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the enforcement action served on them by EFDC for unlawful encampment and unlawful hardstanding with bunding were withdrawn by the appellant following the departure of the travellers.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laid by the travellers, would be cleared by the end of February 2022 which was the ‘compliance’ date on another, withdrawn enforcement notice.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.
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.
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.
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.