Local Plan Update – May 2022
The latest news on our Local Plan, as shown on the EFDC website is as follows:
“6 May 2022
Inspector Jonathan Bore MRTPI has been appointed to complete the Epping Forest Local Plan Examination with immediate effect. For work reasons, Inspectors Louise Phillips and Matthew Birkinshaw are no longer available. Mr Bore has access to all the examination documents and recorded hearings. He is not accepting any further representations at present. An update on the next steps in the process will be posted here and sent to all Regulation 19 Representors as soon as possible.”
TBAG is not impressed with this late change by the Planning Inspectorate which gives us cause for concern. We would question why the experienced and perfectly capable Inspector, Louise Phillips MA (Cantab) MSc MRTPI, who has been working on the examination of our local plan since November 2018, and who was still working on it on 24 March 2022, has suddenly been replaced at the final furlong? We understand Mrs Phillips took a maternity leave of absence in September 2021 but, having returned, has not been allowed to continue with the concluding consideration of the responses to the Main Modifications that she requested, nor indeed has her superior, Mr Birkinshaw, who held the reins during her maternity leave. Both have been side-lined for replacement Inspector Jonathan Bore.
Just before Christmas we were told that the Inspector’s Final Report, deciding whether or not the Plan was sound or unsound, would be available before the end of March 2022. However, on 24 March, EFDC reported that it would not be available by then as Inspector Phillips was still considering the responses to the MM’s. Her departure from the examination appears to be rather sudden and raises the question ‘Why?’ at such a late date when any successor would, presumably, indeed hopefully, need to study all that has been covered over the past 3 and a half years?
Adding further questions, is the appointment of Mrs Phillips and Mr Birkinshaw’s replacement, Mr Jonathan Bore, BA, MRTPI, Dip UD. His experience includes being a Planning Inspector, then moving on to be Executive Director for Planning and Borough Development for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, where he signed off the details of the Grenfell Tower block’s refurbishment including the notorious cladding. By May 2016, he had returned to the Planning Inspectorate and in June 2020 he was appointed the Inspector for South Oxfordshire District Council’s local plan. Inspector Bore is the same inspector who also recently approved the Oxford City Council local plan despite controversy over the accuracy of Oxford City’s projected housing need. Local interest group ‘A Better South Oxfordshire’ said “some of his [Inspector Bore’s] conclusions in relation to Oxford City’s supposed housing need were baffling and inconsistent with some of the evidence presented.” When a coalition of the Greens and Liberal Democrats won control of the South Oxfordshire District Council in the May 2019 election, they wanted to withdraw or rewrite the document but they were denied this course of action by the Secretary of State for Housing and Local Communities, Robert Jenrick, who said it could put at risk millions of pounds of government money for infrastructure improvements, and insisted that an agreed plan must be adopted by the end of that year (2020).
On 20 September 2020 the ‘Henley Standard’ reported that Mr Bore had said that it was “inevitable that the green belt would be built on”. Interested parties claimed:
The neutrality and objectivity of the inspection process has been undermined by the past actions and pronouncements of the secretary of state Robert Jenrick [Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government of the United Kingdom 2019–2021; Michael Gove since September 2021]. His written communications with South Oxfordshire District Council demonstrate he has already made up his mind about the outcome he wishes to achieve.
Actions undertaken by the secretary of state, specifically the unlawful decision he made to grant planning permission to a property developer in Tower Hamlets, the granting of recent contracts without open tender to the company Faculty and his breaking of Covid 19 lockdown government rules undermine his trustworthiness and show a lack of judgement.
The local plan inspection process is not fit for purpose and is essentially an exercise to pretend that local communities have an input into decisions that have already been taken by the executive.
Inspector Bore’s further track record shows that he was appointed as Inspector for the Mid Sussex local plan in 2016 and increased their housing numbers from 800 to 1,026 homes per year for the life of the plan causing dismay among residents, campaigners, the MP and Councillors. This does not bode well for our Green Belt and the likelihood of getting a chargeable Clean Air Zone through Epping Forest.
TBAG feel we have lost an ally in Inspector Phillips, since she was quite clear that she was concerned about the impact of the housing development proposed (11,400 homes) in EFDC’s new Local Plan, on the integrity of the Epping Forest Special Area of Conservation (SAC), especially in terms of air quality and pollution and its detrimental effect on the Forest. As a result of this concern, also expressed by the Conservators of Epping Forest, and Natural England, EFDC has proposed setting up a Clean Air Zone (CAZ) and charging motorists to drive through Forest roads! The obvious answer is to reduce the number of houses to around 5000, which would be consistent with the, now, much lower housing need figures for Epping Forest District, quoted by the Government’s own Office for National Statistics (ONS), for both 2016 and 2018, and in stark contrast with the much higher, original 2014 figures which the Government still insists are used to calculate so-called Housing Need. Unfortunately, it takes two years for these statistics to be compiled, so the 2020 figures should be out this year, but with Brexit and COVID it is likely that housing need will be even lower.
Boris Johnson is on record as saying we need to “build, build, build for jobs, jobs, jobs” (July 2020). Further, it is well known that the present Government has oft stated, political, ambitions to build 300,000 houses per year.
This raises the question, has the Planning Inspectorate been instructed by the Government that they do not want any delays in the progression of new Local Plans, as this would impede the delivery of new homes as well as economic growth? Has Inspector Phillips been side-lined from the examination of EFDC’s Local Plan and a new Inspector been parachuted in, because of her clearly expressed concerns regarding the potential adverse effects that the development proposed in the Local Plan, could have on the Epping Forest (SAC), and that this consideration would likely cause delays in arriving at a sound local plan?
While Inspector Bore hopefully wades through a mountain of documents and recorded hearings, we can only wait for any new updates and to learn whether he will invite or accept any further comments. Updates are posted on EFDC’s website at https://www.efdclocalplan.org/local-plan/latest-news-and-updates/.