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Winter 2021 Update

Local Planning Matters

Former Old Foresters

In the early hours of 24 November 2021, after over 22 weeks on the site, all the travellers vacated the site, rather suddenly and after matters unknown which involved an armed police response.  This is good news for those residents that were suffering the noise and smells emanating from this site.

There are currently two Enforcement Notices extant on this site:  One for the two unlawful containers taken by 3Food4U which has been appealed and is already three months into its approximately 6 month expected timeframe for a decision to be taken, and one served on the land operators, the details of which EFDC are being shy about sharing.  We might speculate it is at least partly for the unlawful hard surface and bunding that has been laid beyond the existing concrete base and hopefully to remove the detritus that has been left by the travellers but until EFDC are willing to share a copy of the Notice, we won’t know.

We understand that huge piles of domestic waste including plastic, a mattress and pieces of wood have accumulated on the site and on 17 November a large bonfire was started with exploding cannisters and billowing black toxic smoke.  We understand Environmental Health at EFDC was alerted and attended.

While the travellers were on the site, one supporter wrote to TBAG saying: “An everyday nightmare of noise from humans, dogs and generators intertwined with the animal cruelty being carried out and the uncertainty of how long we will have to endure all of this is having a significant impact on our mental health and wellbeing. Another worry is the ever-increasing mountains of human waste and other garbage piled up around the site and visible to anyone walking in the vicinity which is attracting vermin as well as being an environmental blight on the landscape that will take a considerable amount of time to clean up to get it back to its original state, when and if the travellers do eventually leave. Yet despite all this our impotent elected leaders, sitting comfortably in their ivory towers, are completely ignoring their constituents’ concerns. Their public silence on all of this has been utterly deafening! Shame on them!”

Blunts Farm Barns

TBAG have raised a strong objection to EPF/2402/21, an application intended to legitimise the current unlawful use of the agricultural barns for commercial storage and distribution.

Following our request to EFDC for a copy of all current Enforcement Notices applicable to this site, we were astounded to learn that there are all of NONE as at 9 November 2021 and that there have been none issued since 2001 – a period of some 20 years!  This surely cannot be correct since TBAG are aware of several planning contraventions on the Green Belt site including a residential mobile home being used 24/7, the letting of agricultural barns for commercial and industrial activities, and the placement of two huge containers, to name but three, and we are aware that an Enforcement Officer has attended the site on more than one occasion recently.  TBAG have queried this position and await a response from EFDC.  This follows a long history of well documented serious planning abuses notably, but not limited to, a cannabis factory and a vehicle ‘chop-shop’ (which dismantled stolen vehicles) in the barns, both of which were raided by police, and historically the dumping and dangerous pits that were excavated, the spreading of sewerage sand and the motocross activities on land that should have been developed as a golf course.

1 Theydon Hall Cottages

EPF/2566/21 for ‘Application for a lawful development certificate for (existing) confirmation that the last lawful use of the land to the rear of Theydon Hall Cottages is residential garden land’.  TBAG adhere to the view that this land is now, and only ever has been, green belt agricultural land and have objected to this application.

EPF/2681/21 for ‘Retention of an existing cesspit, landscaping works including a bund & a wall within residential garden land to the rear at Theydon Hall Cottages, also retention of permeable hard surfacing and storage of a mobile home within the immediate residential curtilage of No 1 Theydon Hall Cottages.’  This is a retrospective application as the works have already been carried out.  Again, TBAG consider this land to be green belt and therefore these developments, in the absence of very special circumstances, are inappropriate and we will be objecting to this application.

Arnolds Farm, Abridge

EPF/2670/21 While this site is not in our parish, the effect on our village roads from heavy plant carrying spoil and passing through would be immense.  TBAG therefore made a strong objection to this proposal for a waste recycling facility to recycle hardcore etc.  We note that several local parish councils have objected already but not the parish in which the site lies which raises an eyebrow about the priorities of Lambourne Parish Council.

5G Mast, Orchard Drive

TBAG made a Freedom of Information (FoI) request to obtain a copy of the permit that should have been issued by Essex County Council (ECC) for the installation of a dry liner box in connection with the proposed mast and before the planning application had been decided.  The response from ECC was that there was no permit.  So, the works to install the box were apparently unlawful and this was reported to Highways at ECC.  However, ECC then responded that indeed there WAS a permit, issued to T-Mobile Ericsson on 24 July 2021 with no explanation as to why it was not produced under the FoI request.  It does not instil much faith in our County Council when one cannot trust the result of a simple FoI request.  Discovery of the permit does seem rather ‘convenient’.  Readers will recall that this application was refused following over 160 objections including one from TBAG.  We understand that T-Mobile Ericsson will not be required to remove the dry liner box.

The Local Plan and the impact on Epping Forest

The Main Modification’s Consultation was formally responded to by TBAG, and we also contacted the Inspector with our concerns about EFDC’s surprise announcement that 300 word summaries of all submissions would be made by EFDC officers and submitted to the Inspector.  We have raised a Freedom of Information request with EFDC to determine whether or not this ‘summarisation’ was actually requested by the Planning Inspector or simply instituted by EFDC.  TBAG take the view that, whatever the origin of this requirement for summarisation, it should have been published before the consultation started back in July (and which finished in September 2021) to enable responders to write their own 300 word summaries.  The FoI requests were made on 7 October and 2 November 2021 but as yet, no meaningful information has been forthcoming from EFDC.

TBAG remains concerned that the excessive number of 11,400 dwellings proposed by EFDC will impact detrimentally on the integrity of Epping Forest Special Area of Conservation (SAC) which is nationally and internationally recognised.  We do not feel that EFDC have taken into account the constraints within the district of the Forest and the fact that the district is 92.4% Green Belt land.  Epping Forest SAC would suffer further damage from the atmospheric pollution caused by excessive housing development and associated vehicle movements and visitors.  One of EFDC’s mitigations to this would be the introduction of a Clean Air Zone (CAZ) on Forest roads with residents required to pay to use them.  The proposed implementation date for this is 2025.  The likely cost to the motorist could be at least £12.50 per day which is what TfL are charging to use their latest Ultra Low Emission Zone in London.

If EFDC are so determined to improve air quality for Epping Forest SAC, why did they give a recommendation to ‘Grant’ planning permission for the proposed Next Warehouse and Distribution Centre to be situated near Junction 26 of the M25 motorway and only 600 metres from the western edge of Epping Forest?  This development would generate at least 1000 vehicle movements a day with around half of them being HGVs.  Fortunately, Councillors at the subsequent EFDC Full Council meeting voted to refuse this intensive development and on 2 December 2021 EFDC held a further closed full extraordinary meeting allegedly to consider their position in the event that Next bring an appeal to the decision.  TBAG are concerned that EFDC’s and some Councillors’ motives may be simply financial to secure income from the substantial commercial rates that would be payable from such a development and have no regard for the Forest.  Is it similarly the reward of income from domestic rates that drives EFDC to adhere doggedly to the out-of-date housing number of 11,400, when the latest Government data from the Office for National Statistics shows that there has been a reduction in housing need of more than one half for Epping Forest District?

Generally

TBAG have been despairing of our local authority of late.  In the past twelve months, two of our Strong Objection letters were ‘mislaid’ in the EFDC planning system and not included in the respective Officer’s Report.  While this did not affect the outcomes, which were that in each case the Officer refused the applications, it is of concern to TBAG that this could happen at all and TBAG wonder how many other letters of comment from third parties have also gone astray?  Having drawn this to the attention of EFDC, we received an apology and were told by the Planning Applications and Appeals Manager – Development Management, that EFDC are having a new ‘back office’ system installed which will automate much of the work dealing with responses.  We wish EFDC luck with this new system and sincerely hope it does automatically what employees have failed to do!

We would like to wish the warmest Season’s greetings to all our supporters and to wish you all a healthy and happy New Year.

Autumn 2021 Update

Local Planning Matters

Whilst Theydon Bois Action Group’s (TBAG) primary ‘Mission Statement’ is the protection of our precious Green Belt, we will also raise objections to any planning applications that we consider would be detrimental to the village and/or its residents and could create an undesirable precedent for similar developments in the future. We take the view that telecommunication masts fall within this ‘category’ and previously made a successful objection to a proposed telecoms mast in the green verge at the junction of Station Approach and Slade End, back in 2012.

Proposal for a Telecoms Mast in Orchard Drive:-

TBAG have made a very strong objection to this application which, if successful, would result in a 15 metre high telecoms mast and associated cabinets, being placed in the pavement outside of Theydon Bois Primary School and in front of the caretakers house. We consider that the proposal is fundamentally flawed and possibly made as a ‘chancers’ application. The Vice Chair of TBAG spoke strongly against this proposal at our Parish Council Planning Committee Meeting which was well attended by concerned residents. TBAG subsequently emailed our supporters to encourage them to send their objections to Epping Forest District Council (EFDC).

Proposal to develop 28 new homes on Green Belt land to the North of Forest Drive:-

It is unlikely that any decision will be made in the near future. In addition to objections from TBAG, the Parish Council, Rural Preservation Society and residents, there have been a number of objections from County and District Council consultees due to concerns regarding trees and landscape protection, design and layout, drainage, noise levels etc.

The Former Old Foresters Sports Ground:-

TBAG have registered three complaints with EFDC Planning Enforcement relating to this site which is in the Green Belt. The complaints relate to:- (i) The unlawful placement of two containers for the storage of food, (ii) The continued presence of Travellers on the site, and (iii) The unlawful works being carried out to increase the area of hard standing on the site. EFDC issued an Enforcement Notice to have the two containers removed, but the site operator has since appealed to the Planning Inspector, who will carry out a site visit prior to making a decision on the case. TBAG wrote to the Planning Inspector with detailed objections. However, we understand that the containers were subsequently broken into and now remain empty. It is not known whether or not the site owner has given permission for the travellers to stay on the site!

TBAG have been and will continue to monitor the situation and will mailshot supporters when any action is required.  If not already signed up, you can do so here.

EFDC’s Emerging Local Plan to build 11,400 homes in our District, mostly on Green Belt land

TBAG has already stated its grave concerns about the unnecessarily high number of homes put forward by EFDC, against the latest Government data showing that only half are actually required. We also take issue with our locally elected representatives who, in the main, seem to be content to follow EFDC and Central Government policy to build its way out of the recession, rather than listening to residents! We are also concerned about the detrimental impact that the proposed development will have on Epping Forest, especially in terms of atmospheric pollution and air quality.

The Main Modifications (MM’s) put forward by the Inspector to EFDC’s Draft Local Plan, are now out for consultation, prior to the Inspector deciding whether or not the Local Plan is found to be sound. However, it has recently been announced that the Inspector will be on maternity leave, commencing early in November and an ‘understudy’ Inspector has been appointed.

Orchard Drive Telephone Mast

EPF/2151/21 Application to determine if Prior Approval is required for a proposed 15m Phase 8 Monopole C/W wraparound Cabinet at base and associated ancillary works.

Location: The highway outside Theydon Bois Primary School, Orchard Drive, Theydon Bois

In a departure from our usual remit of protecting the Green Belt around Theydon Bois, TBAG have submitted a robust objection to the above planning application. The closing date for comments is 1 September 2021 (next Wednesday) and comments can be made here or by email to appcomment@eppingforestdc.gov.uk  quoting ‘Planning Application: EPF/2151/21 – Orchard Drive, Theydon Bois CM16 7DH’ in the email subject header.

This application is very similar to EPF/982/12 for determination as to whether prior approval was required for a 12.5m Vodafone/O2 monopole with antennae on the corner of Slade End and Station Approach in 2012. TBAG also strongly objected to this application and the Planning Officer decided prior approval WAS required and it was REFUSED. TBAG have expressed our expectation that EFDC Planning Officers are consistent in their determination of this current application.

Our Parish Council have helpfully given guidance on planning issues that may be cited as part of your own comments, but you are advised to put these suggestions into your own words as unique comments will carry more weight than many copied ones. The Parish Council’s comments are here. Please also note that any concerns over the health implications of this installation are not planning considerations and will carry no weight in determination of this application.

Spring 2021 Update

LOCAL PLAN: EFDC continues to push through its emerging Local Plan for 11,400 homes, with the majority to be built on Green Belt land in this District, despite the latest Government figures demonstrating that around half this number is actually required (see our February newsletter for details). The impact on existing local community infrastructure (doctors, schools etc) is simply unsustainable

In TBAG’s opinion if EFDC do not want to have their Local Plan to be found unsound, they need to reduce their housing numbers in line with the latest Government household projections for Epping Forest District and remove all polluting development sites closest to Epping Forest.

FAKE NEWS: It is absolutely FAKE NEWS to claim that if our local plan is not found to be sound, the Government will impose 21,000 new homes on our District under the Government’s latest Standard Housing Needs Formula (the Algorithm), instead of the already unnecessarily high number of 11,400. The Government Planning Inspector has already expressed concern that this number is TOO HIGH and would detrimentally impact the Forest (and no doubt residents) and has already rejected a push from Developers at the Examination in Public to increase the 11,400 to 12,500. This fake news amounts to pure scare tactics to attempt to silence those interested parties who actually want the numbers justly reduced in order to preserve the environmental integrity of Epping Forest, in line with the concerns expressed by the Inspector. It is quite clear that if the Inspector is already unhappy with the impact of 11,400 new homes on the integrity of Epping Forest, she (or any other Inspector) could hardly condone any increase in numbers.

CAZ: Last February EFDC tried to placate the Inspector’s concerns regarding atmospheric pollution by voting in a proposal for a Clean Air Zone (CAZ) designed to charge motorists using Forest roads. Since our last newsletter, TBAG have heard from a considerable number of concerned supporters about this disastrous proposal. When it is introduced by EFDC, TBAG anticipate that this scheme will merely push LOCAL TRAFFIC from Forest roads onto those roads which skirt around the Forest, including roads through Theydon Bois. This will in turn cause congestion on those roads while the chargeable roads are left free for HGVs and commercial vehicle operators that can afford to pass on the cost of using them to their end customers. As a result, slow moving traffic and the greater increase in numbers will only INCREASE the pollution on non-toll roads in residential and Green Belt areas, thus causing a ring of pollution around the Forest. What with the anticipated increase in local pollution from 700 daily HGV movements from the proposed Next warehouse development on Green Belt land in Waltham Abbey, J26 of M25 (if EFDC ultimately grant planning permission), from the M25 and M11 generally, and the ultimate 11,400 new homes, TBAG anticipate that little benefit to the Forest will ultimately result and great detriment to residents will follow. To introduce local vehicle exclusion zones, which for some residents will be simply unaffordable, and yet to STILL build the excessive number of homes planned is pure folly for residents’ wellbeing and futures.

CAR PARKING CHARGES IN THE FOREST: Introduction of charges for car parking in the Forest by the City of London (CoL) doesn’t give people CHOICE; it merely DISCRIMINATES. If the car is so damaging to the Forest; why are CoL encouraging it at all and not deciding to restrict car access? TBAG would rather see the Forest retained as a natural environment which does not accommodate or introduce any more man-made elements regardless of how the ‘times change’ around it (i.e. parking signage, meters, gates, enforcement officers’ cars simply adding to numbers). It is an ancient forest and should look like one; not a budding Center Parcs. How about a useful forest-wide stop-on-demand bus service instead?

GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE STRATEGY: The EFDC Cabinet recently approved this Strategy document, which includes the so-called ‘enhancement’ of the Woodland Trust site between Theydon Bois and Debden (alongside the M11) with better signage and trackways, arguing that residents of the proposed new developments in Theydon Bois, Debden, Loughton and Buckhurst Hill, will visit the 38Ha site INSTEAD of Epping Forest. This outcome is highly unlikely due to the remote location of this Woodland Trust land, its immediate proximity to the M11, its remoteness, and the fact that there is no parking there. TBAG pointed this out to EFDC, in its consultation last year, as did Theydon Bois Parish Council, but these comments were ignored and, incidentally, NOT PUBLISHED. We see this as another attempt by EFDC to try and justify building 11,400 homes in a District which already has huge constraints against development, being over 90% Green Belt and having Epping Forest, which is nationally and internationally recognised as an SAC and SSSI.

THE REAL SITUATION

In 2020, the Government carried out two consultations and TBAG responded to both of them. The first consultation was on the Government’s proposals on “Changes to the current planning system” and included their so-called Standard Method For Assessing Local Housing Need – the Formula or Algorithm. The second consultation was on the Government’s White Paper called “Planning for the Future,” which was strongly debated in parliament following a call for debate by Conservative MP Bob Seely (Isle of Wight), who was supported by some 50+ of his colleagues. In the light of these two consultations and the critical debate in parliament, the Government published its response to the first consultation, which included the proposed changes to the Standard Method For Assessing Local Housing Need. In back tracking, the Government Response made it quite clear that “Within the current planning system the standard method (Algorithm) does not present a ‘target’ in plan-making, but instead provides a starting point for determining the level of need for the area, and it is only after consideration of this, alongside what constraints areas face, such as Green Belt, and the land that is actually available for development, that the decision on how many homes should be planned is made.” In Epping Forest District, we also have the ADDITIONAL, internationally recognised, constraint of the Epping Forest to protect as well.

NO CHALLENGE TO THE LOCAL PLAN HOUSING FIGURES: TBAG remain deeply concerned that our elected representatives, including District Councillors, have not grasped every or indeed any opportunity to challenge EFDC about those constraints but rather to take the softer option of following the Government’s line that development, whether inappropriate in the Green Belt or not, will boost the national economy. The Prime Minister, in PMQ’s on 8 July 2020, announced the Conservative agenda to be “Build, Build, Build for Jobs, Jobs, Jobs“, so are we to expect an ongoing loss of our “precious Green Belt” to developers; land which the Government had also declared to be “absolutely sacrosanct“?

In stark contrast to Epping Forest District, we are aware that elected representatives in Surrey, Sussex and Kent have fought hard to protect their local Green Belt land, along with newer, independent councillors (pledging to protect the Green Belt). The Member of Parliament for Sevenoaks, in Kent, Laura Trott MP (Conservative) has been particularly active in this respect.

TBAG wonder if development of our Green Belt is really all about money. Grants to Local Authorities, like EFDC, from Central Government have been dramatically reduced, often by more than 50%, and so it follows that Local Authorities who allow more development will get more money coming in from the Council Tax. Land owners who have their Green Belt, possibly agricultural, land developed for housing, will make a financial killing, and large development companies will acquire their preferred ‘shovel ready’ sites in their quest for profit margins in excess of 20%. Developers do not want the difficulties of building on previously developed, brown field land, which is often urban and potentially contaminated. During the parliamentary debate in the House, on the ill-fated Government’s White Paper on “Planning for the Future“, which had many dissenting Conservative MPs, Apsana Begum, MP for Poplar and Limehouse (Labour) stated that the Government’s party-political funds had received £11m from property developers, and referred to the White Paper as a “Developers’ Charter”.

THYB.R1, VIRGIN GREEN BELT LAND AT THE END OF FOREST DRIVE EPF/0292/21: Thank you to all those who wrote to TBAG expressing their objection to this planning application. Many residents attended the Parish Planning meeting on 18 March 2021 to make their own views known and the Parish Council made a strong objection to the application. TBAG also submitted a robust letter of strong objection to EFDC and included all the concerns that supporters had expressed. Since the Parish Council objected to the application, it will now likely be pushed up to District Planning Committee for consideration, that is, unless the Planning Officer refuses it first. Another way to make your feelings known about this application is to lobby our Ward Councillors John Philip and Sue Jones at cllr.jphilip@eppingforestdc.gov.uk and cllr.sjones@eppingforestdc.gov.uk respectively and encourage others to do the same. TBAG feel these two Councillors have had and will have the greatest influence on the District Committee concerning this development site and, as our elected representatives, it would be appropriate for them to robustly reflect the views of the residents they represent within their ward. Statutory consultation expires on 5 May, so we should know more after that.

FORMER OLD FORESTERS: The operator of the food bank containers, Pesh Kapasiawala, remains in breach of planning law by not removing the two containers from this green belt site. The EFDC Enforcement Notice that was served is now put on hold because the operator has lodged an appeal with the Planning Inspectorate. We await the outcome of this appeal.