TBAG takes the Government to task over protection of the Green Belt. See our letter to Sajid Javid (Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government) urging him to take specific action to deliver on the Government’s many ‘promises’ to protect the Green Belt. We want to see Action from the Government, not Weasel Words.
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 http://www.theydonbois-actiongroup.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/2017-05-02-Housing-White-Paper-Response-Letter.pdf. 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?
Local Planning Matters
The Old School House, Coppice Row. Following the ‘demolition’ of much of the original building, the owner has now submitted a further application described as “The extension and conversion of” this historic, locally listed building – Ref. EPF/0811/17. The reality is that any development would now necessitate a rebuild, rather than a conversion. The present plans are for a more intensive development of 2 x 5 bedroom dwellings, instead of the 2013 approved plans for one 3 bedroom and one 4 bedroom dwelling. TBAG has submitted a strong objection to the increase in bedrooms, from 7 to 10, as this would result in an over-intensification of residential use on what is a highly sensitive Green Belt site adjacent to the Churchyard, War Memorial and the SSSI of Epping Forest.
Draft Local Plan & Protection of the Green Belt:-
EFDC have been holding Development Forum meetings with potential developers of sites around Harlow and across the rest of Epping Forest District. It appears that over 60 new sites have come forward but details have not been made public and no Minutes of these meetings have been published.
While residents were trying to get to grips with the enormity of the Draft Local Plan (DLP) Consultation, which ran from 31st Oct to 12th Dec 2016, we were unaware that EFDC, Harlow and East Herts District Councils had already made a joint application in October 2016 to the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) requesting Government support for a new, “Locally-Led” Harlow and Gilston Garden Town, the huge impact of which was not fully publicised or appreciated at the time of the DLP Consultation and certainly not publicly consulted upon. Do not be misled with the description as a ‘new garden town’ since it is not a freestanding town but an extension to the existing Harlow Town and built upon the Green Belt land in East Herts and Epping Forest District. The Government euphemistically describes these tack-on developments as “transformational in scale”. In effect urban sprawl into existing Green Belt.
EFDC stated in their DLP Background Paper 4 (BGP4) at paragraph 3.4 that “The level of need identified for Epping Forest District [11,400 dwellings] is not, in itself, a sufficient justification for amending Green belt boundaries. Therefore, further analysis of the specific circumstances relating to the district is necessary.” In other words insufficient justification for building on our Green Belt.
However, it then goes on to justify that the expansion of Harlow, as part of the aspirational London, Stansted, Cambridge Corridor (LSCC), represented the “Exceptional Circumstances” which justified altering Green Belt boundaries in Epping Forest District – that’s ALL Green Belt boundaries including those around Theydon Bois. The proposal for growth and expansion around Harlow, as a new Garden Town, which includes land in Epping Forest District, gained Government approval in January 2017. This, so called, ‘locally led’ proposal, was supported by our MP, Eleanor Laing, as well as the MP for Harlow, Robert Halfon, but did not have the support of residents of Epping Forest District who were not consulted and were unaware of the impact that it would have on our Green Belt. As a consequence we are now faced with housing development on many Green Belt sites in Epping Forest District, including Theydon Bois.
EFDC had over 3,000 responses to the DLP Consultation and are still analysing these as not all responses used the Questionnaire format. A summary of responses, largely to the Questionnaire, have been published (see here) and the response to Question 3 (proposed development sites around Harlow) showed that only 8.1% strongly agreed, whereas more than 20% strongly disagreed; and this was without residents having the full knowledge of the implications for the rest of the Green Belt in Epping Forest District. A full report on the proposed LSCC and the detrimental impact it will have on all of our District’s Green Belt can be read on the TBAG homepage.
TBAG continues to work as an Executive Committee Member of the London Green Belt Council, in conjunction with CPRE, to do the utmost to protect the Green Belt around London. In contrast to our District, other MPs in Surrey and Kent are doing their best to protect their Green Belt, as can be seen in their responses to the recent Government White Paper Consultation on Housing, which can be viewed here.
It is clear that some Conservative MPs are prepared to put their heads above the parapet to protect the Metropolitan Green Belt, whereas our elected representatives and EFDC are actually facilitating development of our Green Belt land.
Local Planning Matters
The Old School House, Coppice Row. Many villagers who have walked past the Old School House have been appalled to see how little of the original building remains. Permission was granted in 2013 to extend and convert the existing building into two dwellings, not to demolish and rebuild it. Theydon Bois Action Group (TBAG) strongly objected to the large extension and change of use which would result in an intensification of use and a harmful impact on the sensitive Green Belt site adjacent to St Mary’s Churchyard. Many people considered that the best way to preserve this Locally Listed building was to approve the extension and conversion to residential use. Sadly, it is now evident that this was not the case as the majority of the building has been demolished, contrary to the planning permission which was granted.
Marcris Nursing Home, Coopersale Lane. Following Epping Forest District Council’s (EFDC) refusal of a proposal to demolish the care home and replace it with a new building containing 11 flats, a new proposal (EPF/3321/16) has been submitted to convert the existing building into 11 flats. TBAG has written a further strong objection to the loss of a much needed care home facility and change of use which would result in a harmful impact on the Green Belt and Protected Coopersale Lane due to the over-intensification of use of the site.
Draft Local Plan & Protection of the Green Belt
The level of housing development proposed for Theydon Bois in the Draft Local Plan, put forward by EFDC, would increase the size of our village by nearly 25%. Almost all of the development would be in the Green Belt with the largest proportion being to the east of the railway line, which has always formed a definitive and permanent Green Belt boundary to our village. TBAG have raised a strong and comprehensive objection, in particular to the proposed major expansion of our village and the associated encroachment into the Green Belt. The full letter of objection can be viewed here.
The Government is presently consulting on a new Housing White Paper in which it states that it is maintaining the existing strong protection of the Green Belt. However, this apparent protection fails in Districts with a large percentage of Green Belt as it is made clear that Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) can amend Green Belt boundaries if there are no other reasonable options (essentially, insufficient brownfield land) for meeting their identified housing targets. LPAs are advised to consult with neighbouring authorities to try to solve the problem. EFDC have indeed consulted with neighbouring Harlow District, who wish to expand Harlow Town (the recently announced, Government supported, new Harlow & Gilston Garden Town) as part of the greater growth plan, driven by the London, Stansted, Cambridge Consortium, along the M11 corridor. Unfortunately, this ‘plan’ involves development on our District’s Green Belt land and it is supported by EFDC who consider that the expansion of Harlow and the M11 corridor represent the exceptional circumstances which justify building on our Green Belt. This would appear to be at odds with the Autumn Budget Statement when the Chancellor of the Exchequer said “For too long economic activity has been centred in London and the South East.”
TBAG very much regrets that Harlow’s aspirations for growth will be to the detriment of Epping Forest District’s Green Belt. We are particularly concerned that, at present, our District Councillors seem to have acquiesced to the proposed loss of our Green Belt and are not standing up to the Government. Worryingly, our own MP wrote to the Minister of State for Housing and Planning (Gavin Barwell MP), in support of the creation of the new Harlow & Gilston Garden Town, in spite of the detrimental consequences for our Green Belt!