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Theydon Bois Action Group (TBAG) was disappointed that new Permitted Development legislation, which the Government brought into effect in April 2014, did not exempt the Green Belt in spite of strong views which were expressed in responses to the Government’s Consultation Document. We were, however, pleased to see a press release and Ministerial Statement in October 2014 from the Secretary of State, Eric Pickles MP, urging Councils to ‘Protect our precious Green Belt land’. We hope that Epping Forest District Council (EFDC) will take this on board in developing the new Local Plan which will determine where, and how many, dwellings are required for the next 20 years. This Ministerial Statement is of particular importance as our District comprises of some 92.4% Green Belt land. We note with interest that Guildford Borough Council in Surrey has announced that it will reassess its Draft Local Plan in the light of the new Government Planning Practice Guidance on the Green Belt. EFDC’s Consultation on the “Preferred Options”, where development could potentially take place, has slipped further and is now scheduled for June to September 2015.
The most serious threat to our Green Belt, and which also has far reaching implications for the future protection of the Green Belt to the east of the village, has been gaining momentum throughout 2014. The first indications of this threat took place back in March 2014 when contractors for Transport for London (TfL) cleared the former allotment site to the east of the tube line of all vegetation. The whole site was effectively razed to the ground, including the destruction of old apple trees which remained from the allotment days. This action on behalf of TfL took place with no warning and no consultation with the Parish Council or villagers. Various spurious explanations were given by TfL before TBAG finally learned that the construction of an 80 space car park was proposed for the site, which TfL claimed they could carry out without planning permission.
TfL claim that they can exercise Permitted Development rights, based on old Victorian railway acts going back to 1845, which they have supported with Advice from their Counsel. TBAG are not convinced of this and engaged our own barrister who has advised that the proposed development of a car park does not constitute Permitted Development and that a full planning application should be requested by Epping Forest District Council as a matter of law. Only with a normal planning application can a full and proper consultation with all interested third parties take place. Under Permitted Development, only limited comments can be made. Matters such as important Local and Government Green Belt Policies and traffic safety/Highways issues cannot be taken into account. Theydon Bois Action Group, our Parish Council and Rural Preservation Society are committed to doing all they can to ensure that TfL should submit a proper planning application. TBAG are currently considering taking further legal action in the form of a Judicial Review should this be necessary.
The Chairpersons of TBAG, Theydon Bois & District Rural Preservation Society and CPRE – Epping Forest Branch met with Eleanor Laing MP recently to discuss the situation and seek her support. Villagers may not be aware that, in 2009, TfL put forward Theydon Bois station car park as a potential site for development as part of the new Local Plan. The existing car park site is brownfield land and we do not know what plans TfL may have in store for this site in the future!
The preparation of the District’s new Local Plan is slowly moving forward but the publication of the Consultation on the ‘Preferred Options’ – where development is likely to take place – is not now due until mid May 2015. Epping Forest District Council is currently considering three main housing target options for the District, which range from between 6,400 and 10,200 new homes being built and which will require the release of Green Belt land. Unfortunately, all Local Authorities have to follow the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework which insists that they must take ‘account of migration’ when assessing housing need.
However, a recent Ministerial statement, on 6th October, from Eric Pickles MP said that ‘Councils must protect our precious Green Belt land’ and also that ‘housing need – including for traveller sites – does not justify the harm done to the green belt by inappropriate development’. Theydon Bois Action Group (TBAG) is not sure whether this is a ‘sea change’ in Government Policy which will now prevent building on Green Belt land or merely an attempt to pass the blame onto Local Authorities. Only time will tell.
On 5th November, the Chairman of TBAG took part in the London Green Belt Council’s launch of the first comprehensive Map of the Metropolitan Green Belt at the House of Commons. It is clear that our concerns regarding pressure for development on our Green Belt land are also shared by all 70 member Constituencies of the London Green Belt Council.
Specific planning applications which affect Theydon Bois:
Sixteen String Jack public house. TBAG, along with many other village groups and individuals, has raised a strong objection to the proposed demolition of the pub to make way for 13 new apartments (EPF/2040/14).
Tennis Club. The other planning item of particular importance to Theydon Bois residents is the Appeal by the Tennis Club to the Planning Inspectorate following the refusal by EFDC to allow flood lighting of one of the courts. TBAG has submitted a further objection against what would be a highly intrusive development on a sensitive Green Belt site, which forms part of the Buxton Trust land.
Blunts Farm. A proposal for a large new agricultural machinery storage building in a small field in Coopersale Lane (EPF/1593/14) was refused by EFDC. The applicant has now submitted an Appeal to the Planning Inspectorate to which TBAG will be making a further representation.
Stable adjacent to 1 Gun Cottage, Abridge Road (EPF/0255/14). Following a refusal by EFDC to convert the stable to a new dwelling, the applicant has now lodged an Appeal with the Planning Inspectorate. TBAG will also submit a further objection to this inappropriate development on a Green Belt site at the rural edge of the village.
This being the centenary of the start of WW1, our Committee felt quite strongly that they would like to lay a wreath at the village war memorial on behalf of TBAG. Had those service personnel, and thousands of servicemen and women since, not given their lives for our freedom, TBAG, if it existed at all, could have very different aims today. We decided not to use ‘fighting funds’ so a collection was made from Committee members for the wreath which was laid by our Vice-Chair.
TBAG extends season’s greetings to all villagers and wishes you all the very best for the New Year.
In our June report we mentioned the promising Ten Minute Rule Bill, which had been raised in the House of Commons by Greg Mulholland MP and had cross party support. He was critical of certain aspects of the National Planning Policy Framework, which appeared to override the Localism Bill and put the wishes of developers over those of local communities, especially with regard to building on green field and Green Belt sites in preference to brownfield sites. Unfortunately the Bill did not receive a second reading because the allotted date of 6th June 2014 was the day of the Normandy D Day celebrations and the House did not sit.
Also of national interest, the Department for Communities and Local Government has just published yet another public consultation document, entitled “Technical Consultation on Planning”, with the stated aim of improving the planning system. The following link gives details of the Consultation:
Theydon Bois Action Group will examine this document and respond as appropriate.
The progress of Epping Forest District Council’s (EFDC) new “Local Plan” seems to be suffering further delays and it is unclear now if the “Preferred Options”, as to where new development could take place within our District, will be announced by the 30th October 2014 as previously stated. From September, a series of Area Based Workshops will be set up so that Councillors can begin to consider the options and implications for their area of the District. The target date for submission of the new District wide Local Plan for examination by the Secretary of State is now scheduled for the autumn of 2016.
Theydon Bois Action Group continues to monitor local planning applications which would have a harmful impact on the Green Belt around our village. We have raised comprehensive objections and made presentations at EFDC Planning Committees where appropriate.
Blunts Farm – EPF/0382/14: Agricultural storage building refused under permitted development but was resubmitted as a full planning application EPF/1193/14. This was also refused due to the harm to the Green Belt which would be caused by its size and location, along with lack of evidence of agricultural need.
EPF/1032/14: Another application for a large agricultural machinery storage building in a small field in Coopersale Lane, was refused under permitted development. This has also been resubmitted as a full planning application, EPF/1593/14, to which TBAG has raised an objection.
Oak Hill Farm – EPF/0670/14: TBAG spoke against this application, for a 1.8 metre high perimeter fencing around the entire Oak Hill Farm site, at Planning East Committee in July, when it was refused. It was then referred to the higher District Development Control Committee meeting on 13th August, when the recommendation from Planning East for ‘refusal’ was rejected by a majority of one vote, in spite of strong representations from TBAG and Councillor Sue Jones. However, the permission for the fencing will include a condition preventing the planting of Laurel (an invasive species) as screening.
Sixteen String Jack Public House: Many of you will have noticed that the pub has closed. The same developers who built apartments on the Railway Arms site have now drawn up plans for apartments on this site but no formal planning application has been submitted to date. Theydon Bois Action Group will carefully consider any proposals but take the view that any development must respect the sensitivity of the site which is bordered by Green Belt land at the rural/settlement edge of the village.
(This update also appeared in the Theydon Bois Village News Issue 86 – JUNE 2014)
The most substantial threat to the Metropolitan Green Belt surrounding our village since its introduction in 1955 continues to be the possibility of development on up to 3 sites at the rural edge of the village. These sites, some put forward by local landowners, have been offered as residential development sites to contribute to the projected 20 year housing supply for the district. You may recall the extensive consultation carried out by EFDC in 2012 to identify specific ‘Issues & Options’ for the emerging Local Plan and the maps showing in red those areas which may be suitable (see EFDC website for Local Plan Consultation Document). As part of the process of considering all the issues and options and results of the consultation, roughly monthly Local Plan Cabinet Meetings were scheduled by EFDC. However, each scheduled meeting since the last in March 2013 has been cancelled. We are therefore unaware of how our Local Plan is progressing. TBAG has written to EFDC to establish the current position and we shall mail supporters once we have news. One thing we have been promised is that an announcement of the ‘preferred option sites’ will be made by 30 October 2014 but how these decisions will be arrived at without sufficient Cabinet meetings is of concern.
TBAG are paying great attention to the ongoing review of national planning legislation as ultimately this filters down to affect planning applications at a local level. Changes to the Government’s General Permitted Development Order were approved on 6 April but notably it made no reference to exempting the Green Belt. Through our membership of NORA and the LGBC, TBAG have expressed their concerns that the Government appear to be ignoring their promises to protect the Green Belt.
Also of national planning importance was Greg Mulholland MP’s Ten Minute Rule Bill in the House of Commons on 30 April which has cross-party support. See http://www.bbc.co.uk/democracylive/house-of-commons-27222497. Mr Mulholland is rightly critical of some aspects of the NPPF and seeks changes. He explains how the NPPF at present is proving to put the wishes of developers over those of the local communities (fully ignoring ‘Localism’), especially when it comes to building on green field and Green Belt sites in preference to brown field sites. This is the most encouraging thing we have seen or heard for a long while. The proposed bill was voted forward for a second reading on 6th June.
Oak Hill Farm EPF/2659/13: Perimeter fencing including adjacent agricultural field – refused by Planning East. Another similar application EPF/0670/14 submitted to which TBAG have again objected. Recommendations by EFDC for ‘the way forward’ to the original application have not been followed. TBAG’s objection is on grounds of causing harmful impact on the landscape character and openness of the Green Belt.
Tennis Club EPF/2610/13 and EPF/2611/13: To light two tennis courts – withdrawn. Planning East refused the remaining application.
Lilicroft, Abridge Road, EPF/2479/13: Certificate of Lawful Development – objected to on the grounds of it amounting to a new dwelling in the Green Belt without very special circumstances. The application was approved under delegated powers.
Ripley Grange EPF/2036/13: TBAG spoke at the DDCC meeting in February 2014 and the application for an ‘eco’ house was again refused.
Blunts Farm EPF/0382/14: Prior Notification for an Agricultural Building for machinery storage. Refused.
Land adjacent to Gun Cottage EPF/0255/14: Conversion of stable to dwelling – refused by Planning East.
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TBAG are delighted to announce the decision of the Government Planning Inspectorate Inspector, Mr William Fieldhouse, to dismiss the application for the demolition of agricultural buildings and erection of four ‘executive’ dwelling houses on this Metropolitan Green Belt farm site. The Inspector confirmed that the lawful use of the site is agricultural and commented that “it seems clear that the appellant has no intention of using his land for that purpose.” TBAG has been of the same mind for several years now. Read the full Decision here.
Around a dozen TBAG supporters, including three members of the TBAG Committee, attended the Planning Inspectorate’s Appeal hearing for the Blunt’s Farm application to develop the Green Belt farmyard into an enclave of four executive 5 bedroom houses. Also supporting the village in opposition to the development were three representatives from the Theydon Bois & District Rural Preservation Society and one local Councillor. The Appellant, Mark Swan was joined by a team of four professionals, including a QC, to defend their corner. The hearing started at 10am.
TBAG were of course there to defend the Green Belt in Theydon Bois from inappropriate development and all Committee members and some supporters spoke up, often making compelling arguments. The hearing went on until 15:05 when it was adjourned to reconvene at a site meeting on Blunt’s Farm. Three members of the TBAG Committee and one from the Rural Pres were given permission by the landowners to attend the site meeting. From the proposed site it is apparent that the first floors and roof lights of any new dwellings would look clearly over the village and conversely, the village will clearly see the proposed buildings on the horizon, especially at night.
The hearing officially closed at 4:30 and TBAG now await the Inspector’s decision which will be published in around three weeks time.
A second and revised application to replace a farm house and build three new executive size houses on the site of existing agricultural barns at Blunts Farm (EPF/2468/12) was this evening on the Agenda at the Planning East Sub-Committee meeting at Civic Offices in Epping. Surprisingly, the application was recommended for approval by the Planning Case Officer. A planning agent spoke on behalf of the Applicant. There were two speakers in opposition to the application, the Chair of the Theydon Bois Parish Council Planning Committee and a member of the TBAG Committee. Sound and clear arguments were put forward by both objectors to demonstrate how this application was contrary to several paragraphs of planning policy documents both national and local. After due consideration, Councillors unanimously voted to refuse this revised application for a housing development on Metropolitan Green Belt land as being sufficiently contrary to current planning legislation and the inevitable intrusion into the Theydon Bois Dark Sky Policy.
You may this week have received a flyer regarding an ‘alternative option’ (“Option D”) for the EFDC Issues and Options consultation on possible development sites in Theydon Bois parish. It has been designed to give the impression that it has been prepared by Epping Forest District Council but we can confirm that this is not the case. Neither has it been circulated by our Parish Council, The Rural Preservation Society or Theydon Bois Action Group. We therefore conclude that it might have been circulated by the landowner(s).
Theydon Bois Action Group make no comment on the contents of the flyer, other than to state that our objective is, as ever, to protect all Metropolitan Green Belt within the Parish of Theydon Bois from inappropriate development.
As our national planning system undergoes radical amendment, we must all be careful to make sure we understand the implications of any actions we take.
Blunts Farm Estate are being investigated for corporation tax irregularities. The first-tier tribunal transcript is now available here.
The original link is offline due to a libel action: Blunts Farm Estate Ltd v Revenue & Customs  UKFTT 469 (TC) (05 October 2010)