Category Archives: Land to the north of Forest Drive

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TBAG’S REPORT FROM THE FULL PARISH COUNCIL MEETING 25 JANUARY 2024

Theydon Bois Action Group (TBAG) Committee members attended the Full Parish Council meeting last Thursday, 25 January 2024 and the main interest in doing so was to hear the discussion around the planning decision taken at the Plans East meeting (held in EFDC’s Civic Offices’ Council Chamber) on 17 January for the development of Land at the end of Forest Drive. There was a good turnout of supporters and residents who were also keen to hear why both our District Councillor and County Councillor had not represented residents in person when this landmark planning application was decided.

Unfortunately, District Cllr John Philip, who had been invited to attend the Parish meeting, was not in attendance but instead had, that morning, sent an email to the Chairman of the Parish Council sending his apologies for absence. TBAG have had sight of Cllr Philip’s email (a précis of which was given at the meeting) in which he states that “I had approached the developer early in the process for their first application …”. This was the 2021 application for 28 dwellings that never had a hope of success because the land was then Green Belt. He goes on, “However, as I had met with the developer that alone would have been sufficient in that context to make it necessary, according to the EFDC planning protocol, to declare a prejudicial interest and to leave the meeting and not take any part in the discussion.” How is his approach to the developer of assistance to Theydon Residents if he then cannot represent us at Plans East? Cllr Philip makes it clear that “I am also a friend of Mark Anderson who owns the company putting forward the application. That too would trigger the need to declare an interest and absent myself.” The Chair of the Parish Council meeting, Cllr Gooch, explained that he had checked on that situation and that doesn’t appear to be the case. He confirmed that so long as a Councillor doesn’t actually provide a view of which way they are going to vote, then any Councillor can speak to any developer in the interests of the village. However, Cllr Philip seems to contradict himself when he then says “I make it clear that I have no specific relationship with the development company.” The application merely shows agents as applicants, but the covering letter submitted with the application shows Anderson Group Limited as having commissioned the revised application for 38 dwellings. Cllr Philip concludes by saying “Had there been another application to be heard on Wednesday last, I would of course have been there to declare my interest in this application.” TBAG Committee members who were present at the Plans East meeting noted that Forest Drive was the second application to be heard by Committee that evening. In the event, the first application was not heard because the Plans East Chairman declared it as withdrawn and deferred to a later meeting. But Councillors were only now being told this, so we must assume that Cllr Philip had privileged early information on the withdrawal of that application. Cllr Philip finishes by saying “I realise that being absent did not allow for residents to understand why I could not take part in the discussion due to the constraints of the planning protocol.”  Both TBAG and Cllr Gooch maintain that Cllr Philip would have been able to highlight to the meeting this application’s deviation from adopted policy and its many other shortcomings. Instead, he chose to prioritise attendance at a local Parochial Church Council (PCC) meeting, rather than attending Plans East. TBAG have been reliably informed that Cllr Philip made no presentation or undertook any significant role at that PCC meeting, so his presence appeared not to be a priority. It was asked why Cllr Philip was not in attendance at this Parish Council meeting and County and District Cllr Holly Whitbread later informed us that Cllr Philip is undertaking a course of training on Thursday evenings to become ‘something like a vicar’ but she didn’t know the exact title.

Cllr Whitbread was in attendance at the Parish meeting and said that she had not attended the Plans East meeting due to being “ill … genuinely ill”. We were, therefore, surprised to learn later that Cllr Whitbread spoke at an assembly at Epping Primary School the following morning, Friday 18 January. Commenting on the application, she said that it did sound like there had been a considerable lack of consultation which is unacceptable and that was something that she would have raised if she had been there on the evening. TBAG had circulated an email of the major shortcomings of this application to all Plans East Councillors before the meeting so they should all have been aware that this application was far from satisfactory. Cllr Whitbread then went on to make the point that objectors could have ‘stood-up’ at Plans East and had the matter referred to District Development Management Committee (DDMC), but that they had not. Once again, our information conflicts with this in that District and Parish Cllr for Theydon Bois, Clive Amos, DID stand up, but was told by his colleague Cllr Paul Keska (sitting next to him and also Chairman of DDMC) that he was out of order and could not stand up. The Chair of DDMC seemed to be under the misapprehension that one could only stand up if the decision was to refuse permission and this is wrong. Further, neither the Plans East Chairman, the Democratic Services Officer nor the Planning Officer presenting acknowledged Cllr Amos’ attempt to stand up.

Cllr Whitbread was keen to confirm that she had no personal relationship or friendship connections with the developers and had not “taken any dinners” and she wanted to put that on record in terms of her personal integrity. Cllr Whitbread then went on to make some wider points in defence of the, rushed through, Local Plan and to explain the amount of work that had gone into it, but she didn’t comment on the use of out of date 2014 Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures used to determine the housing numbers in the Local Plan which could have been halved had the more recent 2018 ONS figures been used.

TBAG pointed out that EFDC had also been given a second, golden, opportunity in December 2022 to reduce the housing numbers from 11,400, when Michael Gove MP (Secretary of State for Levelling up, Housing and Communities), with a Government rethink, issued an instruction that Local Authorities who were nearing the end of their work on their new local plans (eg EFDC), would be allowed two more years to reconsider their housing numbers in the light of any local “constraints”. For our District, the acknowledged constraints are that we are 94% Green Belt land and also the detrimental impact that excessive development would have on Epping Forest, Special Area of Conservation (SAC). Unfortunately, EFDC chose to completely ignore this opportunity and the majority party District Councillors unanimously voted through and adopted the new Local Plan on 6 March 2023.

With respect to Epping Forest and the SAC, Theydon Bois Parish Cllr Morris who is also an Epping Forest Verderer pointed out that EFDC are the legal body responsible for compliance with policy and suggested an official review of their actions on this. Cllr Gooch said he would approach EFDC and make enquiries about this point.

Finally, TBAG would appeal to all parties involved in this application to remember that, while it has now been granted, it DOES NOT MEAN IT HAS TO BE BUILT OUT. The developer https://www.landiplomacy.co.uk/ is at liberty to start again with a fresh, more appropriate scheme tailored for the village, only this time with full public consultation and community engagement, ultimately to design a scheme that would integrate well and be welcomed by the village instead of the carbuncle currently proposed. We shall have to wait and see if they are true to the very first statement given on their website: “We believe there is a better way”.

Stop Press: Shortly before publication of this report to Supporters, TBAG attended this week’s Parish Planning meeting where it was decided that, amongst other things, our Parish Council would reconsult with Solve Planning, their professional consultants in this matter, to see if there are any avenues open to them following the decision at Plans East.  Some residents have indicated to TBAG that they would be willing to contribute if there were anything that could be done.  Furthermore, the Parish Council is to consider registering an official complaint to EFDC and, if necessary, follow this up with the Local Government Ombudsman. This is welcome news for the village and we shall continue to report to supporters on developments.

Land at Forest Drive

The development of some two- and three-storey flats and eight houses on land north of Forest Drive was last night confirmed at Plans East by a vote of 8 councillors in favour to 7 against.

This will be the largest single development in the village since Slade End was developed in the early 1980’s and it is destined to become the carbuncle of the village rather than an integrated extension to it. Over intensification of the site and insufficient parking predicts the only integration will be the use of existing streets to park vehicles.

It was openly acknowledged that the scheme was contrary to the Essex Design Guide on Parking Standards which allocates 2 spaces per unit. Instead, the scheme has 2 spaces for each of the 5 link attached houses, 1 one space each for the 3 detached houses and the remaining 18, at least 4 of which are stated to be disabled spaces, are to be shared between the 30 flats.

It is also contrary to several other policies, notably Local Plan Development Management Policy 9, ‘High Quality Design’, which was written to ensure new developments relate positively to their locality, considering building heights and other factors, and integrate well and reflect the existing vernacular so as to blend in with the scene. But no street scene images were ever provided, and this scheme has three-storey flats (plus roofs) at the very edge of settlement on rising ground and adjacent to Green Belt agricultural land. It is a taste of Chelmsford’s design, with its metalled panels, sunken balconies and trendy wood burning stoves with chimneys in 5 of the houses. Oh yes, and that latter point flies in the face of EFDC’s own Climate Emergency declared in 2019 and the subsequent Climate Change Action Plan, June 2023.

But most disappointing to TBAG is the issue of strengthening the northern boundary with the Green Belt. A new bridge is to be ADDED to this boundary for ‘maintenance’ access to the field beyond – who has ever seen a tractor enter this site from Forest Drive? Grass cutters access both fields now across country from the landowner’s farm at Great Gregories. An additional bridge crossing the brook is contrary to Local Plan Site Specific Policy paragraph H.

So why have the controlling Conservative Councillors defied their own adopted policies? Simply for money? Each of the 38 dwellings is worth £10,536 to EFDC, a total of £400,368 just for being built and of course there’s the 38 new sources of Council Tax that will be payable on completion. Housing targets were also an overriding consideration – those over-calculated targets using outdated 2014 government statistics that the council refused to review given a two-year window to do so by Mr Gove in December 2022.

Unfortunately, the officer who wrote the report was not in attendance and the matter was presented by another planning officer. It was also shocking to see that our own District Councillor John Philip (Conservative) was absent from this important meeting, although not entirely surprising when one considers his well-known friendship with the developer for this site, Mark Anderson, with whom he has been friends for “quite a long time”. See here and a further article where such interests were not declared here. Councillor Holly Whitbread, Conservative County Councillor for Theydon Bois, was also missing in action last night. Who are these people working for?

These are the councillors who were responsible for voting this scheme through, despite its clear shortcomings, and don’t forget there will be an election this year:

Councillors For the new development:

I Hadley, Conservative, Moreton & Fyfield

C McCann, Conservative, Lambourne

N Bedford, Conservative, Shelley

R Balcome, Conservative, High Ongar etc.

R Morgan, Conservative, Hastingwood etc.

J McIvor, Conservative, North Weald Bassett

P Keska, Conservative, Chipping Ongar etc.

H Brady, Conservative, Passingford – and if re-elected, shortly to represent Theydon Bois under the new boundaries arrangements.

Councillors Against the new development:

J Whitehouse, Lib. Dem., Epping Hemnall

R Sharif, Lib. Dem. Epping Lindsey etc.

C Amos, Lib. Dem., Theydon Bois

J Whitehouse, Lib. Dem., Epping Hemnall

C McCredie, Independent, Epping Hemnall

B Vaz, Conservative, Chipping Ongar etc.

L Burrows, Conservative, Epping Lindsay/Thornwood

So, we look forward to welcoming the new residents who will not need a lift to access the first and second floor flats, will walk to the centre of the village to use our bus service and tube for their shopping trips, and will cycle to St Margaret’s or Princess Alexandra Hospitals when they have visits to make. What kind of utopia is this we are about to see unfold? And brace yourselves, because having manipulated this council to develop this ex-green-belt field, it’s only a matter of time before the developers – Anderson – will want to get their hands on the next field – via the new bridge of course. TBAG will be fighting a campaign to try and prevent that too.

We were surprised to learn in the run up to this committee meeting just how few village residents were aware of what was going on, from the removal of land from the Green Belt to the proposed scheme, over a period of some 11 years. Please encourage your friends and especially neighbours to sign up for TBAG’s email updates via our website or read our regular article in the Village News to be kept up to date on what’s happening around our village in the Green Belt.

Winter 2023 Update

Local Planning Matters

EPF/0292/21 Land at Forest Drive: Still ‘under consultation’. We note that Essex County Council Highways have submitted a letter which states “Further to the above, and in consultation with the NEPP, it is considered necessary to secure double yellow lines along the northern section of Forest Drive to prevent the development from being blocked, as the existing single yellows will not be sufficient for this purpose.” The impact of this will be that local people who currently park there will be restricted from doing so and could well result in an intensification of parking in Forest Drive and Dukes Avenue to the detriment of existing residents. TBAG still have concerns about the ‘private estate’ nature of the proposal following ECC’s confirmation that the roadway on the site will not be adopted by ECC Highways as a public highway.
EPF/1195/23 Coppice Row Farm, Coppice Row. Proposed detached dwelling. A new application for a four bedroom dwellinghouse with an attached, three bedroom annex. TBAG have made a strong objection to this application located on part of Coppice Farm which is virgin Green Belt and agricultural farmland.
EPF/2728/22 Blunts Farm, Erection of new storage buildings etc: Still ‘under consultation’ and we note no new documents have been added since last August.
EPF/0830/23 and EPF/0831/23 Blunts Farm, two alleged flats: Still ‘under consultation’, with no new documents since August 2023.
EPF/1671/22 New outdoor pool and single storey extension to existing house. This application was again refused and the applicant has appealed to the Planning Inspector. As a ‘householder application’ it is not possible for TBAG to submit further comments to the Planning Inspector.
EPF/2461/22 Mossford Green Nursery, Abridge Road. Demolition of buildings and five new and one replacement dwellings. After refusal by EFDC, the applicant has appealed to the Planning Inspector and TBAG have made further representations to the Planning Inspector against this Green Belt development.
EPF/2518/23 Land at Magnolia House, Abridge Road. Installation of a private Padel Court on virgin Green Belt agricultural land. TBAG has submitted a robust objection.

National Planning Legislation

TBAG are concerned about the Government’s expression of intent to further deregulate the planning regime to enable more permissions for housing development to be granted more speedily. We consider that the problem lies with developers who wish to build slowly in order to drip feed completed development onto the market to keep house prices high and so maximise their profit. This is evidenced by the Local Government Association which has already stated that there are 1.3 million extant planning permissions which have been granted but have not yet been built out. In reality, this amounts to land banking yet developers still want to develop green field and Green Belt sites.

Whenever possible, TBAG responds to Government consultations on planning as we believe influencing national legislation is critical to building a planning system fit for people, the Green Belt, ecology and the climate.

The Government’s new Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill was given Royal Assent on 26 October 2023 and is now the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023. Ostensibly this Bill is about the government’s aims to level up the country, but more than anything it is about planning. We also expect changes to be made to the National Planning Policy Framework once the Government has completed its consultation.

TBAG would like to extend our very warmest wishes for Christmas and the new year to all Theydon Bois residents and especially to our hardworking Committee and loyal supporters. The Committee are very grateful for all the kind expressions of thanks and encouragement which have been emailed to us throughout the year. Merry Christmas and a very happy New Year to one and all.

Summer 2023 Update

A bumper Newsletter this quarter but we make no apologies for its length since some news is just too important not to share. We hope you find our efforts interesting.

Local Planning Matters

TBAG have submitted objections to the following applications on grounds of Green Belt Policies:
EPF/0292/21 Land north of Forest Drive – developers Anderson Design and Build Limited didn’t waste any time resubmitting with 10 MORE dwellings making it 38 and not the previously applied for 28. The Local Plan describes this site as “The limited northern expansion provides a natural extension to the settlement and is the least harmful to the Green Belt.“ (Para 5.111). TBAG objected to the density, design, road safety, damage to trees etc, and addressed TBAG Supporters’ concerns.
EPF/2206/21 Land adjacent to Gun Cottage, Abridge Road application for a crossover was again refused on appeal.
EPF/1671/22 Blunts Farm, Ivy House. Application for a swimming pool and extensions to house. Refused.
EPF/2728/22 Blunts Farm, Demolition of existing structures and erection of new storage buildings and retention of two storage containers. Under consideration.
EPF/0034/23 28 Piercing Hill, demolition and replacement of existing dwelling. Under consideration. The house is one of the original Manor Villas, built between 1870 and 1872, after the coming of the railway to Theydon Bois in 1865.  TBAG objected to the demolition of this historic building, and EFDC’s Heritage & Conservation Officer has also raised an objection with EFDC Planning.
EPF/0830/23 and EPF/0831/23 Blunts Farm. Resubmissions of applications previously adjudicated to be unlawful for two flats. TBAG has asked why enforcement action was not taken and the applicants permitted to resubmit with no new persuasive evidence. We are concerned about the lack of enforcement action at this site over several decades now.

Local Plan

The Local Plan was formally adopted on 6 March 2023 and will impact the district until 2033. TBAG view this Plan as a Developers’ Charter since EFDC was not prepared to lower the housing numbers in line with latest Government Data. Local Conservative Councillors pushed the plan through ignoring Central Government’s recent concession of a two-year extension to local authorities to allow them to reassess their plans in the light of local constraints (in our case 92% Green Belt and Epping Forest Special Area of Conservation). District Councillor John Philip thought two years was insufficient time to reconsider the statistics, and suggested the district would be left wide open to speculative development if we did not adopt the plan there and then. However, the Government’s own National Planning Policy Framework makes it clear that there is ‘no presumption in favour of sustainable development in the Green Belt’. Cllr Philip also suggested that the Planning Inspector “does not favour our District”! When an Independent Councillor asked if Conservative Councillors had a free vote (i.e. not whipped by their political party) the Leader of the Council, Cllr Chris Whitbread, flushed and replied “No comment”. The Conservative Councillors en-bloc chose to robustly support the plan and voted for it to become our new adopted local plan.
Conservatives have claimed for years that they will “Protect our precious green belt land” and that the “green belt is absolutely sacrosanct” etc and TBAG has reported on these agreeable points of view. But at the same time, there was a top-down edict of housing numbers to be achieved. However, in the final throes of our own Local Plan, Central Government finally recognised constraints such as Green Belt and the Epping Forest Special Area of Conservation and gave a two year allowance beyond the deadline for completion of local plans in which local authorities could review their housing numbers and adjust their plans accordingly.
The Vision for Theydon Bois is stated in this Local Plan to be that “Theydon Bois will continue to maintain its local feel and character and preserve its rural setting, adjacent to the Epping Forest, whilst providing a mix of housing, key local services and high quality independent retail. Theydon Bois will also enhance its leisure facilities and social infrastructure to support existing and future residents.”

The local plan recognises that “Theydon Bois is a village with a strong rural feel” (Para 5.107) and that “The Green Belt plays an important role in maintaining separation and reducing coalescence between neighbouring settlements, most notably Theydon Bois, Waltham Abbey and North Weald Bassett.” (Para 5.8). And when considering Loughton, “Future development should maintain separation from neighbouring Theydon Bois, Buckhurst Hill and Chigwell.” (Vision for Loughton). Para 5.114 states “There are no allocations for traveller accommodation in Theydon Bois.” We have of course had some experience of travellers and it wasn’t all positive; in fact it was far from positive.

Para 5.110 confirms the allocation of “approximately 57 homes” to be built in our village, a figure which is too vague to TBAG’s thinking and we expect this to be increased as greedy developers move in. TBAG also wonders if this number takes into account the number of in-fill new homes, including conversions into flats, which have taken place since 2011, the start date of the Plan. This number was “informed by the aspiration of Theydon Bois to maintain its local feel and character” (Para 5.110).

How much more of our Green Belt is to be sacrificed to the developers in the next local plan in 2033? Any more will result in a detrimental effect on the character of our environment in Theydon Bois. Are we to evolve and merge like Debden or Loughton or remain a true village (i.e. less than 7,500 residents)? The Local Plan already designates Theydon Bois as a “Large Village” (Table 5.1) and it is highly unlikely that the numbers of residents are ever going to fall.

And talking of the local plan, a local news stream recently published on its website the following article: “Just how many new homes will be built in the district?”. It examines the interpretation of the word ‘approximately’ which is a definition included in the local plan for housing allocation numbers. One example cited is at the former school site in St John’s Road, Epping where the local plan states this site could accommodate “approximately 34 homes”. However, EFDC have granted Qualis, its own wholly-owned development arm, planning permission for 184 apartments and the conversion of a building into two cottages! See the article in full here.

TBAG have also heard reports regarding the South Epping Masterplan site (Ivy Chimneys), where the Submission Version Local Plan put forward by EFDC originally proposed 900 new homes. The Planning Inspector at the Examination in Public reduced this number to approximately 450 new homes, and we now understand that developers are looking to increase this number and make 450 new homes a MINIMUM number and not an approximate number.

New planning applications submitted following adoption of the Local Plan 2033 have raised serious concerns within TBAG on the efficacy of the Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA) included within it. The new applications are putting the HRA to the test but it appears that EFDC are looking to fudge the HRA, its spirit and intention, and allow an excessive number of new dwellings within the 200m zone of protection for the Epping Forest Special Area of Conservation (SAC). The Submission Version Local plan originally called for a protection zone of several kilometres between development and the forest with respect to increased atmospheric pollution and recreational pressure on the forest. We will be relying on the City of London Corporation to object to those applications which put Epping Forest under threat. No amount of cash changing hands can protect our forest from the resultant pollution from inappropriate development.

Epping Forest Clean Air Zone coming?

Events surrounding the London Ultra Low Emission Zone (‘ULEZ’) will, TBAG believe, have a direct effect on whether we will see a Clean Air Zone (CAZ) in Epping Forest. In February it was reported in our local press that Epping Forest MP, Dame Eleanor Laing, has added her name to a letter to the Conservative Party Chairman, Greg Hans MP, raising concerns over the proposed introduction of the London ULEZ which is scheduled to come into effect on 29 August this year and which will stretch out from London to the borders of Epping Forest. The letter has been written by David Simmonds MP (Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner). TBAG hopes that Dame Eleanor will show a similar level of concern and lend her support to residents’ objections should her own District Council seek to introduce a CAZ through Epping Forest, which would be an easy revenue raiser for the Council at £12.50 per day, as is proposed for the ULEZ scheme, but will negatively impact on residents. TBAG have not seen the whole letter, but published quotes indicate that “While hurting our constituents, the ULEZ expansion will have a negligible effect on air quality, according to the Mayor’s own independent impact assessment.” It is likely that rat runs would establish as vehicles attempt to avoid the ULEZ by driving through Epping Forest District. The other trend of 20mph speed limits in built-up and residential areas also adds to poor air quality as modern motors are not as efficient at that speed and burn more fuel for a longer time than when travelling at 30mph. 20mph does of course contribute to safer roads. If one doesn’t get you, the other will …

EFDC makes changes to licensing consultation

Another recent move by EFDC to save money is its decision to cease consulting with residents and businesses when an application for a licence or other licensing conditions is received. EFDC claim consulting with nearby residents “… places an unnecessary and administrative burden on the district council …”. They also claim it is “inconsistent with other local authorities both locally and nationally who follow the statutory consultation only.” So, if you live near a premises which might apply for a licence or other licensing conditions you will no longer be notified of the applications. This policy change was effective from 1 June 2023. Previously, EFDC notified residents and businesses within 150 metres of the application premises and has said that it was not “legally required” to do so. The Licensing Act 2003 requires applications to be displayed at the premises and in a local newspaper and statutory consultees e.g. the police, fire, planning and public health authorities must be consulted. Our Parish Council will continue to be notified and applications should appear on the Weekly List too but residents will be reliant on the PC to decide if wider consultation is thought necessary and to action wider consultation through its own methods.

Support Theydon Bois Dark Sky Policy

Loughton Astronomical Society (LAS) are the village’s most vociferous group when it comes to protecting our Dark Sky Policy. We have been notified by LAS that there is a petition to protect dark skies nationwide, including Theydon Bois, and you may wish to support this. See https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/632558.

Thank you for reading to the end! Your support is greatly appreciated.