There has been much debate about events on Station Hill and Old Foresters of late following the hacking back of much of the hedge and most of the trees along Station Hill and the track leading to the site, where most of the trees are protected by Tree Preservation Orders, the unlawful use of the EFDC and TfL logos on letters left on commuter cars and the failed recent attempt of persons unknown to deliver four mobile homes to the site. TBAG has been taking an active interest in these matters as we are well versed in the history of this Green Belt site. Last week, two containers were delivered to Old Foresters and are clearly visible from the public footpath. These containers are alleged, but not proven, to be for use in connection with a food bank. Following the earlier dubious activities, we have been informed that EFDC Planning Enforcement Officers are also keeping an active watch on events and have informed TBAG that the “operator” of the containers should have permission to place them on the site and does not. The operator has therefore been given seven days to remove the containers, but they have refused to do so. Should the containers not be removed by Friday, 25 February an Enforcement Notice for their removal will be served. TBAG note, with no surprise at all, that despite the recent change of recorded ownership of this site, the new management appear to be continuing with their activities in the same mould as its predecessors.
Epping Forest CAZ
EFDC are attempting to deal with the district’s air quality issues, which are seriously affecting Epping Forest itself (a Special Area of Conservation and Site of Special Scientific Interest) which is described as being in 60% unfavourable condition, by proposing a Clean Air Zone (CAZ) for the forest and which will charge motorists to pass through it. New development near the forest had been put on hold until EFDC could satisfy Natural England and the City of London that this proposed new development – and that proposed in the emerging Local Plan – would not increase the harmful emissions to the area. EFDC reason that by charging vehicles to pass through the forest, drivers will be encouraged to exchange their existing vehicles for ‘cleaner’ electric vehicles and the anticipated result will be that harmful emissions will be reduced sufficiently to mitigate the proposed developments in the vicinity of the forest. There was great opposition to this decision by many District Councillors who saw it as a political walkover and definitely not in the best interests of either the forest or the district’s residents.
TBAG consider that the CAZ is little more than an attempt by EFDC to overcome its decision to permit 11,400 new homes to be built in the District under the emerging Local Plan and not to reduce these numbers (in line with the more up-to-date 2018 ONS statistics which showed a drop in the number of homes required of more than one-half compared to the 2014 figures on which the plan has been based). Were the up to date statistics applied to the emerging Local Plan, it would enable the removal of the most environmentally sensitive sites from the plan including those around the forest. Simply put, reduce the amount of unnecessary development (and pressure on the forest from increased footfall and vehicle movements) and thereby eliminate the need to charge motorists to pass through. And of course the need for EFDC to fund creating the CAZ.
The Planning Inspector will soon be returning her report on EFDC’s response to her requested Main Modifications to the plan and we await her conclusions with interest. TBAG reported in its last update about the Facebook Group ‘Say No to Clean Air Zone’. Supporters will recall that an EGM on this issue was held on 8 February 2021 . An eleventh-hour amendment was proposed by Conservative Party majority Councillors with no prior consultation with cross-party Councillors and this was submitted just 72 minutes before the meeting, giving non-Conservative Councillors insufficient time to consider and consult on the amendment. Councillors resolved to form a cross party portfolio holder advisory group to assist the “administration” in the implementation of air pollution mitigation measures. It will be telling to see whether this ‘cross-party’ group will indeed be politically balanced or still have a Conservative majority.
Epping Forest Parking Charges
Further forest news that could impact on Theydon Bois is the City of London’s (CoL) recent consultation with the public on its decision to introduce parking charges for many of the car parks in the forest. We know that many of our supporters have helpfully responded to this consultation. This follows hot on the heels of the CoL’s decision last summer to introduce double red line stopping restrictions onto the majority of the forest roads making the car parks the only place that vehicles may stop in the forest. City of London have stated, at a Zoom Committee meeting when the vote for this proposal was taken, that the reason for introducing parking charges is to raise money because they have a “deficit of £250,000”. It is of note that all four Verderers for Epping Forest unanimously voted against this proposal.
It seems to TBAG that by charging vehicles to pass through and park in the forest, not only does this go against the spirit of the Victorian Act dedicating the forest to ‘all the people for all time’ and put a financial burden on all local motorists, but will also have a deleterious effect on our village when forest visitors seek to park on the fringes of these restrictions to use the forest, or local residents circumvent the forest altogether by driving further through its fringes to avoid paying the CAZ charges until the day they can afford a newer, cleaner car. One cannot help but wonder how the forest has been permitted to get into a state of 60% unfavourable condition and why the causes were not mitigated earlier and whether these new measures are not yet more unfortunate steps towards ultimately failing the forest rather than helping it.
As ever, TBAG will keep residents informed on any matters that might affect the Green Belt in and around Theydon Bois.