The single most serious threat to our Green Belt, and which also has far reaching implications for the future protection of the Green Belt to the east of the village, has been gaining momentum throughout 2014 and into 2015. This is the proposed development by TfL of a commuter car park on the eastern side of the railway lines at the bottom of Station Hill. This was first reported in the TBAG March 2015 Village News article and we have been working tirelessly since then on this legally complicated issue.
It started in March 2014 when the former allotment site was completely razed to the ground, without any consultation, including the destruction of mature and unusual apple trees remaining from its allotment days in the early 20th century. Several differing reasons were given by TfL for this action. Local knowledge is that the site has only been used once in living memory as operational land by TfL, for the storage of containers for a short while in 2005/06. TBAG were concerned not only for the future of this site, but the implications for the existing ‘brownfield’ car park which, in 2009, TfL put forward as a potential site for development as part of the new Local Plan. TBAG finally discovered that an 80 space car park was proposed.
TfL claimed they could carry out this development without planning permission by using permitted development rights, but TBAG pointed out that this did not apply as the site was not ‘wholly within the railway station’. TfL then attempted to use old Victorian Railway Acts to authorise permitted development. Again, TBAG pointed out to EFDC that this was also invalid, since alterations were required to the entrance, which had not been declared. TfL were then required to submit an application for ‘prior approval’ to account for the highway alterations and this was finally refused by Area Planning Sub-Committee East on 13 May 2015. At the same Committee, a full planning application by TfL for only the small alterations to the site entrance was approved. It effectively by-passed the previous prior approval refusal.
EFDC have taken legal advice which agrees with TfL’s barrister’s opinion that there are permitted development rights for this type of development on this site. After having undertaken extensive and detailed research, TBAG took the unprecedented step of taking its own Counsel’s advice which confirmed that TfL do not have permitted development rights on this land for car park development and that a full planning application should be submitted as any landowner would be required to do. With opposing Counsels’ opinions, it all boils down to a question of law.
TBAG are naturally keen to see the law upheld and full formal consultation with all interested third parties carried out, but TfL remain unwilling to submit a full planning application and EFDC do not consider it necessary to request it.
With permitted development applications, only limited comments can be made by the public and Council alike and matters such as Local and Government Green Belt Policies and traffic safety/Highways issues cannot be taken into account. The implications on highways considerations alone present important issues of public safety, which our Parish Council has been keen to bring to the attention of EFDC by commissioning a specialist highways report which supports their stance. Apart from the legal correctness of this proposal, it appears to present an accident waiting to happen which all local interest groups take very seriously.
Despite engaging the support of Eleanor Laing MP, TBAG have been unable to convince TfL or EFDC that a full planning application is the legally correct and most honourable and transparent course of action to take.
Therefore, after much consideration, TBAG has now taken a further unprecedented step and on 22 May 2015 issued at court a claim for application for Judicial Review of the decision taken by Epping Forest District Council on 13 May 2015 which effectively endorsed Transport for London’s assertion that a commuter car park could be constructed on Metropolitan Green Belt land in Theydon Bois Parish using permitted development rights. Our application seeks to have EFDC’s decision quashed. This would leave TfL obliged to submit a full planning application if it wished to develop this site.
TBAG’s solicitors have also written to TfL to request confirmation that no work will be commenced on the site pending the conclusion of these proceedings and we await their reply.
Should EFDC overturn their own decision, declaring the permitted development unlawful and requiring TfL to make a full planning application for any development they might wish to undertake on this site, our legal action could be withdrawn. However, having corresponded with the Planning Officer concerned, EFDC’s Legal Department and District Councillors on this matter for over four months now, we are not hopeful that this will happen.
So the legal process is now underway to have this matter determined once and for all. TBAG regrets that it has been forced into taking this action but considers it unavoidable if it is to fulfil its objectives as guardians of the Green Belt surrounding our village from inappropriate or unlawful development.
On other matters, many villagers will be aware that TBAG held a ‘sell out’ fundraising evening in the Theydon Bois Balti House on Monday 27th April. It was a resounding success with good company, excellent food and a fun raffle. In all, we raised over £2,000. Our thanks to all of you who came along and to the many supporters who were unable to attend the event but have made generous individual donations to show your support for TBAG and the work we do to protect our cherished village and precious Green Belt surroundings. Donations to our fighting fund are still possible via the Post Office in the village. You may leave your donation in an envelope marked ‘TBAG’ behind the counter and it will be collected by our Treasurer. Your support really does bring home to us that you value what TBAG stands for and our ongoing efforts to protect the village of Theydon Bois.
On the planning front, TBAG, submitted a strong objection, along with many others, to the application for the demolition of a family house at 47A Theydon Park Road which was due to be replaced with a much larger building containing 5 individual apartments. This application if approved would have set a dangerous precedent for similar developments, not just in Theydon Park Road but all over the village, which would have had a detrimental impact on the existing residential character of Theydon Bois. Fortunately, common sense prevailed and the application was refused at Area Planning Sub-Committee East
The Planning Inspector recently dismissed the appeal for a very large agricultural building off Coopersale Lane, adjacent to Blunts Farm. A further application has since been submitted for a smaller building on the same Green Belt site but this has been refused by Epping Forest District Council.
An application for a new dwelling to replace the derelict Blunts Farmhouse has been refused, pending a reduction in size of the proposed residential curtilage (garden area) on this Green Belt site. This was also considered at Committee but a decision has yet to be taken.