monitored the site for over 30 years. Research and site investigations have been undertaken over several years, independently reviewed and examined by Planning Inspectors to make certain there are no safety issues. Much of this land is currently used for rough grazing and will become the central parkland, Birchall Common.
Q. What kind of waste is present at the former Cole Green landfill?
The landfill site was closed more than 35 years ago, it was used for a variety of waste categories, with different areas permitted for the deposition of waste materials. Since the site was closed, it has been managed and closely monitored.
Q. Will householders have issues securing mortgages, given the presence of a former landfill site nearby?
No, householders will not have an issue in securing a mortgage on properties at BGS, although the presence of the former landfill is likely to appear in their Local Search reports. No homes will be built on the landfill area.
Q. Will any mineral extraction take place?
A small amount of sand and gravel will be extracted at the northernmost end of the site, north of the public footpath linking Moneyhole Lane Park and Birchall Wood. Only the upper layers will be removed, and this process is expected to take around a year. A proportion of the minerals could be directly used to build the infrastructure, homes and community facilities at BGS, and could also contribute to local markets for construction materials.
Q. When will mineral extraction start and finish?
Mineral extraction will start very early on in the proposal. It will continue for a period of roughly six months, and will take place before residential development is phased into the area.