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 firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com 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.