TBAG had several supporters and members of its Committee present at both the demonstration outside Civic Offices and at the Extraordinary Meeting of the Council on Monday 6 March 2023. You may view the webcast of the meeting, which is 1 hour and 14 minutes long, here.
It was confirmed that some 1457 acres will be removed from the District’s Green Belt to enable new homes to be built of which 988 acres for garden communities and 321 acres for North Weald Basset, South of Epping and Waltham Abbey North masterplan areas. This is entirely avoidable were EFDC to acknowledge, as Central Government has done, that the Green Belt is a constraint on our ability to build more homes. EFDC also fail summarily to acknowledge that a surfeit of new dwellings over and above what is needed will contribute greatly to the poor air quality of the district not only with emissions from construction but the permanent increase in domestic emissions thereafter. The 11,400 new homes that have been approved in this plan are based on nine-year-old, out of date, Government statistics while only 5,000 homes are actually needed, calculated using latest Government statistics making this Plan a developers’ charter. EFDC have doggedly adhered to these figures and refuse to review the Plan given the opportunity to do so. They appear to take the view that if we charge everyone driving a polluting car through the forest, we can give the money to the trees and this will apparently make it all alright.
There are ‘strategic masterplan sites’ already formulated and indeed, cash strapped EFDC are currently recruiting for Building Services Engineers and a Senior Building Surveyor which might suggest there are a few done deals which were just waiting for the Local Plan to be adopted.
There followed a short debate where only a few Councillors spoke. All the concerns that TBAG have reported on previously were mentioned as well as other issues like older people not being adequately addressed in the Plan, that the infrastructure is not adequate for the amount of proposed housing, and that the impact of it will have a negative effect on the character of existing communities, an admission that doctors are in short supply, and that there was not enough in the Plan on good design.
One Councillor asked if members would say whether there had been a whip of group members to vote for the adoption of the plan or whether Councillors would be free to vote how they wanted. The Conservative group leader was asked for his answer and replied “no comment”. A point of order was then raised by Cllr Philip and the question was not publicly asked, but the Conservative Group Leader, Cllr Whitbread did appear flustered and later made reference to Everything Epping Forest about a ‘leak’ from his private group meeting, but he was not clear on what that leak was. Outside the meeting a Conservative Councillor was asked this question again to which they replied, “No comment”. The question of a whip was not denied by the Conservative Group.
Our own Councillor Clive Amos spoke well and pointed out that the political climate regarding planning had changed from the old top-down approach to Local Authorities now being much more central to the way their plan is devised. He also referred to the letter of 5 December 2022 from Michael Gove, MP, (Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and Minister for Intergovernmental Relations) to all Conservative MPs, which could protect our Green Belt from being built on were the two-year transition period implemented. This point fell on deaf ears.
Our second Councillor John Philip said that technically the last plan expired in 2006, which is not correct as that plan was extended and adopted in 2006. He said that he had met in 2011 with the Government’s Chief Planning Officer who said there is no reason why a local plan cannot be done within 12 months or at a push 18 months, but Cllr Philip went on to say that this plan had taken so long because there had been so much public consultation. Some of this consultation was clearly ignored. Interestingly, he suggested that the Planning Inspectorate in Bristol do not always act in the best interests of this district when considering refused applications and he referred to one application that had not been refused but run out of time for EFDC to decide and was successful on appeal. He agreed that it is not a perfect plan but said that it was as good as we can get. He actually said they had looked at the Green Belt’s purposes and then looked at the bits of our Green Belt that were best suited to keep and the ones that were not. He advised members to ‘know your plan’ and make use of it.
Another Councillor asked what the option was if we did not adopt the plan. Members were incorrectly told that developers from anywhere could submit applications to build anywhere, and that because we wouldn’t have an adopted plan those applications would be seriously considered by the Secretary of State and the Council would be wide open to speculative developers. TBAG disagree with this since the National Planning Policy Framework is just that, a national policy that would protect our Green Belt and moreover not seek to move its boundaries.
Members requested a recorded vote, and the outcome is set out below. Unsurprisingly, given the earlier question, all Conservative Councillors voted in favour of the Plan. We shall see just how good this plan is as time passes but one thing is for sure, if it takes EFDC so inordinately long to devise a plan, they had better start on the next one now to avoid another protracted and expensive exercise.
57 Councillors in total
Apologies for absence (8)
Cllr Elizabeth Gabbett, Green Party
Cllr Richard Bassett, Conservative
Cllr Jodie Lucas, Conservative
Cllr Ian Hadley, Conservative
Cllr Judy Jennings, Loughton Residents Association
Cllr Bob Jennings, Loughton Residents Association
Cllr Jayna Jogia, Loughton Residents Association
Cllr Cherry McCredie, Liberal Democrats – on Zoom (cannot vote)
Votes in favour of adoption of Local Plan (37)
Cllr Nigel Avey, Conservative
Cllr Raymond Balcombe, Conservative
Cllr Nigel Bedford, Conservative
Cllr Pranav Bhanot, Conservative
Cllr Peter Bolton, Conservative
Cllr Heather Brady, Conservative
Cllr Les Burrows, Conservative
Cllr Stephen Heather, Conservative
Cllr Helen Kane, Conservative
Cllr Sam Kane, Conservative
Cllr Paul Keska, Conservative
Cllr Jeane Lea, Conservative
Cllr Alan Lion, Conservative
Cllr Tim Matthews, Conservative
Cllr Jaymey McIvor, Conservative
Cllr Richard Morgan, Conservative
Cllr Joseph Parsons, Conservative
Cllr Aniket Patel, Conservative
Cllr Smruti Patel, Conservative
Cllr John Philip, Conservative
Cllr Ronda Pugsley, Conservative
Cllr Kaz Rizvi, Conservative
Cllr Mary Sartin, Conservative
Cllr Paul Stalker, Conservative
Cllr David Stocker, Conservative
Cllr Darshan Sunger, Conservative
Cllr Basil Vaz, Conservative
Cllr Chris Whitbread, Conservative
Cllr Holly Whitbread, Conservative
Cllr Ken Williamson, Conservative
Cllr Shane Yerrell, Conservative
Cllr Ian Allgood, Loughton Residents Association
Cllr Roger Baldwin, Loughton Residents Association
Cllr Rose Brookes, Loughton Residents Association
Cllr Howard Kauffman, Loughton Residents Association
Cllr Louise Mead, Loughton Residents Association
Cllr Caroline Pond, Loughton Residents Association
Votes against adoption of Local Plan (9)
Cllr Clive Amos, Liberal Democrats
Cllr Janet Whitehouse, Liberal Democrats
Cllr John Whitehouse, Liberal Democrats
Cllr Simon Heap, Green Party
Cllr Julian Leppert, British Democrats
Cllr Michael Owen, Loughton Residents Association
Cllr Deborah Barlow, Independent
Cllr Stephen Murray, Independent
Cllr Sheree Rackham, Independent
Abstentions from the vote (3)
Cllr Chidi Nweke, Loughton Residents Association
Cllr Chris Pond, Loughton Residents Association
Cllr David Wixley, Loughton Residents Association