Autumn 2016 Update

Local Planning Matters – A new planning application (EPF/2000/16) for the development of seven apartments and one cottage has been submitted for the Sixteen String Jack PH site. Theydon Bois Action Group will give consideration as to whether these new plans overcome the reasons why the Planning Inspector dismissed the earlier appeal.

TBAG has also written objections to a revised application for a replacement dwelling at 26 Piercing Hill (EPF/1548/16) and an application for a detached residential annexe to Theydon Hall Lodge in the Abridge Road (EPF/1464/16), because of their potential impact on the Green Belt.  Although just outside Theydon Bois Parish, we objected to a development of fourteen x 4 bedroom detached houses on the Abridge Golf & Country Club (EPF/0232/16) as this could have set a dangerous precedent for similar Green Belt sites.  District Development Management Committee Councillors supported the Planning Officer’s recommendation and voted to refuse permission.

As part of our aim to protect the Green Belt around Theydon Bois, we have also written objections to two separate applications along the Abridge Road for Certificates of Lawful Development  (CLD) for a change of use of agricultural buildings/land to business storage purposes: EPF/1005/16 – Magnolia House  and EPF/1227/16 – Mossford Green Nursery.  CLDs are often applied for where an unlawful activity has been carried out for a number of years on sites which are secluded and difficult to monitor and have therefore remained undetected by EFDC Enforcement.

Protecting the Green Belt – In June, while EFDC were continuing their work on the new Local Plan, an important and highly relevant letter dated 7 June 2016 (download here) and headed “Development on Brownfield and Green Belt land” was sent from the Minister of State for Housing and Planning (Brandon Lewis) to all Members of Parliament for English Constituencies.  In his letter, the Minister stated that “The Government has put in place the strongest protections for the Green Belt.”…….. “and that Green Belt boundaries should be adjusted only in exceptional circumstances, through the Local Plan process and with the support of local people.  We have been repeatedly clear that demand for housing alone will not change Green Belt boundaries.”

This message is consistent with the statement made in the House of Commons in January 2014 by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Brandon Lewis) “… I also noted the Secretary of State’s policy position that unmet need, whether for traveller sites or for conventional housing, is unlikely to outweigh harm to the green belt and other harm to constitute the “very special circumstances” justifying inappropriate development in the green belt.  The Secretary of State wishes to re-emphasise this policy point to both local planning authorities and planning inspectors as a material consideration in their planning decisions. …”, which statement itself was re-emphasising a similar Ministerial statement made by him in July 2013 “ … The Secretary of State wishes to make clear that, in considering planning applications, although each case will depend on its facts, he considers that the single issue of unmet demand, whether for traveller sites or for conventional housing, is unlikely to outweigh harm to the green belt and other harm to constitute the ‘very special circumstances’ justifying inappropriate development in the green belt.   “.

This message is also consistent with the Ministerial Statement that the then Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Eric Pickles) made on 6th October 2014 urging Councils to “protect our precious Green Belt land” and saying “This Government has been very clear that when planning for new buildings, protecting our precious green belt must be paramount.  Local people don’t want to lose their countryside to urban sprawl, or see the vital green lungs around their towns and cities [fall] to unnecessary development.”  On the same date, new Planning Practice Guidance to this effect was published by the Government stating that Unmet housing need ….is unlikely to outweigh the harm to the Green Belt and other harm to constitute the ‘very special circumstances’ justifying inappropriate development on a site within the Green Belt”

In a statement made on 13 October 2014 by Mr Pickles, he reminded the House of the Government’s intention to protect the Green Belt saying “…housing need does not justify the harm done to the green belt by inappropriate development. … we have been very clear that there is [sic] no central diktats demanding that councils rip up the green belt.”  The Government clearly remains consistent across several years and various Ministers with its stated support for protecting the Green Belt.

TBAG fully endorse all these ministerial statements and look to EFDC and the Planning Policy Portfolio Holder (Theydon Bois District Councillor John Philip) to implement this policy and not weaken protection of the Green Belt in Epping Forest District by unnecessarily changing existing Green Belt boundaries contrary to Minister’s assurances.

This sentiment would appear to be fully supported by our MP, Eleanor Laing.  Following the Epping Society open meeting held on 22 January 2016 entitled ‘The Future of the Green Belt’, Mrs Laing, who spoke at the meeting, issued a press release acknowledging the high priority local residents gave to the Green Belt in our district and stating, inter alia, “For us, here in Epping Forest, we are in the frontline between urban sprawl from London and the rolling Essex countryside beyond. … I know that we can trust our district council to do all that they can with the production of the Local Plan to make sure that our precious Green Belt can be protected. … The best protection that we can have is our Local Plan and that is being produced in consultation with all our residents. … We have a very tough district council who know how important the protection of our Green Belt is.  It (preparing the Local Plan) has to be done carefully, to the letter of the law, otherwise it will be challenged.  With strength and consultation we will succeed.”  She added that the district’s residents had to “stand firm” against Green Belt development.  TBAG feel confident therefore that our MP along with the EFDC Planning Policy Portfolio Holder could again influence EFDC to protect our Green Belt in-line with the Ministers’ statements.

We welcome the Government’s commitment to develop brownfield sites for housing and note that the new London Mayor has pledged to protect the Metropolitan Green Belt.  The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), to which TBAG is affiliated, has stated that there are at present some 200,000 approved planning permissions for new homes in London which are as yet unbuilt and this gives some indication of “Land Banking” by developers.

It is widely accepted that it was Treasury “policy” to build our way out of the recession and developers, in lobbying Government, favour the easy option of building on green field and Green Belt sites rather than brownfield.  It will be interesting to see if the new Government administration  (Chancellor of the Exchequer and Prime Minister) sets out planning policies which actually give greater protection to Green Belts in practice, rather than the previous mixed messages with changes to legislation and the General Permitted Development Order, which have allowed significant developments to take place in Green Belts.