Ministerial statements and a statement by the Mayor of London

18 July 2016, Sajid Javid MP (Conservative) Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, in his first DCLG questions in Parliament said “The green belt is absolutely sacrosanct. We have made that clear: it was in the Conservative party manifesto and that will not change. The green belt remains special. Unless there are very exceptional circumstances, we should not be carrying out any development on it.”
https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2016-07-18/debates/16071818000023/TopicalQuestions#contribution-16071818000174

18 July 2016, Gavin Barwell MP (Conservative) the new Housing and Planning Minister and Minister for London, said most development on the Green Belt is “inappropriate”.
http://www.insidehousing.co.uk/new-dclg-ministers-pledge-to-protect-green-belt/7016128.article.

22 June 2016, Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan (Labour), in a press release affirmed his pledge to protect London’s Green Belt, saying “I am determined to oppose building on the Green Belt, which is now even more important than when it was created.”
https://www.london.gov.uk/press-releases/mayoral/sadiq-khan-pledges-support-for-green-belt

7 June 2016, In a letter sent to all Members of Parliament for English Constituencies and headed “Development on Brownfield and Green Belt land”, the Minister of State for Housing and Planning, Brandon Lewis, MP (Conservative) (“Mr Lewis”) 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 peopleWe have been repeatedly clear thatdemand for housing alone will not change Green Belt boundaries.”
https://static1.squarespace.com/static/50ffc028e4b047a6c79d5ba9/t/575819e6d51cd4ccdac77aaf/1465391590481/National+Planning+Policy+Framework.pdf

11 February 2016, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs and the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Rt Hon Greg Clark MP (Conservative) (“Mr Clark”) and The Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss MP (Conservative) said in a press release on the Rural Planning Review, Call for Evidence that “…we are looking carefully at how our planning reforms can deliver this whilst at the same time ensuring local people have more control over planning and the Green Belt continues to be protected.”
https://www.gov.uk/government/news/boosting-productivity-in-rural-areas.


2 December 2015, Mr Clark, announced “over 66,000 new affordable homes delivered in the last year – the highest annual increase since 1993; and numbers of new affordable and social rented homes up by nearly two-thirds in the last 12 months”.
https://www.gov.uk/government/news/highest-increase-in-affordable-housebuilding-for-22-years

20 November 2015, Mr Clark, Minister for Communities and Local Gov reported“186,000 more homes this year; over 753,000 additional homes since 2010; and highest annual increase in homes since 2008.  So what’s the panic to build on Green Belt.  Only urban sprawl will result from taking a Green Belt boundary here and putting it there.”
https://www.gov.uk/government/news/number-of-new-homes-keeps-rising-highest-annual-increase-since-2008

12 October 2015, David Cameron, Mr Lewis and Mr Clark said in a press release that “the Prime Minister is making crystal clear that he expects all councils to create and deliver local plans – making sure they take action to help reach the government’s ambition of delivering 1 million homes by 2020.”  So it is Government ‘ambition’ that seeks to spoil our Green Belt by pressurising local authorities to deliver local plans which will be passed as deliverable by the Planning Inspectorate, despite the platitudes to protect Green Belts which proceeded this press release.
https://www.gov.uk/government/news/prime-minister-councils-must-deliver-local-plans-for-new-homes-by-2017

31 August 2015  In DCLG document ‘Planning and travellers: proposed changes to planning policy and guidance Consultation response’, it states “Unmet need and personal circumstances, Para 3.23, With specific regard to protecting the Green Belt the Government has decided to amend national policy and Planning Policy for Traveller Sites to make clear that (subject to the best interests of the child) unmet need and personal circumstances are unlikely to clearly outweigh harm to the Green Belt, and any other harm so as to establish very special circumstances. This change applies equally to the settled and traveller communities.”
https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/planning-and-travellers-proposed-changes-to-planning-policy-and-guidance-consultation-response

14 April 2015 Conservative Party Manifesto states that the Party will “…ensure local people have more control over planning and protect the Green Belt.” and “We will protect the Green Belt.  We have safeguarded national Green Belt protection and increased protection of important green spaces.” and that “Our plan of action: We will protect your countryside and Green Belt and urban environment … we will protect the Green Belt …”.
https://www.conservatives.com/manifesto


16 October 2014, Communities Secretary, the Rt Hon Sir Eric Pickles MP (Conservative) (“Mr Pickles”) said in a Coalition Press Release that “… these measures would ensure the green belt could continue to offer a “strong defence against urban sprawl in our towns and cities, …” and “…reaffirms how councils should use their local plan, drawing on protections in the National Planning Policy Framework, to protect the green lungs around towns and cities.”  It also reported that Mr Pickles said “I am crystal clear that the green belt must be protected from development, so it can continue to offer a strong defence against urban sprawl.”
https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-rules-further-strengthen-green-belt-protections

13 October 2014 Mr Pickles, 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 no central diktatsdemanding that councils rip up the green belt.”  And in a press release the same day, Mr Lewis referred to new planning measures that would “…at the same time protect our precious Green Belt.”  And in another press release on this day he stated that new planning measures would include “- automatic planning permission in principle on brownfield sites – to bring forward more land to build new homes quicker, while protecting the green belt …”.
https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/work-of-the-dclg-during-the-conference-recess-2014

6 October 2014 Planning Practice Guidance is published by the Government which states 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”.
http://planningguidance.communities.gov.uk/blog/guidance/housing-and-economic-land-availability-assessment/stage-5-final-evidence-base/#paragraph_034

6 October 2014 Ministerial Statement made by the then Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Mr Pickles, urged 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 to unnecessary development.”  The press release went on to say “…Councils should consider how they will protect and preserve important sites in their area, especially Green Belt sites.
https://www.gov.uk/government/news/councils-must-protect-our-precious-green-belt-land

17 January 2014 Statement made in the House of Commons by Mr Lewis as the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government: “… I also noted the Secretary of State’s [Mr Pickles’] 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. …”.
http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmhansrd/cm140117/wmstext/140117m0001.htm

9 January 2014 Press release from Downing Street, the Prime Minister’s (Rt Hon David Cameron MP (Conservative)) Spokesperson said: the PM thought it was right to protect the Green Belt and development on green belt land was at record low levels. The government was putting local communities at the heart of planning decisions through Local Plans.”
https://www.gov.uk/government/news/press-briefing-morning-9-january-2014


1 July 2013  Ministerial statement, Mr Lewis as Minister of State for Housing and Planning said in the House of Commons that the Coalition Government had “… increased protection of the Green Belt …” and “Having considered recent planning decisions by councils and the Planning Inspectorate, it has become apparent that, in some cases, the green belt is not always being given the sufficient protection that was the explicit policy intent of ministers.”
https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/planning-and-travellers

1 July 2013  The Secretary of State, Mr Pickles, quoted saying “…unmet [housing] 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.“
https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/planning-and-travellers


17 September 2012 Downing Street Press Briefing, Prime Minister’s Spokesperson, when asked if the Green Belt was safe for the time being or until after the party conferences said ”… that the Government encouraged councils to examine flexibilities in the current planning regime.  We had a national planning framework, which had been published recently and there are no plans to change that.
https://www.gov.uk/government/news/number-10-press-briefing-afternoon-17-september-2012

17 August 2012 Coalition Government news article from the DCLG and Communities Minister Andrew Stunell MP (Liberal Democrat) said: The Green Belt provides an important protection against urban sprawl, providing a ‘green lung’ around towns and cities. The Coalition Agreement commits the Government to safeguarding Green Belt and other environmental designations, which they have been in the new National Planning Policy Framework.”
https://www.gov.uk/government/news/response-to-daily-mail-claims-about-the-green-belt

27 March 2012 National Planning Policy Framework published.
https://www.gov.uk/government/news/planning-reforms-will-deliver-local-growth-with-community-support–2


23 November 2011 Coalition Government news article from the DCLG and Mr Clark, a Government spokesman said: We have no plans to change Green Belt protection.  It plays a valuable role in stopping urban sprawl.
https://www.gov.uk/government/news/the-departments-response-on-the-policy-exchange-report-on-building-on-green-belt

15 November 2011 Localism Bill receives Royal Assent.  Alleges giving more power to local people.
http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2011/20/contents

20 October 2011 Government announcement from DCLG and Mr Bob Neill MP (Conservative) reported on plans to abolish regional plans and protect the green belt.  “Pressure to build on the Green Belt is being removed with the revocation of Regional Plans according to environmental assessments published today.  The Coalition Government is committed, through the Localism Bill now passing through Parliament, to abolishing Regional Plans, which imposed housing targets on local communities and put pressure on councils to cut the Green Belt in 30 towns across the country.”  ‘Notes to editors’ at the end of the announcement stated: “6. The Government is introducing a stronger locally-led planning system, where local communities decide where development goes and receive benefits from that development through the New Homes Bonus and Community Infrastructure Levy.Communities will also have the power to prevent encroachment on the Green Belt and will benefit from a new special protection for green spaces under the Localism Bill.”  And “7. The draft National Planning Policy Framework also safeguards valued, national protection for our countryside including Green Belt, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Sites of Special Scientific Interest to protect them from encroachment.”
https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-moves-ahead-with-plans-to-abolish-regional-plans-and-protect-the-green-belt

28 September 2011  DCLG, The Rt Hon Grant Shapps, MP (Conservative), Minister of State for Housing and Local Government, in a Departmental response to Daily Telegraph story on planning reforms and house prices:  “The Government is maintaining strong protections to safeguard the countryside, gardens, the Green Belt and other valued green spaces, including wildlife sites, from urban sprawl”.
https://www.gov.uk/government/news/departmental-response-to-daily-telegraph-story-on-planning-reforms-and-house-prices

14 September 2011 a spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government (“DCLG”) and Mr Pickles in response to a Daily Telegraph story suggesting that the Green Belt will have ‘no protection’ under the National Planning Policy Framework that The Coalition Government stated its commitment to maintaining national Green Belt protection in its first weeks in the Coalition Agreement. The Green Belt has a valuable role in stopping urban sprawl and providing a green lung around towns and cities and this policy is continued in the new draft national planning policy framework.  “In addition the proposed abolition of the unpopular Regional Strategies, through the Localism Bill, will remove top-down pressure on councils to review the extent of their Green Belt which was likely to effect more than thirty areas across England. Our new draft planning policy on traveller sites explicitly increases protection for the Green Belt and open countryside.”
https://www.gov.uk/government/news/departmental-response-to-the-daily-telegraph-story-on-the-green-belt

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.

Government Consultations

Consultation on defining and managing Starter Homes

PUBLISHED: APRIL 2016, CLOSING DATE FOR RESPONSES: 18 MAY 2016

25 pages with 17 questions.  Downloadable PDF at
https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/510478/Starter_homes_regulations_technical_consultation.pdf.

Rural Planning Consultation

PUBLISHED: FEBRUARY 2016, CLOSING DATE FOR RESPONSES: 21 APRIL 2016

Produced by DCLG and DEFRA seeking views on more changes to planning regime re housing pressures on rural areas.  17 pages.  Residents’ questions at Annex C.  Downloadable PDF at https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/499246/Rural_panning_review_Call_for_Evidence.pdf then complete form at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/RBDXGFD or email responses to RuralPlanningReview@communities.gsi.gov.uk.

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.