Living in WGC - Evidence for BioPark Inquiry

On day 5 of the BioPark Public Inquiry Tony Skottowe gave evidence on the experience of living in WGC. He introduced himself to the Inquiry as Chair of the WGC Heritage Trust and a resident of the town for nearly 50 years.

Tony reminded the Inquiry that ultimately this is not about the semantics of planning policy but about a town and its people and the legacy that will be left for future generations.

"A sense of place is difficult to quantify but WGC does have a unique one. The relationship that exists between the Town and its people is not easy to define and has emerged because of the way the town was planned – based on one man’s principles to create a place where all of its residents can experience a sense of health and well-being. De Soissons interpreted Howard’s ideals in a way that was not architecturally brash, overbearing and complicated, but with subtlety and finesse. We may take our surroundings for granted but there is a deep affection for this town amongst its residents. But this sense of place is fragile and can easily be overwhelmed by unsuitable development.

The more you learn about this town and its history, the more you realise its special importance and its seminal place in town planning. From the outset it was carefully planned to a unique design. It didn't just grow haphazardly with bits added on at random. The heartfelt vision of Ebenezer Howard has been brilliantly interpreted by Louis de Soissons. A key factor in this is the landscaping. de Soissons' clever use of trees and green space is unsurpassed in an urban setting. It provides cohesion to the whole town and beautifully illustrates Howard's key principle of the marriage of Town and Country. Each new development adds to the whole. Therefore, each new development does need to embrace the Garden City Principles – the creation of beautiful homes with gardens and landscaping – a placed that is fully integrated and connected to the whole. The alternative would be that new development within the Garden City ignores these principles and the Garden City is gradually eroded and its integrity is undermined.

As Susan Parham has already explained there are only two true garden cities, Letchworth and Welwyn Garden City. Their importance is demonstrated by their being considered for UNESCO World Heritage status. They attract visitors from throughout the world, many of whom have been guided around this town by the WGC Heritage Trust. They come to see and to learn from a unique example of town planning which is still relevant today. We have included letters of support from leading foreign academics in our evidence. Even Stephen Levrant mentioned the effects WGC has had on suburban development.

To repeat the quote in my Proof of Evidence from Ellis and Locke 2020; Howard's ideas are not a hindrance to development but a solution to today's issues.

Surely this heritage is worthy of protection.

Welwyn Garden City was designed with the needs of its community in mind. Not just social activities, which have always been numerous, but health and well-being. In creating this town much emphasis was placed on green open spaces giving its residents room to breathe. This is something still of vital importance to everyone.

Reference has been made during this Inquiry to the East/West divide or ‘the wrong side of the tracks’, as if the town is a thing of two distinct halves. As a resident I can honestly say that since the post war growth throughout the town this so-called division is not a feature. Most residents drive over Hunters Bridge without giving it a thought. Indeed two areas on the East side are now conservation areas.

Broadwater Road has always been accepted by residents as an area for industry with consequently different architecture. The Biopark is not a hated building but has always been accepted by residents as part of the industrial landscape, just like the Shredded Wheat Silos – we understand its function and purpose of providing employment. A residential development is looked at with completely different criteria and is viewed from a different perspective and on the basis of whether it adds or takes away from the garden city ethos of the residential context.
we are not against development on the Biopark site, far from it. We just want to see a development of a size and style that is worthy of our unique garden city.

Finally I think my good friend Malcolm Cowan brought this out in his opening speech;
Local people are appalled by this application and the reason why is simple – they have lived here seeing good design, good architecture and good landscaping every day of the week, whether looking out of their windows, walking or driving down the road or most notably in the town centre – a town renowned worldwide for its forward-looking ethos. All of these aspects are missing from this application."

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BioPark Inquiry Comes To An End

After an at times emotional seven days, the BioPark planning enquiry has now come to an end. We would like to thank all of you who generously donated funds to fight the appeal. Here is a paragraph from the closing statement made to the Inquiry by Rose Grewal on behalf of Keep the G and the WGC Heritage Trust. We love her words and just hope the Inspector takes heed of them.

“The history of WGC and the decisions of key players to enable its creation over a 100 years ago is well documented. The outcome of this inquiry will similarly be a decision that defines the future of WGC – whether it continues to maintain its unique identity, or this is the moment in history when the ideal on which it was based begins to fragment, undermining the status and standing of the whole.”

We now have to wait until September 2022 for the Inspector’s decision. If you missed the proceedings you can still view each day on the Council’s website.

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WGC Vintage Festival 25th June 2022

Keep The G In WGC and the WGC Heritage Trust will be at the Vintage Festival on Saturday 25th June. Our joint stand will be in front of the Howard Centre - we hope you'll come along and say hello!

Currently our Just Giving campaign Save WGC: BioPark Appeal has raised a fantastic £7,243 (60% of the target) so far. If you haven’t got your hands on a Save WGC badge (pictured here) you can get one at the stand for a minimum donation of £3. Don't leave it too late - they all went within two hours at the last event!

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Battle over BioPark Plans

This article is from the front page of the Welwyn Hatfield Times this week (8 June 2022). Keep the G in WGC and the WGC Heritage Trust have raised over £4,270 but more is urgently needed to help save our town from overdevelopment. If you haven't already done so and are able to contribute please donate via our Just Giving page at http://www.savewgc.org/
 
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Save WGC: BioPark Appeal Campaign

The WGC Heritage Trust and Keep The G in WGC's "Save WGC: BioPark Appeal" campaign page is now up on the Just Giving site. Click here to view.

In September 2021 the planning application for the BioPark was rightly rejected by the Council. However an appeal against that decision has been lodged with the Planning Inspectorate and a Planning Inquiry will take place. We must ensure the Planning Inspectorate comes to the same decision as the Council.

The Planning Inquiry will be a formal process with planning barristers, expert witnesses and around 8 days of evidence. Keep the G in WGC and the WGC Heritage Trust have therefore appointed a Planning Consultant to help put forward the best possible case and win.

We really need your help to fight the appeal. If it is successful it will allow the building of up to 9 storey high tower blocks on the site. The funds are needed urgently as the appeal process has already begun.

Please give as generously as you can to help us fight these proposals and safeguard what we love about this town.

Ebenezer Howard said "The people of the Garden City will not for a moment permit the beauty of their city to be destroyed by the process of growth. The town will grow, but it will grow in accordance with a principle which will result in this - that such growth shall not lesson or destroy, but ever add to its social opportunities, to its beauty, to its convenience."

Be part of the fight... You will make a difference! Donate at: https://www.justgiving.com/campaign/Savewgc

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URGENT - Help Save Welwyn Garden City

We need your help to fight the current Bio Park Appeal. If the appeal is successful it will mean the development of up to 10 storey high tower blocks on the site and more could follow, which will destroy the ethos of our town. The appeal process requires the support of professional consultants and witnesses, which costs money. We need to raise £12,000 to pay for this professional support. Please give as generously as you can to help WGC Heritage Trust and Keep the G in WGC fight these proposals and safeguard what we love about this town. The funds are needed urgently as the appeal process has already begun so please help publicise our campaign. You can donate via the Trust's Just Giving page by clicking here!

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Join us on 23rd April 2022

The WGC Heritage Trust is joining with Keep the G in WGC and the WGC Society for a family friendly protest enabling residents to show concerns about Garden City over-development and the council's failure to protect the town. The event will take place on 23rd April 2022 1.45pm - 3.15pm. Starting from The Campus at 1.45pm we will march to Ebenezer Howard's statue and then on to the Howard Centre.

Say no to Concrete City, bring your voices and banners, and try to wear something green!!

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Open letter to Cllr Fiona Thomson

Open letter to Cllr Fiona Thomson

Dear Cllr Thomson,

Your recent utterances on the planning application for the Shredded Wheat North site by The Wheat Quarter have created a mixture of surprise and puzzlement. Certainly, the WGC Heritage Trust was surprised and so I invite you to help us understand what you mean and why you are suggesting the silos should be demolished.

Following the Tesco rejection, the council prepared a design statement (SPD) for the site that laid out its aims as a guide for developers, such as a maximum height for any building of 5 storeys.

Question: Why has this policy been totally ignored? Is there a new SPD and if so, what is it and when was it passed by council?

Some residents might not see the heritage value because the whole site looks dirty and uncared for at present. A condition of the consent granted in 2019 was that the buildings should be cleaned and painted regularly.

Question: Why has the council failed to enforce these conditions as was its duty?

A particular comment from members of the public who are puzzled is why the suggestion has come out of the blue.

Question: Why, at this time, is a very senior member of the Conservative administration and longstanding member for Handside ward, which, with Peartree, is the original town centre, suddenly proposing demolition of the major landmark?

Further bewilderment arises from your timing and choice occasion.

Question: Why was such a major policy change suggested in a Full Council meeting about the District Local Plan? Why was it felt appropriate to do so?

Further uncertainty is about the what Cllr Thomson’s idea actually offers.

Question: Will there be any reduction in tower heights or increase in open spaces? If so how much?

Normally announcements or proposals about planning would be made by the Executive Member responsible.

Question: Why is the proposal to demolish the silos being made by a councillor who is neither the member for the ward in which the silos are, nor the relevant executive member?

The Grade 2 listing covers the entire site. The silos are not listed separately so any request to demolish the silos will need them to be separated. All changes to listing require consent from Historic England.

Question: Have you or anyone else spoken with Historic England about the demolition you are proposing and if not why not?

From our knowledge any request to demolish is likely to take a very long time in view of the number of parties that would have to be consulted, together with all the unsolicited emails that will result, and there is a strong likelihood of rejection at the end.

Yours in anticipation

Tony Skottowe

WGC Heritage Trust

 

SOME FACTS FOR READERS


• The silos and the building are Grade 2 listed which means permission from Historic England must be obtained before any proposal can even be considered.

• Any request to delist the silos will be opposed by a raft of organisations, national, and international, local heritage groups and a significant number of town planners and individuals worldwide.

• The Shredded Wheat factory was synonymous with the town leading to the nickname of ‘The Wheat’ as a destination on the East Coast Mainline.

• The Shredded Wheat Company and its silos have been an essential element in the history of the town since 1926 and, when clean and freshly painted, provide a standout identifier for England’s Second Garden City.

Conclusion

Given all the facts and the questions outlined is this a genuine proposal or just a distraction?

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BioPark planning meeting 9 Sep 2021

This flyer has been issued by the community group Keep the G in WGC in response to the rescheduling of Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council’s planning committee meeting for the BioPark.
 
The meeting of the Council’s Development Management Committee will now take place at 7.30pm on Thursday 9th September 2021 at Campus West Theatre, The Campus, Welwyn Garden City AL8 6BX. It will also be webcast and available to view at https://welhat.public-i.tv/.../webcast_interactive/585853
 
Keep the G in WGC suggest that anyone wishing to show their concerns over this proposed development should meet from 6.30pm at Campus West.
 
Visit: www.KeeptheGinWGC.org.uk to find out more!
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