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!