Category Archives: Blunt’s Farm

Spring 2022 Update

Local Planning Matters

To view any of the following applications, go to the Epping Forest District Council Planning Portal and enter the full ‘EPF/xxxx/xx’ number to see the complete proposal including plans and the officer’s report once a determination has been made.

Former Old Foresters

The two planning appeals which were submitted by one of the travellers against the enforcement action served on them by EFDC for unlawful encampment and unlawful hardstanding with bunding were withdrawn by the appellant following the departure of the travellers. However, the appeal concerning the unlawful stationing of two containers ref: 3272761 brought by 3food4u still remains undetermined by the Planning Inspectorate after ten months. Three weeks ago TBAG wrote to the Inspector to ask when a determination is likely to be made but have not yet had a response. However, on 13 February 2022 the burnt-out container, with the exploded cans and food jars, was removed. Sadly, the contents were dumped on the land immediately adjacent and TBAG is concerned about vermin, the danger to wildlife from broken glass and the possibility of contaminated food residues leaching into the water table too. Removal of one container does not affect the appeal.

Initially, the EFDC Officer responsible told TBAG that he had been dealing with an agent on behalf of the land owner who assured him that the land, including the hardstanding laid by the travellers, would be cleared by the end of February 2022 which was the ‘compliance’ date on another, withdrawn enforcement notice. As we write, it seems the agent has not kept his assurance and the site still remains strewn with rubbish after three months. We have again written to the EFDC Officer asking why he has appeared to afford this landowner privileged treatment in light of the previous track record for this site and we are told that “… to take no further enforcement action was at the discretion of the Epping Forest District Council”. Our email may have spurred matters on as we are told that a large skip has been delivered. However, progress on clearing the site of rubbish is painfully slow and the hardstanding remains untouched. TBAG try wherever possible to work with EFDC in order to bring planning rule breakers to account but we don’t feel we are witnessing EFDC using every tool in their box to dissuade this unscrupulous landowner from further breaches.

Blunts Farm

Application EPF/2402/21 for change of use from agricultural barns to B8 storage and associated development was refused on 14 January 2022. This came as no surprise to TBAG since there was a similar application (from agricultural to B1 and B8 use) which was also refused in 2001. TBAG was pleased to see EFDC being consistent with this decision. We understand that several unauthorised businesses and residences at this site are subject to enforcement investigations and TBAG now hopes that EFDC will not hesitate to bring robust enforcement action against those responsible for these planning breaches.

A new application EPF/0958/21 for a single storey swimming pool wing to side and rear of the former Blunts Farmhouse house was submitted and TBAG has raised a very strong objection to this proposal which would not be in keeping with the existing dwelling, highly conspicuous and therefore inappropriate in the green belt.

Another new application EPF/0328/22 to replace an existing dilapidated storage building and extend garden over has been registered but the details provided do not meet the required national or local standard for planning application submissions.  Specifically, there is no plan showing the land ownership so it is impossible to establish what is being proposed and where. TBAG will draw this to the attention of the officer dealing with the matter. Ideally the applicant will be made to re-submit their application to conform with the Regulations and clarify the proposal. This application is also retrospective, as we understand the existing building was replaced some three months ago – without planning permission.

Theydon Hall Cottages

Application EPF/2681/21 for retention of works that are subject to an enforcement notice has been refused. Again, TBAG hopes that Enforcement will ensure this green belt agricultural land is returned to its former condition.

Application EPF/0921/20 ‘certificate of lawful development for (existing) confirmation that the last lawful use of the land to the rear of Theydon Hall Cottages is residential garden land’ has been determined as unlawful.  Again, TBAG hopes that Enforcement will ensure this green belt agricultural land is returned to its former condition.

Grey’s Farm, Green Glade

Application EPF/2796/21 for a proposed front porch canopy, lean to on both sides and an extended rear balcony was submitted in November 2021. This green belt farm location accessed via the Cow Bridge and very close to a public footpath gained permission for a ‘Shepherd’s Cottage’ in 2006 and this definition is significant when considering extensions to it. This current proposal would have been extremely visually intrusive and TBAG raised a strong objection to it. It was refused on 14 January 2022. Subsequently, a revised application EPF/0305/22 has been submitted. Since the proposal is very similar to the previous application, albeit reduced in size, the impact will remain substantial and TBAG has raised a further strong objection. TBAG fails to understand why a utilitarian shepherd’s cottage would require a large first floor balcony and enlarged footprint. This has not been explained in the application.

Arnolds Farm

An application for a waste recycling facility, EPF/2670/21 was objected to by EFDC and subsequently refused by Essex County Council. While not in Theydon Bois parish, TBAG also submitted a strong objection because the knock-on effects of this proposal would have had a huge impact on the number of HGV’s regularly using local and village roads.

Next plc & Trinity Hall

Next and Trinity Hall have submitted an appeal ref 3289760 against the refusal by EFDC Councillors (at a four hour full council meeting) to develop a distribution hub on green belt land north of Dowding Way, Waltham Abbey by junction 26 of the M25 motorway and only 600m to the west of Epping Forest.  Trinity Hall (University of Cambridge) are the landowners. While the retail store is going to be missed in Epping High Street, we do enjoy another retail Next in Epping Forest Shopping Park, Debden but this proposed new development would not be a welcome addition to the district as it will cause atmospheric pollution and damage to Epping Forest Special Area of Conservation (SAC).  TBAG has submitted comments of objection to the Planning Inspector expressing our concerns about the impact on air quality and the detrimental effect on the integrity of Epping Forest SAC, plus the lack of local relevance of this development. This appeal is to be heard at a formal public inquiry on 19 May 2022.

TBAG finds it ironic that EFDC is proposing to introduce a Clean Air Zone (CAZ) along forest roads and charge certain motorists (the ULEZ is £12.50 per day) to drive through them while at the same time its officers were happy to recommend granting planning permission for this current application which will establish 1000 vehicle movement per day with half of these being HGVs.

We understand that the former Bursar of Trinity Hall is now employed by Qualis as a director in no fewer than five of Qualis’ group of companies. Readers may recall that the Qualis companies were established by EFDC as their ‘development of building projects’ and ‘management consultancy’ companies in 2019.

Local Plan

We await with great anticipation the Planning Inspector’s final decision on the soundness or otherwise of EFDC’s new Local Plan to build 11,400 homes in our district. The final report is expected before the end of April 2022, and TBAG will likely send an update to our supporters announcing the much-anticipated decision. If you do not currently receive our Supporter’s emails but would like to, please go here to register your interest.

Some readers may recall the recent unrest concerning the 300 word summaries that EFDC claimed were requested by the Planning Inspector in response to the Main Modification responses. TBAG was so surprised by this last-minute instruction from the Inspector that a Freedom of Information request was submitted to EFDC asking for sight of the Inspector’s request. After an incorrect response, EFDC finally disclosed that it was in fact they themselves that had decided that the responses to questions, concerning whether or not the respondee considered the plan sound or unsound and what might be changed to make it sound, were to be reduced in size to a mere 300 words. They put this suggestion to the Inspector who subsequently agreed, but this is not the same as declaring at the EFDC Liaison Meeting with local parish and town councils that “This is the inspector’s requirement not ours first of all.” and “The summaries have been requested by the Inspector to limit the amount of information coming in to her.” In the event, the Inspector was given access to all the responses in full via the internet, so for EFDC officers to take time to summarise some responses does seem to have been something of a waste of officer time.

National Planning Policy

TBAG understands that the adoption of effective planning regulations starts at Government level and so we try to keep a keen eye on what is being discussed in the House of Commons, the progress of Bills and so on. This has kept us especially busy at a time when reforms to the Planning system are once again being considered by Government and TBAG always tries to contribute, where appropriate, to relevant issues under consideration by responding to consultations.

One such important issue was the proposed changes to our national planning system, announced in a Government White Paper in August 2020 entitled ‘Planning for the Future’. It included measures to silence the voices of local people when considering what developments would be built locally. TBAG are pleased to report that the Government has dramatically reversed its decision, one could say made a ‘U’ turn, to yet again revise what they consider to be an “outdated” planning system and the proposals have now been scrapped.

To put ‘outdated’ into perspective, a brief history of the nation’s planning regime shows that in 1947 a comprehensive system was adopted which looked carefully at all aspects of planning. However, in March 2012 the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) replaced a wide range of these planning policy statements and policy guidance notes which were established and had worked perfectly well since 1947. The new NPPF policies were much diluted, making it easier for developers to obtain permissions, and page upon page of useful planning policies were lost. Historic England commented in 2017, “Many of the issues 1947 solved are now a confused mess like how to deal with strategic housing growth sustainably. Heavily deregulated and underfunded, the notion of public interest planning focused on sustainable development is effectively dead in England.” See the full text here. The NPPF was introduced just 8 years before the White Paper and TBAG hardly think this can constitute ‘outdated’ particularly as parts of the NPPF have already been revised on several occasions.

Crucially, the 2020 White Paper included changes to the standard method for calculating housing need and with this now shelved, it removes the threatened and oft quoted figure of 21,000 homes which would have been imposed on Epping Forest District were the Inspector to find the current draft Local Plan (which proposes an excessive 11,400 homes) unsound. In February 2022, Housing Secretary Michael Gove apparently told backbench Tory MPs that the Government has scrapped plans for a standalone planning bill to deliver many of the planning white paper proposals and will instead “tidy up the planning system” via levelling up legislation. TBAG will continue to watch with keen interest and will respond to the anticipated consultations. Read more on this from the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), or the Countryside Charity as they are now known, whose informative article can be found here.

A speech by Gareth Bacon, MP (Conservative) on 26 January seemed to succinctly sum up issues that Theydon Bois residents and EFDC officers continually struggle with in protecting our green belt. His speech was supported by MPs who also had similar problems in Beckenham, Stoke-on-Trent, Epsom and Ewell, Chelmsford, Guildford and Leatherhead, and apparently there are plenty more areas up and down the country similarly suffering as a result of developers ‘gaming’ the system. As our MP was not in the chair when the speech was delivered, TBAG took the initiative to write to her drawing this speech to her attention in this letter.

TBAG is also aware that the Economic Crime Bill for this legislative session has recently been killed off. This was described as a “foolish” decision by Lord Agnew, Conservative, former Minister of State for the Cabinet Office and HM Treasury as he resigned on 31 January 2022. TBAG has to agree. It is success with economic crime that fuels many of the land purchases whose operators then start abusing the planning system. The current Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Act 2022 applies to overseas entities only.

Failure to take swift action to tighten-up those areas which are wholly in the control of Government, that is, inter alia, Companies House, the Land Registry, the Planning system and economic crimes gives unscrupulous developers the opportunity to hide their identity while exploiting loopholes in the current planning regime. We understand that many developers make significant financial contributions the Government’s party political funds. We await with interest our MP’s reply.

We have not had any news or experience of the new ‘back office system’ that EFDC Planning are allegedly having installed.  We wish them well with it and look forward to it streamlining the planning system for all concerned.

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.

Blunt’s Farm Development – Appeal Dismissed

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.

Blunts Farm Development – Appeal Dismissed

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.

TBAG Fights for Village at Blunts Appeal Hearing

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.