Open Space


10.1 It is vital that open space, which is important in creating a high quality of urban life, is protected from development pressures, which threaten the towns and settlements. Such areas may not necessarily be public nor need to be completely open. The importance of these areas is their undeveloped nature, which provides relief from the built form and assists in retaining a spacious and more open built urban structure. This land can take the form of parks, woodland, playing fields, landscaped and designed spaces and areas of wildlife or nature importance. In addition, it may not necessarily be a single, unbroken space but may be in the form of a series of smaller linked spaces. Furthermore, the size of the space does not necessarily define its importance within the built environment.

10.2 Government guidance, given in PPG17, supports the Council's view that there is a need to protect open space, which contributes to the natural and built heritage of an area, and recommends the inclusion of policies within local plans to achieve this. The guidance also recognises the valuable contribution urban open space makes to the quality of urban life and clarifies that the use of land as open space is of no lesser importance than any other use.

Strategy and Objectives

10.3 The Council recognises the inherent quality of Welwyn Hatfield's open space and the strong traditions of design and master planning which created it. The primary objective must therefore be to protect the essential elements for future generations and improve the quality of those areas in which there is a deficiency. The Council will aim to achieve this through the following strategy:

  1. To identify and protect areas of open land within the towns and specified settlements that make an important contribution to the urban form;

  2. To identify and protect playing pitches within the district, for which there is sufficient demand;

  3. To ensure that new residential developments, over a certain size, will incorporate play space schemes, if the development's impact would create a deficiency in play space provision in the area;

  4. To protect school playing fields from development pressures, and only allow ancillary development which will complement or improve the quality of the existing recreational purposes;

  5. To identify and protect allotments within the towns and specified settlements, unless it can be demonstrated that demand for the site is non-existent or a suitable alternative site can be made available to cope with the demand.


Urban Open Land

10.4 In accordance with PPG17 and Hertfordshire County Council's Structure Plan, Policy 46, areas of urban open land, which are considered to be of such significance that they must not be developed other than for minor ancillary facilities, have been defined in the Council's Open Space Survey and are to be protected from development by Policy OS1. These areas have been identified as performing a key built environment function, in addition to any recreational, ecological, landscape or other amenity they provide, using the following criteria:

  1. The land is vital to the form and character of the built-up areas; or

  2. The land, in whole or part, provides an important visual and physical break within the built up area; or

  3. The land contributes, in whole or part, to any wider green chain or open corridor; or

  4. The land is important or could in future be important, in whole or part as a local amenity in terms of its landscape qualities, its wildlife or ecological value, or its use as an informal space for passive or active recreation; or

  5. The land, in whole or part, is of notable wildlife significance; or

  6. The land is already identified by the County Council as Common Land; or

  7. The land is used as a formal space for active recreation.

Policy OS1 - Urban Open Land

The areas of land listed in Appendix 6 and defined on the Proposals Map are considered vital to the form, character and quality of the built-up areas of the district in terms of the urban open land criteria and are therefore defined as Urban Open Land. Planning permission for development within these areas will not be granted unless it would:

  1. Assist in the maintenance or reinforcement of their function as essential open areas;

  2. Be of a scale which did not compromise the value of the Urban Open Land or use of the open space as defined in terms of its criteria; and

  3. Not result in the loss or reduction in size of any playing pitches, if the open land is used for formal recreation purposes, subject to the consideration set out in Policy OS2.

Playing Pitch Provision

10.5 The District Council recognises the importance of maintaining its current level of outdoor sport provision and would wish to ensure that adequate and affordable provision is made in respect of new development. Standards for outdoor sport and children's play space are currently assessed against the National Playing Fields Association (NPFA) guidelines, which recommend approximately 4 acres of outdoor facilities and 2 acres of children's play space per 1000 population; these are minimum standards. The District Council will also take into account evidence of local demand, accessibility to all user groups and the provision of 'all weather' surfaces that have a greater capacity than traditional turfed pitches. The requirement for outdoor sport provision is independent of the requirements for Open Space provision, although there may be some degree of overlap where provision will not significantly and adversely affect the character of the open space.

10.6 The Council's Leisure Strategy clearly identifies the positive impact that leisure activities can bring to an individual's quality of life and health. However, facilities must be accessible to all, affordable, and environmentally friendly. The Strategy sets out proposals for achieving these objectives.

10.7 In land use terms, the District Plan will seek to protect valuable facilities and ensure that new development makes an appropriate contribution to the provision of new facilities. A review of the Council's Playing Pitch Strategy has been undertaken, which highlights the close balance between playing pitch provision and local demand for facilities. If in exceptional circumstances a playing pitch facility is to be lost and replaced elsewhere, alternative provision must be made available, prior to the commencement of the development that involves the loss of the existing playing pitches. Policy OS2 will ensure this.

Policy OS2 - Playing Pitch Provision

The Council will seek to maintain its current level of playing pitch provision. Proposals involving the loss of any playing pitches will not be granted planning permission unless it can be clearly demonstrated that:

  1. The land does not meet the criteria set out for its designation as an area of Urban Open Land; or

  2. There is no longer a current demand for such a facility or any real prospect of a demand arising within a realistic timescale; or

  3. An alternative facility will be made available of equal or higher standard than the original. Any alternative provision must be made available before the commencement of development which involves the loss of the playing pitches and must be located in an appropriate location.

In areas where there is a lack of playing pitch provision substantial new developments (0.4 hectares and above) will be expected to contribute towards provision of new facilities.

Play Space and Informal Open Space Provision

10.8 The location, content and design of children's play space should be appropriate to the needs of the local population. The NPFA recommends four different types of play space to cater for the needs of children of different ages. They are as follows:

  1. Local Area for Play (LAP)
    Catering for the 4-6 age group, the LAP should ideally be within one minutes' walking time of home, and have an area of around 100 square metres.

  2. Local Equipped Area for Play (LEAP)
    Catering for the 6-8 age group, the Leap should ideally be within five minutes' walking time of home, and have an area of 400 square metres.

  3. Neighbourhood Equipped Area for Play (NEAP)
    Catering for the 8-14 age group, the Neap should ideally be within 15 minutes walking time of home and have an area of 1000 square metres.

  4. Other

In addition to the equipped play areas, consideration should be given to the needs of older children in the design of public play spaces, for instance through the provision of meeting places.

10.9 The Council will monitor the provision of children's play areas. Where standards of provision fall below those set out by the NPFA, and there is an identifiable need for play areas, the Council will seek to identify suitable sites for play area development in consultation with local residents, and then bring forward appropriate sites for implementation.

10.10 The Council will endeavour to ensure that an appropriate amount and type of children's play space is incorporated into substantial new developments (of 0.4 hectares and above) comprising family housing. The Council, in considering planning applications, will determine the most appropriate type of provision for a particular area. For instance, in certain instances the Council may prefer the combined provision of facilities for all age groups, in the interests of good management. The provision will then be made by the developer as part of the housing scheme. However, in areas where a deficiency of play space for older children arises, or a shortfall in outdoor sport facilities, the Council may accept commuted sums from several developers to provide such facilities itself. The Council will also require appropriate sums for the maintenance and upkeep of new play areas, before it will adopt such facilities.

10.11 In addition to formal playing fields and equipped children's play areas, there is a need for informal open space within easy reach of any residential community. This is reflected within the NPFA guidelines. Such spaces can be used for informal team games, children's play, passive recreation and to give a landscaped structure to new development. Such space can be provided in conjunction with playing fields or more formal children's play facilities. It is critical however, that any provision of such open space is easily accessible by pedestrians and cyclists and is designed to be a safe and secure environment for all people using or passing through the open space. Major new residential developments will be expected to provide such open space in line with the overall NPFA guideline figures.

Policy OS3 - Play Space and Informal Open Space Provision in New Residential Development

Substantial new residential development (of 0.4 hectares or above) will be expected to make a contribution to the provision of children's play space and informal open space, where the increased demands generated by the new households cannot be met by current levels of provision. The scale of any contribution will be in line with the number of new households in the development, and the type of facility to be provided will be based on meeting NPFA standards. Where new space is created it must be easily accessible by pedestrians and cyclists, and be designed to be a safe and secure environment for all people using the facility. Contributions will take the form of the direct provision of facilities on site or, where appropriate, the payment of a commuted sum by the developer to facilitate the provision of a facility elsewhere.


10.12 The cultivation of allotments remains important for many people as they form a valuable informal recreational resource, which can have significant health and economic benefits, in particular for low income households. Demand for allotments varies over time, depending on economic trends and fashion, and between sites depending on their proximity to residential areas and the facilities on site. In line with the Leisure Strategy, the Council will seek to maintain an adequate supply of allotment plots within the district to meet current and future demands.

10.13 Occasionally the situation arises where allotments are unused or under-used. However short-term down-turns in demand will not be accepted as justification for the loss of allotment land. In addition, Annex C to PPG3, clearly defines allotments as land which is not 'previously used' and therefore such sites should only be considered for development when all other viable development opportunities have been exhausted. If there is clearly no demand for an allotment site over a long period, alternative open space uses should be investigated in the first instance. In addition, where allotments remain under-used in the long term, it may be appropriate to rationalise the allotment site, in order to free up land for other uses, whilst securing the future of the remaining plots. In the event of the redevelopment proposals, the criteria in paragraph 10.4 should be applied to ensure that recreational, ecological, protected species, landscape or any other amenity are preserved for the benefit of the community.

Policy OS4 - Allotments

Planning permission will not be granted for proposals resulting in the loss of allotments in any area where there is a reasonable expectation of continuing long-term demand. Should any allotment site remain unused or under-used in the long term, alternative open space or community uses should be considered first. Should the land not be required to meet open space needs, disused allotment land will only be considered for development in the context of a full evaluation of development land in the district taking into account its wildlife potential. Where allotment sites are under-used, rationalisation of the sites may be acceptable to secure the long term future of the used plots, provided the Council is satisfied that all reasonable measures have been taken to increase their usage.

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