Category Archives: Updates

Autumn 2016 Update

Local Planning Matters – A new planning application (EPF/2000/16) for the development of seven apartments and one cottage has been submitted for the Sixteen String Jack PHsite. Theydon Bois Action Group will give consideration as to whether these new plans overcome the reasons why the Planning Inspector dismissed the earlier appeal.

TBAG has also written objections to a revised application for a replacement dwelling at 26 Piercing Hill (EPF/1548/16) and an application for a detached residential annexe to Theydon Hall Lodge in the Abridge Road (EPF/1464/16), because of their potential impact on the Green Belt.  Although just outside Theydon Bois Parish, we objected to a development of fourteen x 4 bedroom detached houses on the Abridge Golf & Country Club (EPF/0232/16) as this could have set a dangerous precedent for similar Green Belt sites.  District Development Management Committee Councillors supported the Planning Officer’s recommendation and voted to refuse permission.

As part of our aim to protect the Green Belt around Theydon Bois, we have also written objections to two separate applications along the Abridge Road for Certificates of Lawful Development  (CLD) for a change of use of agricultural buildings/land to business storage purposes: EPF/1005/16 – Magnolia House  and EPF/1227/16 – Mossford Green Nursery.  CLDs are often applied for where an unlawful activity has been carried out for a number of years on sites which are secluded and difficult to monitor and have therefore remained undetected by EFDC Enforcement.

Protecting the Green Belt – In June, while EFDC were continuing their work on the new Local Plan, an important and highly relevant letter dated 7 June 2016 (download here) and headed “Development on Brownfield and Green Belt land” was sent from the Minister of State for Housing and Planning (Brandon Lewis) to all Members of Parliament for English Constituencies.  In his letter, the Minister stated that “The Government has put in place the strongest protections for the Green Belt.”…….. “and that Green Belt boundaries should be adjusted only in exceptional circumstances, through the Local Plan process and with the support of local people.  We have been repeatedly clear that demand for housing alone will not change Green Belt boundaries.”

This message is consistent with the statement made in the House of Commons in January 2014 by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Brandon Lewis) “… I also noted the Secretary of State’s policy position that unmet need, whether for traveller sites or for conventional housing, is unlikely to outweigh harm to the green belt and other harm to constitute the “very special circumstances” justifying inappropriate development in the green belt.  The Secretary of State wishes to re-emphasise this policy point to both local planning authorities and planning inspectors as a material consideration in their planning decisions. …”, which statement itself was re-emphasising a similar Ministerial statement made by him in July 2013 “ … The Secretary of State wishes to make clear that, in considering planning applications, although each case will depend on its facts, he considers that the single issue of unmet demand, whether for traveller sites or for conventional housing, is unlikely to outweigh harm to the green belt and other harm to constitute the ‘very special circumstances’ justifying inappropriate development in the green belt.   “.

This message is also consistent with the Ministerial Statement that the then Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Eric Pickles) made on 6th October 2014 urging Councils to “protect our precious Green Belt land” and saying “This Government has been very clear that when planning for new buildings, protecting our precious green belt must be paramount.  Local people don’t want to lose their countryside to urban sprawl, or see the vital green lungs around their towns and cities [fall] to unnecessary development.”  On the same date, new Planning Practice Guidance to this effect was published by the Government stating that Unmet housing need ….is unlikely to outweigh the harm to the Green Belt and other harm to constitute the ‘very special circumstances’ justifying inappropriate development on a site within the Green Belt”

In a statement made on 13 October 2014 by Mr Pickles, he reminded the House of the Government’s intention to protect the Green Belt saying “…housing need does not justify the harm done to the green belt by inappropriate development. … we have been very clear that there is [sic] no central diktats demanding that councils rip up the green belt.”  The Government clearly remains consistent across several years and various Ministers with its stated support for protecting the Green Belt.

TBAG fully endorse all these ministerial statements and look to EFDC and the Planning Policy Portfolio Holder (Theydon Bois District Councillor John Philip) to implement this policy and not weaken protection of the Green Belt in Epping Forest District by unnecessarily changing existing Green Belt boundaries contrary to Minister’s assurances.

This sentiment would appear to be fully supported by our MP, Eleanor Laing.  Following the Epping Society open meeting held on 22 January 2016 entitled ‘The Future of the Green Belt’, Mrs Laing, who spoke at the meeting, issued a press release acknowledging the high priority local residents gave to the Green Belt in our district and stating, inter alia, “For us, here in Epping Forest, we are in the frontline between urban sprawl from London and the rolling Essex countryside beyond. … I know that we can trust our district council to do all that they can with the production of the Local Plan to make sure that our precious Green Belt can be protected. … The best protection that we can have is our Local Plan and that is being produced in consultation with all our residents. … We have a very tough district council who know how important the protection of our Green Belt is.  It (preparing the Local Plan) has to be done carefully, to the letter of the law, otherwise it will be challenged.  With strength and consultation we will succeed.”  She added that the district’s residents had to “stand firm” against Green Belt development.  TBAG feel confident therefore that our MP along with the EFDC Planning Policy Portfolio Holder could again influence EFDC to protect our Green Belt in-line with the Ministers’ statements.

We welcome the Government’s commitment to develop brownfield sites for housing and note that the new London Mayor has pledged to protect the Metropolitan Green Belt.  The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), to which TBAG is affiliated, has stated that there are at present some 200,000 approved planning permissions for new homes in London which are as yet unbuilt and this gives some indication of “Land Banking” by developers.

It is widely accepted that it was Treasury “policy” to build our way out of the recession and developers, in lobbying Government, favour the easy option of building on green field and Green Belt sites rather than brownfield.  It will be interesting to see if the new Government administration  (Chancellor of the Exchequer and Prime Minister) sets out planning policies which actually give greater protection to Green Belts in practice, rather than the previous mixed messages with changes to legislation and the General Permitted Development Order, which have allowed significant developments to take place in Green Belts.

Summer 2016 Update

Local Planning Matters – The Appeal Decision on the Sixteen String Jack proposal for 13 flats,  which was of great interest to many residents, was issued on 22nd March 2016 when we finally learned that the Inspector had dismissed the appeal.   The main reason being due to the harm the development would cause to the character and appearance of the surrounding area due to its bulk, mass, prominent position at the front of the site and almost continuous built frontage across the site, particularly as the site is at the settlement edge of Theydon Bois and adjacent to Green Belt land.  The Inspector also recognised the spacious character of the surrounding area and that the development would be at odds with that and would not ‘respond to local distinctiveness’ as set out in Para 60 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).  This part of the NPPF was raised by TBAG’s Chairman at the Informal Hearing last November.  The Inspector’s decision supported the majority vote to refuse permission taken by District Councillors at Planning East Committee and, in doing so, disagreed with the original recommendation of the Epping Forest District Council (EFDC) Planning Officer to grant planning permission.  TBAG now looks to see a radical redesign of any future proposals for this site, fully taking on board the Planning Inspector’s statements.

The proposal to demolish the Marcris Nursing Home and replace it with a new development of 11 flats has been refused by the planning officer without the need for a District Council Committee decision.  The proposed new ‘Debden Hall’ development, just outside our Parish, was approved by a majority vote at Planning South Committee.  TBAG, in supporting Loughton Town Council, had submitted a comprehensive objection and greatly regret the loss of this tranquil Green Belt woodland site at Debden Green.  We have also raised concerns with EFDC over the destruction of the natural landscape around Blunts Farmhouse, where revised plans have recently been approved which now include a basement.

Protecting the Green Belt – TBAG believes that the main threats to our Green Belt arise from the continual amendments to Government legislation (NPPF and the General Permitted Development Order) which dictate what can be developed and where.  In spite of the Government’s statements about protecting the Green Belt, the changes they have made which are intended to ‘liberalise’ planning legislation (largely to enable more development to take place) have not exempted Green Belt land.  The Chairman of the London Green Belt Council has recently written to the Prime Minister asking why the Government’s stated policy on protecting the Green Belt is not being upheld. (See the TBAG website).  TBAG has responded in depth to two recent Government Consultations with a view to ensuring the protection of the Green Belt in any proposed changes to planning legislation.

The other cause for concern is the rapidly increasing population of London (one million in the last decade) and the subsequent outward pressure for more housing in the Metropolitan Green Belt.  Paragraph 159 of the NPPF states that migration must be taken into account in the development of new local plans.  In this respect, the outcome of the EU Referendum (In or Out) will undoubtedly have an influence on future pressures for building on the Metropolitan Green Belt.

The Green Belt’s function as a ‘Green Lung’ cannot be overlooked and its protection is vital in order to mitigate against the high levels of air pollution in London.

Spring 2016 Update

Protecting the Green Belt

A primary aim of Theydon Bois Action Group (TBAG) is to protect the Green Belt around our village which we know is extremely vulnerable to development because of its attractive, semi-rural nature and proximity to London.

To aid our commitment to this aim, we have been members of the London Green Belt Council (LGBC) for a number of years and our Chairman sits on the Executive Committee which is currently reviewing Green Belt issues affecting the Metropolitan Green Belt.  LGBC fully supports the policy of developing brownfield sites before considering the Green Belt but unfortunately developers often favour green field sites (including the Green Belt) because they are easier and cheaper to develop.  A comprehensive study of brownfield land in London was published in October 2014 by commercial estate agents, Stirling Ackroyd, who estimated that there was sufficient land to build 570,000 new homes in the next 10 years whilst preserving all green spaces in London.  In the same month, the Secretary of State, in defence of the Green Belt, issued a Ministerial Statement that ‘Councils must protect our precious Green Belt land’ and that “Unmet housing need (including for traveller sites) is unlikely to outweigh the harm to the Green Belt and other harm to constitute the “very special circumstances” justifying inappropriate development on a site within the Green Belt.”

Guildford Borough Council, which like Epping Forest District includes a high percentage of Green Belt, responded rapidly to this Ministerial directive by announcing that it would reassess its emerging Local Plan in the light of local opposition to the alteration of Green Belt boundaries and the latest Government guidance by re-evaluating all proposed development sites.  Epping Forest District Council (EFDC) have yet to indicate that they will also adopt the Government’s revised Planning Practice Guidance and restrict development of our ‘Precious Green Belt land’ as they work towards the production of the draft Local Plan.  We would therefore urge our District Councillors to ensure that EFDC Officers take on board the clear policy issued by the Secretary of State.

Other concerns include the ‘land banking’ by some developers who, having gained planning permission for a housing development, do not proceed  until such time as it is more profitable for them to do so.  This, in turn, puts more pressure on developing elsewhere, including the Green Belt.

Local Planning Matters

TBAG has been very busy responding to the usual glut of planning applications which are submitted just before/after the Christmas and New Year holidays and which involve very sensitive, edge of settlement, Green Belt sites.

We also raised an objection to the proposed development of a large new, statement style house in the remains of the Green Belt woodland grounds of Debden Hall.  Although outside of the village, this is important buffer land between Loughton and Theydon Bois which EFDC recognises as a ‘Strategic Green Belt gap’.  Our Chairman spoke against the development at the meeting of the Loughton Town Council planning committee, who unanimously agreed to object to the development.

We still await the Planning Inspector’s decision on the Sixteen String Jack appeal (13 flats) which has undoubtedly been delayed due to consideration of EFDC’s further refusal of the ‘substantially similar scheme’ for 11 flats.

Winter 2015 Update

The summer of 2015 marked the tenth anniversary of the formation of Theydon Bois Action Group, which was originally set up to stop the uncontrolled dumping on Blunts Farm and is well documented on our website. This significant anniversary almost went unnoticed due to the high concentration of TBAG activity over the proposed TfL car park on Green Belt land.

The Appeal relating to the demolition of 47a Theydon Park Road and its replacement with 5 x 2 bedroom flats has been dismissed by the Planning Inspector. In reaching his conclusion, the Inspector acknowledged that the provision of just one parking space per flat was insufficient in this location as he did not consider it to be a ‘main urban area’, even though it was within walking distance of the village centre and station. This welcome decision not only has implications for the rest of Theydon Park Road but also for the parking provision at the more remote Sixteen String Jack site.

Sixteen String Jack. As the Village News goes to print we are awaiting decisions on two different applications for the development of flats on the Sixteen String Jack site, either of which is likely to change the entire character at this end of the village. EPF/2040/14 for 13 flats was recommended for approval by EFDC Planning Officers but refused by Plans East Committee in December 2014. The applicant appealed against the refusal and a Public Hearing was held on 5 November, which was well attended by members of village interest groups, Councillors and residents. The Planning Inspector’s decision is expected in early December. At the Hearing it was encouraging to hear the Planning Inspector state that the decision on 47a Theydon Park Road was a ‘material consideration’ in the Sixteen String Jack Appeal.

A revised application for 11 flats (EPF/1629/15), described as being a ‘substantially similar scheme’ by the developers, was submitted in July. This application, also recommended for approval by EFDC Officers, has had a roller coaster ride through EFDC’s planning committees because of a procedure which allows it to be referred to a higher committee. It was first refused by a clear majority (11 votes to 4) at Planning East Committee in October but subsequently granted at the higher District Development Management Committee when the Chairman used his second ‘casting’ vote, following a split decision. It was then further referred to a meeting of the full Council. EFDC, controversially, scheduled an Extraordinary Council meeting for 23 November before the imminent Appeal Decision Report from the Planning Inspector on the application for13 flats would be available. However, TBAG is pleased to report that, at the Extraordinary meeting, Councillors voted by a clear majority to refuse planning permission for 11 flats. This decision was based on the same sound reasons for refusal made at the earlier Planning East Committee in October.

Other Planning Matters
Permission has been refused for a proposed new dwelling on Green Belt land adjacent to Theydon Hall Lodge, Abridge Road. TBAG is keeping a watching brief on proposed developments at the Marcris Care Home in Coopersale Lane and 26 Piercing Hill because of potential Green Belt implications.

On Remembrance Sunday, our Vice-Chair laid a wreath on behalf of TBAG, the cost of which was again covered by donations from individual Committee members rather than coming from our ‘fighting fund’.

TBAG extends season’s greetings to all villagers and wishes you all the very best for the New Year.

Summer 2015 Update

The single 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 and into 2015. This is the proposed development by TfL of a commuter car park on the eastern side of the railway lines at the bottom of Station Hill. This was first reported in the TBAG March 2015 Village News article and we have been working tirelessly since then on this legally complicated issue.

It started in March 2014 when the former allotment site was completely razed to the ground, without any consultation, including the destruction of mature and unusual apple trees remaining from its allotment days in the early 20th century. Several differing reasons were given by TfL for this action. Local knowledge is that the site has only been used once in living memory as operational land by TfL, for the storage of containers for a short while in 2005/06. TBAG were concerned not only for the future of this site, but the implications for the existing ‘brownfield’ car park which, in 2009, TfL put forward as a potential site for development as part of the new Local Plan. TBAG finally discovered that an 80 space car park was proposed.

TfL claimed they could carry out this development without planning permission by using permitted development rights, but TBAG pointed out that this did not apply as the site was not ‘wholly within the railway station’. TfL then attempted to use old Victorian Railway Acts to authorise permitted development. Again, TBAG pointed out to EFDC that this was also invalid, since alterations were required to the entrance, which had not been declared. TfL were then required to submit an application for ‘prior approval’ to account for the highway alterations and this was finally refused by Area Planning Sub-Committee East on 13 May 2015. At the same Committee, a full planning application by TfL for only the small alterations to the site entrance was approved. It effectively by-passed the previous prior approval refusal.

EFDC have taken legal advice which agrees with TfL’s barrister’s opinion that there are permitted development rights for this type of development on this site. After having undertaken extensive and detailed research, TBAG took the unprecedented step of taking its own Counsel’s advice which confirmed that TfL do not have permitted development rights on this land for car park development and that a full planning application should be submitted as any landowner would be required to do. With opposing Counsels’ opinions, it all boils down to a question of law.

TBAG are naturally keen to see the law upheld and full formal consultation with all interested third parties carried out, but TfL remain unwilling to submit a full planning application and EFDC do not consider it necessary to request it.

With permitted development applications, only limited comments can be made by the public and Council alike and matters such as Local and Government Green Belt Policies and traffic safety/Highways issues cannot be taken into account. The implications on highways considerations alone present important issues of public safety, which our Parish Council has been keen to bring to the attention of EFDC by commissioning a specialist highways report which supports their stance. Apart from the legal correctness of this proposal, it appears to present an accident waiting to happen which all local interest groups take very seriously.

Despite engaging the support of Eleanor Laing MP, TBAG have been unable to convince TfL or EFDC that a full planning application is the legally correct and most honourable and transparent course of action to take.

Therefore, after much consideration, TBAG has now taken a further unprecedented step and on 22 May 2015 issued at court a claim for application for Judicial Review of the decision taken by Epping Forest District Council on 13 May 2015 which effectively endorsed Transport for London’s assertion that a commuter car park could be constructed on Metropolitan Green Belt land in Theydon Bois Parish using permitted development rights. Our application seeks to have EFDC’s decision quashed. This would leave TfL obliged to submit a full planning application if it wished to develop this site.

TBAG’s solicitors have also written to TfL to request confirmation that no work will be commenced on the site pending the conclusion of these proceedings and we await their reply.

Should EFDC overturn their own decision, declaring the permitted development unlawful and requiring TfL to make a full planning application for any development they might wish to undertake on this site, our legal action could be withdrawn.  However, having corresponded with the Planning Officer concerned, EFDC’s Legal Department and District Councillors on this matter for over four months now, we are not hopeful that this will happen.

So the legal process is now underway to have this matter determined once and for all.  TBAG regrets that it has been forced into taking this action but considers it unavoidable if it is to fulfil its objectives as guardians of the Green Belt surrounding our village from inappropriate or unlawful development.

On other matters, many villagers will be aware that TBAG held a ‘sell out’ fundraising evening in the Theydon Bois Balti House on Monday 27th April. It was a resounding success with good company, excellent food and a fun raffle. In all, we raised over £2,000. Our thanks to all of you who came along and to the many supporters who were unable to attend the event but have made generous individual donations to show your support for TBAG and the work we do to protect our cherished village and precious Green Belt surroundings. Donations to our fighting fund are still possible via the Post Office in the village. You may leave your donation in an envelope marked ‘TBAG’ behind the counter and it will be collected by our Treasurer. Your support really does bring home to us that you value what TBAG stands for and our ongoing efforts to protect the village of Theydon Bois.

On the planning front, TBAG, submitted a strong objection, along with many others, to the application for the demolition of a family house at 47A Theydon Park Road which was due to be replaced with a much larger building containing 5 individual apartments. This application if approved would have set a dangerous precedent for similar developments, not just in Theydon Park Road but all over the village, which would have had a detrimental impact on the existing residential character of Theydon Bois. Fortunately, common sense prevailed and the application was refused at Area Planning Sub-Committee East

The Planning Inspector recently dismissed the appeal for a very large agricultural building off Coopersale Lane, adjacent to Blunts Farm. A further application has since been submitted for a smaller building on the same Green Belt site but this has been refused by Epping Forest District Council.

An application for a new dwelling to replace the derelict Blunts Farmhouse has been refused, pending a reduction in size of the proposed residential curtilage (garden area) on this Green Belt site. This was also considered at Committee but a decision has yet to be taken.