7. The Private Sector - mid 1980s onwards
By Joan cobern, David Irving, Christine Martindale
Throughout the 1980s the private developments had been relatively small in scale. Ashley Court in Wellfield Road, 26 Elderly Persons flats by Roberts Homes and Shaftesbury Society Housing Trust from 1987, being typical.
In the 1990’s the local education authority, Hertfordshire County Council, began to rationalise school provision. This meant that a number of schools sites were released for private sector housing development. In 1995 the St Audrey’s School site, in Travellers Lane, was redeveloped, followed by the Burleigh School in Wellfield Road. In 2000 the New Town School site off Woods Avenue went the same way and, at the time of writing, Hazel Grove School and the old Howe Dell School site are being redeveloped. Briars Lane School site will also be redeveloped in the near future
The 1990s also saw the rise of the University of Hertfordshire, which expanded its student population substantially, and took over from British Aerospace as the major employer in the town. A significant consequence of the expansion was the conversion of a large number of former family houses into flats in multiple occupation. Meanwhile, other buildings were being adapted. For example, in 1997 Goldings House was converted by Network Housing Association to provide accommodation for 70 young people at a cost of £3,300,000.
At the same time in 1992 British Aerospace (who had succeeded De Havilland) announced that they were closing their factory and the associated airfield. Their withdrawal from the District not only meant that over 5,000 people would lose their jobs, but the site, covering 800 acres, would also become redundant. Immediately Welwyn Hatfield Council began to plan the regeneration of the former British Aerospace site. A Masterplan was drawn up for 1,200 new houses (900 for private sale and 300 for rent) on the 800 acres. The De Havilland Housing partnership was formed consisting of Bryant Homes, Bovis, Aldwyck Housing Association and the Paradigm Housing Group. . The first proposals for the redundant BAe site were to achieve a sustainable, mixed development which included housing and employment so people could both live and work on the same site. Housing at that time was proposed in two main locations, Hatfield Garden Village to the north and in the area adjacent to Ellenbrook in the south. It was intended that a minimum of 900 houses would be built by 2011 but this number was soon increased. There would to be a mix of housing and flats including housing for local needs.
Stage 2 of the master plan was produced in 1999 . Three main areas of housing were now identified, north of Manor Road – 660 flats and houses, north of Ellenbrook 870 flats and houses and next to the district centre 130 flats and houses a total of 1660 dwellings. The housing estates were to be “people friendly ” hopefully reducing the impact of the car. The whole development of the airfield site could take between 10- 15 years to be complete.
First applications to build homes west of Hatfield Garden Village and on the old Smurfit site came from Rialto Homes and McAlpines in 1999. In November 2000 the building of De Havilland Grange began with one third of homes for affordable renting. In February 2003 Salisbury village was officially launched and visited by Lady Salisbury. This scheme was billed as a “ model for the 21st century ” and was being built by Bryant Homes and Bovis Homes. Fred Redwood wrote in the “Sunday Times” 13 April 2003 “ Salisbury Village outside Hatfield may be the shape of things to come. This scheme of 1,000 homes, to be built over five years, goes some way towards matching the deputy Prime Minster’s (John Prescott) vision for “Urban villages”, mixed housing with social infrastructure…..By the time the scheme is completed in 2008, there will be 26 house types in an attempt to create the feel of a naturally evolved settlement. Mark Reeves of Reeves Bailey architects, the designer for Bryant says: “At the centre of the development there will be three-storey terraces on crescent-shaped roads – in the tradition of somewhere like Dorchester. Towards the outskirts, each home will cover a greater surface area. The scheme will meet current planning guidance , with 20 homes an acre at the core and 12 at the margins. Cars will be parked under link archways or at the backs of buildings.””
The fashion in housing was now looking back to older styles such as Georgian, Victorian and vernacular style pseudo country cottages, often lacking distinctive character. The new housing is frequently high and narrow, thus having a smaller footprint for the same amount of living area, cramming in more houses per hectare. Nor is Hatfield Dorchester. The older development in Hatfield New Town had significant amounts of community open space. This is noticeably absent in the new high density estates on the Aerospace site.
As the housing on the Aerodrome site developed, the Council turned its attention to Hatfield Town Centre and, together with developers St. Modwen, drew up proposals for its regeneration, including a substantial amount of housing, both within the centre itself and the streets around it. Most of this housing was of 1 and 2 bed apartments, designed to meet the needs of young people and key workers.
Unfortunately, the global financial recession struck in 2008, and work was suspended. By the end of that year only 84 flats had been built, on the site of the former Forum Theatre. Ironically, in May 2008 the Government announced new housing figures for the period up to 2021, which required the district to increase in size by a further 10,000 houses in that period. In Spring 2009 the Council began its public consultation on where and how those houses are going to be provided. Perhaps a future volume in this series will consider how the town and its people responded to that challenge.