First Draft Watford Local Plan 2020-2036

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Chapter 5: Building a Strong, Competitive Economy

5. 1. Introduction

5. 1. 1. Watford is a regional economic centre, home to the UK headquarters of many well-known companies as well as valuable local businesses. An 18 minute commute to central London means that Watford is strategically placed for business, although it remains a distinct and competitive economic centre in its own right.

5. 1. 2. The planning system can support the growth of Watford's economy by ensuring that the right type of land is available in the right places. The South West Herts Economy Study (2019) has identified a shortage of land for B1c (light industrial), B2 (heavy industrial) and B8 (storage, warehousing and distribution) uses. The policies in this chapter have been designed to protect employment land to address this shortage. They seek to encourage economic growth by supporting increased provision and intensification of employment floor space in Watford.

5. 2. Designated Employment Sites

Why is this policy needed?

5. 2. 1. As the demand for housing grows, so too will the number of jobs required in Watford. However, ambitious goals for economic growth are combined with a limit in land supply. This means that designated employment sites will play an important role in meeting Watford's economic need through the protection and intensification of B class (employment) floor space. Sites within designated employment areas that could be intensified have been identified as part of the Housing and Economic Land Availability Assessment.

5. 2. 2. Recent evidence has shown large scale losses of B class (employment) floor space which, if allowed to continue, would threaten to erode Watford's status as a regional economic centre. In designated employment sites, the loss has not necessarily been to residential uses, but also to other non-B uses such as A (retail) and D (leisure and assembly/non-residential institutions) class uses and Sui Generis (other unclassified uses).

5. 2. 3. Supporting uses can make a valuable contribution to designated employment sites. They can enable single trip journeys and provide a significant number of jobs. For instance, facilities such as nurseries and fitness gyms can complement existing uses by providing facilities that can frequently be used by staff working in the employment areas while also supporting job creation. Residential and retail uses can sometimes be considered supporting uses, when part of mixed use development schemes and where clearly ancillary to the employment use.

5. 2. 4. Non-employment uses that are destinations in their own right and that do no complement existing uses within a designated employment area can undermine its effectiveness and value to the economy. Therefore, such types of development are inappropriate in designated employment sites. 'Destination uses' can be defined as non-B uses which do not support the current employment provision, offer low job densities and often require the use of a car to access them. They generate specific trips to the sites that cannot be combined with other stops as part of a single journey. For example, a destination use cannot be visited as a stop on the way to work.

5. 2. 5. In recent years, there has been an increase in these types of non-B 'destination' uses, such as car sales showrooms and places of worship, which are better suited to other locations. To protect land for job-generating industries from these uses, a policy is required to guide the type of development that would be considered suitable in designated employment areas.

What is the policy intended to do?

5. 2. 6. The policy seeks to strengthen the employment offer that Watford's designated employment sites provide. It is important to protect B class (employment) floor space and support opportunities for intensification. This should help to achieve net increases in floor space to support the delivery of Watford's future economic growth projections.

5. 2. 7. B class uses (employment) are not the only uses capable of generating significant numbers of jobs. A level of flexibility is required to ensure that non-B uses that can demonstrate their potential to generate jobs are also supported. The policy also intends to guide cases in which it would be appropriate to grant permission for non-B uses in designated employment sites.

Policy E5.1 Designated Employment Sites

Designated employment sites are identified on the Policies Map.

Change of uses within B classes will be permitted in designated employment sites. However, proposals that would incur a net loss of B class floor space will be resisted unless:

  • An up to date evidence base demonstrates that the site is no longer required for employment use;
  • Redevelopment will not adversely affect the effectiveness and functionality of the designated site for employment activities; and
  • The proposed use directly supports the main economic function of the site.

Proposals for supporting uses will only be supported where their job generating potential can clearly be demonstrated. This should be assessed on a case by case basis. Proposals for supporting uses must show that the development proposed would not compromise any industrial or other employment activities in the designated site in terms of their continued efficient function, access, service arrangements and operating times.

Proposals where the majority of the floor space is for non-B destination uses will not be supported.

Redevelopment and intensification of sites within designated employment areas will be supported for proposals that result in no net loss of B class floor space.

5. 3. Economic Development Outside of Designated Employment Locations

Why is this policy needed?

5. 3. 1. The Watford Employment Land Review (2019) has shown that losses of B (employment) class floor space have been most prevalent in non-designated employment locations. This has largely been through changes to residential uses through the liberalisation of permitted development rights and other means. These losses now remain in conflict with the need to increase floor space to support Watford's economic growth. Whilst the majority of employment growth is expected to come through the redevelopment and intensification of designated sites, smaller non-designated sites also have the potential to assist in supporting further economic growth.

5. 3. 2. Employment locations outside of designated sites can provide jobs for local people and important support services and facilities for businesses. They can reduce the need to travel by providing direct employment opportunities for the surrounding neighbourhood. Shorter distances to workplaces can enhance the attractiveness of active modes of travel, including walking and cycling.

5. 3. 3. These non-designated sites therefore require greater support and protection to ensure that viable employment sites are not lost to other uses. An over-release of employment land across the borough could have a negative impact on Watford's economy.

What is the policy intended to do?

5. 3. 4. This policy seeks to protect and enhance the employment offer outside of designated employment areas to address recent losses of B (employment) class floor space. However, there should be sufficient flexibility to enable sites that are not performing well as employment land to be considered for alternate uses. Changes in the market may mean that some sites are no longer viable for employment use and either lie vacant, or are better suited for another use. In these circumstances, changes of use should be enabled to ensure that the most effective use of land is being pursued.

5. 3. 5. In the case that proposals for new employment sites are submitted, the policy seeks to support employment development, where appropriate.

Policy E5.2 Economic Development Outside of Designated Employment Locations

Proposals for the development of new non-designated employment sites will be supported. Any proposals for new B class floor space will need to be compatible with the existing uses in the surrounding area and there should be no significant adverse impacts on residential amenity or environmental quality.

The net loss of existing B class employment space outside of designated employment areas will only be permitted where:

  • An up to date evidence base demonstrates that the site is no longer required for employment use; or
  • The property has been vacant for at least 12 months and there is clear marketing evidence to show it cannot be reused or redeveloped for employment use in the medium term; or
  • The job generating potential of the alternative proposed use can clearly be demonstrated; or
  • The proposal achieves clear sustainability objectives, such as the provision of residential development in close proximity to key public transport nodes.

5. 4. Mixed Use Development

Why is this policy needed?

5. 4. 1. There has been a recent trend towards the co-location of uses and mixed use development as a way to intensify land use and to address critical shortages of land for housing and employment. Mixed use development can support more intensive uses of land, as well as having other environmental and social benefits. Locating residential, employment and other uses together can reduce trips by enhancing the possibility of living and working in the same neighbourhood. Mixed uses can also help to create more vibrant, active ground floor frontages for high density residential led developments.

5. 4. 2. The provision of flexible workspaces can be better facilitated through mixed use schemes. This includes live/work units, incubator units, and shared communal office spaces where homeworkers can have access to fast broadband, printing and other office facilities. These spaces are becoming more in demand, particularly as flexible working practices are becoming more common.

5. 4. 3. There has been some mixed use development in Watford between residential and commercial uses but the co-location of residential and light industrial uses is also gaining some traction in urban areas, including in London.

5. 4. 4. As this trend continues to evolve, it is important to encourage mixed use schemes while ensuring that incompatible land uses are not located together. For example, heavy industry would be inappropriate to co-locate with more sensitive land uses, such as housing. In some instances, mitigation will be required to minimise the risk of conflict regarding noise, vibration, safety and security and other amenity issues.

What is the policy intended to do?

5. 4. 5. The policy aims to support mixed use development while ensuring that incompatible land uses are not located together as part of mixed use schemes. The aim is to provide high quality design and amenity for inhabitants of the residential elements of a scheme, while ensuring that any employment activities are not undermined as a result of co-location.

Policy E5.3 Mixed Use Development

Mixed use development will be supported in principle where the development is complementary to employment uses and would not undermine any existing employment function on or adjacent to the site.

Mixed use development proposals which co-locate light industrial, storage or distribution floor space with residential and/or other sensitive uses are required to demonstrate that appropriate design mitigation will be provided in any residential element.

In appropriate locations, proposals for mixed use development within categories A, B1, B8, C1, C3, C4 and D will be supported. Mixed use development proposals where one of the uses falls into the Sui Generis category should be assessed for suitability on a case by case basis.

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