The greatest threats to our Green Belt since the Metropolitan Green Belt was established in 1955
TBAG would like to reiterate that we are not a political organisation or affiliated to any political party. However, it should be recognised that it is the incumbent political party of the day that have their hand on the tiller when it comes to steering the fate of our Green Belt in Theydon Bois. TBAG will react to extant party policies and action taken by any party which does not accord with TBAG’s aim to protect the Green Belt. TBAG will praise (not support) any political body that concurs with our mission statement which is fundamentally to protect the Green Belt around our village but we will not shrink from criticising any political organisation of whatever complexion that does not actively and effectively seek to protect the Green Belt.
Why is protection of the Green Belt so important for Theydon Bois?
Theydon Bois and its village character are dependent on our surrounding Green Belt. This is what makes Theydon the special place we all enjoy living in. If the Green Belt boundaries around our village are altered to allow for development, Theydon Bois will be changed forever. It will no longer be a village but will soon become a town.
The Bigger Picture – The London Stansted Cambridge Corridor
Were you aware that a strategic partnership of Local Government, the Greater London Authority, several further and higher education institutions, the private sector and developers, grandly named The London Stansted Cambridge Consortium (LSCC) was formed in 2013? The Consortium’s primary aim is to develop a brown field wedge, with housing, industry and associated infrastructure, reaching out from Central London and along the M11 corridor to Cambridge. One of its effects will be to seriously erode the Green Belt in Epping Forest District. See http://lscc.co and the map at http://lscc.co/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Growth-Commision-Map.jpg showing Theydon Bois in the middle of the southern end of the area. A series of such wedges or ‘spokes’ are envisaged to pierce through the London Metropolitan Green Belt in all directions and the London Stansted Cambridge Corridor (‘LSCC’ is also used to represent the ‘Corridor’) will pass right through Epping Forest District. Harlow & Gilston, as a new Garden Town, is described as being at the ‘heart of the corridor’ and ‘lying in the core area of the LSCC’.
In the course of following the progress of our Draft Local Plan, TBAG discovered a trail of documents evidencing what has been going on behind the public scenes since the official inception of LSCC four years ago and how this will shape the future of Epping Forest District, Harlow Town and East Herts District.
Harlow & Gilston Garden Town – Lack of formal consultation and impact on Epping Forest District
Plans for development to the north of Harlow, in East Hertfordshire, have been under discussion for over 40 years, against much opposition from local communities who stand to be swamped, along with the loss of prime Green Belt land. The present Garden Town scheme now includes development all around Harlow, including large areas of Green Belt land to the south and west of Harlow, which lie within Epping Forest District.
In March 2016, the Government’s Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) published a Prospectus entitled ‘Locally-Led Garden Villages, Towns and Cities’, which invited local authorities to apply for Government support for the creation of such new Garden developments. Harlow, East Herts and Epping Forest District Councils, jointly submitted such an application, called an ‘Expression of Interest’, in October 2016 requesting Government support for a new, allegedly “Locally-Led”, Harlow & Gilston Garden Town which would be situated at the core of the London Stansted Cambridge Corridor around which development is being encouraged. This ‘Expression of Interest’ was signed by the Leaders of Harlow, East Herts and Epping Forest District Councils, with Councillor Chris Whitbread signing as Leader of Epping Forest DC. The huge impact of this corridor can only be imagined at this stage, but evidently its inception was not widely publicised and TBAG would assert that the new Garden Town is not “Locally Led” in any meaning we understand since no local people have been consulted.
A number of letters of support accompanied this ‘Expression of Interest’ application including two almost identical letters from Eleanor Laing and Robert Halfon (MPs for Epping Forest District and Harlow respectively). These letters seek Government support and funding for the creation of a new, so-called, Garden Town at Harlow. All of this support, for what is effectively a major expansion of Harlow, was activated before the Consultation period for EFDC’s Draft Local Plan.
TBAG is concerned that no specific public consultation for this major initiative took place before expressions of support were put forward by EFDC for a new Garden Town at Harlow. It was only after the responses to the Draft Local Plan Consultation (which included a question about development around Harlow) were analysed and published, that an indication of the lack of support by residents for the expansion of Harlow into Epping Forest District’s Green Belt, became evident. For example, in response to Question 3 of the Draft Local Plan Consultation Questionnaire (Proposed Development Sites Around Harlow) only 8.1% strongly agreed with development around Harlow whereas more than 20% strongly disagreed. It is important to note that these responses were made without knowledge of the bigger picture and the full implications involving altering Green Belt boundaries elsewhere in the District. Unfortunately, the Housing Minister, on 4 January 2017, had already formally notified the three Local Authorities of his approval of the joint bid for government support for a new locally-led Harlow & Gilston Garden Town. Rather than ‘locally-led’, this looks like a ‘done deal’. It is interesting to note that, when responding to EFDC’s Draft Local Plan, Harlow District Council supported development to the north of Harlow as a new Garden Town, however, they objected to the proposed development to the South and West of Harlow, which is in Epping Forest District and now to be included in the Harlow & Gilston Garden Town.
The new Harlow & Gilston Garden Town is not, as the name suggests, a stand-alone town but a deliberate urban sprawling of the existing Harlow town and the areas destined to be developed, including those in Epping Forest District, are all on GREEN BELT land. The Government itself euphemistically describes the Harlow expansion and other similar garden towns as “transformational in scale”. We shudder to think what that will mean in practice and envisage further unwelcome urban sprawl into our Green Belt and countryside. All driven by the Government’s desire for ‘Growth’ and against their declared policy to protect our “Precious Green Belt land” which it has stated is “absolutely sacrosanct”.
What justification is there for building on our Green Belt?
EFDC stated in their Draft Local Plan Consultation that the level of need for 11,400 dwellings in Epping Forest District is “not, in itself, a sufficient justification for amending Green Belt boundaries” but then use the ‘Growth’ potential of the London Stansted Cambridge Corridor and, within it, Harlow & Gilston Garden Town to represent the “Exceptional Circumstances” necessary to alter Green Belt boundaries. This is EFDC’s justification for building large numbers of houses on many Green Belt sites throughout the District, including around Theydon Bois.
Examination of EFDC’s Draft Local Plan by a Planning Inspector
Before our new Local Plan can be formally ‘adopted’, it must pass an Examination in Public by one of the Government’s Planning Inspectors. How can we have a genuinely independent Examination of EFDC’s Local Plan by a Planning Inspector (presently anticipated in 2018) when the Housing Minister has already given approval for government support for the Harlow & Gilston Garden Town (as part of the LSCC) which is being used by EFDC as the ‘Exceptional Circumstances’ necessary to alter Green Belt boundaries throughout Epping Forest District?
Why are some District Councillors and our MP not seen to be protecting our Green Belt?
TBAG is deeply concerned that our locally elected District Councillors and our MP are acquiescing to the proposed loss of our Green Belt and are not standing up to the Government, unlike those MPs in Surrey and Kent. See this Housing White Paper Response Letter from Crispin Blunt MP. Why is EFDC, rather than Harlow or East Herts Council, acting as the ‘Lead Authority’ on the project management of Harlow & Gilston Garden Town? EFDC has already initiated and managed the recruitment of two private sector consultants for the new Harlow Garden Town: one to prepare the Spatial Vision and Design Charter and the other has responsibilities for Planning, Programme Management and Delivery of the project. The appointment of these consultancy positions was “signed off” on the 19th May 2017 by Councillor John Philip in his capacity as EFDC Planning and Governance Portfolio Holder. Indeed, Councillor John Philip, who is also a District Councillor for Theydon Bois and Chair of our Parish Council, is quoted as saying:-
“The regeneration of Harlow is key to the success of our region. The whole area will benefit from the coordinated strategic provision of new homes, employment and social infrastructure in and around Harlow. It makes sense and I am therefore delighted to see the DCLG putting its weight and money behind the proposals. This funding will enable us to support local communities, parish and town councils to be involved in shaping the future of our area.”
It seems clear that Councillor Philip has a significant role to play in EFDC, along with the Leader of Council, Chris Whitbread, and EFDC Council Officers, in pushing forward the “Front Loading” for establishing the new Harlow & Gilston Garden Town, to be built on Green Belt land in Epping Forest District and East Herts! Even if the ‘Exceptional Circumstances’ are accepted for the proposed development around Harlow, why should this mean that Green Belt boundaries adjacent to other settlements in the District, such as Theydon Bois, can also be altered to enable development which does not form part of the Harlow & Gilston Garden Town and for which no exceptional circumstances have been demonstrated?
What possible advantages are there to EFDC in releasing our Green Belt land for development?
TBAG can only speculate. Is it because EFDC will reap financial benefits from the ‘New Homes Bonuses’ and/or other potential sources of government funding as well as an ongoing income from commercial and residential Council Tax? Is this because Central Government are continuing to reduce revenue to Local Authorities?
We can see no benefit for Theydon Bois and its residents, as we face a huge (24%) increase in the size of our village, predominantly on Green Belt land. One thing is for sure, the so called, Locally-Led Harlow & Gilston Garden Town and the LSCC are the most serious threats to the Green Belt in Epping Forest District and around Theydon Bois that we have faced to date.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the Country …… What the Elected representatives in other Green Belt constituencies are doing to protect their Green Belt and stand up to the Government
Why is this loss of our Green Belt being actively supported by our MP and District Councillors when the Government has stated in its manifesto that its policy is to maintain “the existing strong protections on designated land like the Green Belt, …”?
Other MPs in Kent, Surrey and Hertfordshire are standing up for the protection of their Metropolitan Green Belt around London. Additionally, MPs in Greater Manchester, Birmingham, Bradford and elsewhere are also lobbying Government on behalf of their constituents to protect the Green Belt in their own areas.
Why is Epping Forest’s MP not protecting our Green Belt?