EPPING FOREST DISTRICT COUNCIL

COMMITTEE MINUTES


Committee:
Ongar Park and Blunts Farm Golf Courses -
Ad Hoc Special

Date:
20 November 2002

Place:
Council Chamber, Civic Offices, Epping
Time:
4.00 p.m. 5.20 p.m.

Members
Present:
Councillors M Woollard (Chairman), Mrs J Davis, L Martin, R Newland,
Mrs C Pond, Mrs P Smith, D Stallan

Other
Councillors:
N Clark

Apologies:
-

Officers
Present:

Also
Present by
Invitation:
J Scott (Corporate Director), I Le Gallais, J Preston, C Neilan, I White, R
Horsey (Planning Services), C Robinson (Environmental Services), G Lunnun
(Policy Unit).

Mr C Thompson - Clerk of Moreton, Bobbingworth and The Lavers Parish Council

1. DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST

No declarations of interest were made in accordance with the Council's Code
of Conduct for Councillors.

2. TERMS OF REFERENCE

The Committee was advised that its terms of reference were:

(a) to review the basis of the present planning permissions for Ongar Park and
Blunts Farm Golf Courses, including construction methods and to report on any
lessons that can be learnt for the future if other similar applications are
submitted; and
(b) to report to Overview and Scrutiny Committee 2 on completion of the review.

RESOLVED:

That the terms of reference be noted.

3. GOLF COURSE - ONGAR PARK

The Committee having visited Ongar Park prior to the meeting considered the
background to the construction of a golf course on the site.

The Committee was advised that planning application EPF/863/96 had been
submitted in July 1996 for (a) the demolition of vacant former radio station
buildings and the return of their plots to open countryside use and the
construction of residential development; (b) change of use of park (45
hectares) of the site to golf course and (c) extension of public rights of
way, access to Essex Redoubt, the provision of two hectares of public park and
the relocation of the North Weald Bowls Club.

The application had also included an indicative drawing for an eighteen-hole
golf course and one for nine holes. However, apart from their location, the
drawing of the two courses bore little resemblance to the detailed scheme for
one eighteen hole golf course which had been submitted approximately 20 months
after permission for the redevelopment of the radio station site had been
granted.

As full permission with conditions for the change of use to the golf course
had been granted, it was not necessary to refer details back to a committee.
Officer discussions with developers had commenced in February 2000 and when
the first detailed plans were submitted they were considered to be in line
with previous applications for golf courses in the District.

The Head of Planning Services advised that general advice on the
consideration of golf courses was given in the Essex Golf Report 1990 (revised
1992). That report addressed issues raised by the proliferation of golf
course applications submitted throughout the County in the late 1980s.

Since 1990, a number of golf courses had been completed in the District, at
Nazeing, Coopersale, North Weald and the Epping Forest Country Club. The
design of these courses had varied but all had been constructed by a
"cut-and-fill" method. Shaping of the land had been created by stripping
topsoil, reshaping subsoil and replacing topsoil within the confines of each
site. Importation of materials had been largely confined to sand for the
bunkers.

The Committee noted that the architects for the golf course at Ongar Park had
designed other courses constructed in the District and in adjoining council
areas. The company constructing the course had entered into a lease with the
original applicants for planning permission which required commencement of the
construction within 24 months and completion within 60 months.

Consideration of the initial details for the golf course indicated that
significant revision was needed in respect of landscaping in general,
including the proposed levels. The plan agreed by officers in March 2001
showed gentler land forming throughout the site.
The degree of raising of levels was designed to have as little impact on
public views as possible, whilst still giving shape and form to the golf
course, and separation between the holes. Major changes of level were limited
to the down slope in the north east section of the site, where there would be
limited public visual impact. Shaping of land around tees and greens was
limited in level and changes were also designed to create a broad flowing
landscape which, when seeded and planted, would appear natural.

It had been agreed that the implementation and the precise interpretation of
details would be subject to supervision by the Council's Landscape Officer as
work progressed.
He had visited the golf course on several occasions and had confirmed that the
levels created were in conformity with the approved plan. He was confident
that the landscape being created was of a high standard, in line with other
golf courses in the area and would achieve the planting objectives in terms of
landscape and environment.

The Head of Planning Services reported that the Essex Golf Report did not
address the issue of the importation of subsoil etc to create levels. Indeed,
officers were unaware that this technique had been used for the construction
of any other golf course in Essex.
The extent of the use of the technique elsewhere was not known, although the
developers of the site had stated that they had used it in other locations.

The Committee was advised that an analysis of the existing levels, as against
the proposed levels, had been undertaken, but only to ascertain the degree of
change, as part of the consideration of the acceptability of proposed levels.

No analysis had been undertaken of whether the proposed levels would require
a net importing of material, nor was the developer asked whether that was the
intention, since there was no knowledge of the technique.

The Head of Planning Services said that he believed the technique had been
adopted as a consequence of the introduction of the Landfill Tax. If material
was being re-used rather than simply filling a hole, an exemption could be
claimed from the Tax. It seemed likely, therefore, that this situation would
recur with other golf courses and developments involving extensive areas of
land.

Members noted that the importation and spreading of significant quantities of
subsoil would normally require planning permission as an engineering
operation. However, in this instance, the operation benefited from the
original planning permission and the agreement of detailed levels.
Importation of material and disposal on the land could, under certain
circumstances, require a licence from the Environment Agency but in this case,
the Agency had agreed, subject to adherence to a method statement, that a
licence would not be required.

The agreed procedure required that checks were made to ensure that no
contaminated materials were brought onto the site and that only soil and inert
materials were being deposited. All materials had to be sifted on site and
crushed and broken down before being incorporated into the landforms. The
material was then to be covered with the original subsoil and topsoil. The
Environment Agency had confirmed that it was continuing to monitor progress
and had been satisfied with the operation to-date.

Members had established at the site visit that the Environment Agency
attended the site monthly. This was not thought to be sufficient to monitor
movements thoroughly. It also appeared to members that there was no agreed
means of liaison between the Council and the Environment Agency to keep the
Council informed of site progress, condition or status.

The Head of Planning Services acknowledged that the concerns now being
expressed about environmental contamination and particularly traffic movements
would have been considered if officers had been aware of the level of
importation of material proposed.
There would have been an opportunity for public comment and possibly the use
of a legal agreement to control lorry movements. The controls which could now
be imposed were limited but after initial problems on the A414, arrangements
had been made for a road sweeper to clear mud and other debris from near the
entranceway to the site and a wheel washing facility was in daily use. It was
estimated that construction of the golf course would take slightly over three
years with the importation of soil expected to be completed by the summer of
2003.

Members asked the officers a number of detailed questions regarding the role
of the Environment Agency, the tonnage and types of imported materials, the
number and timing of vehicle movements, the routes used by vehicles delivering
materials to the site, the commitment of the interested parties to providing a
golf course, the effect imported materials might have on local water courses
and restrictions on joining and the safety of the A414 from sites adjoining
that road.

The Head of Planning Services drew attention to the Environmental Impact
Regulations 1999 to 2000 which now required the submission on an environmental
impact assessment as part of a planning application if the construction of a
golf course was considered to have significant environmental effects.
However, the applications for Ongar Park and Blunts Farm had both been
submitted before these regulations had been in force and could not now be
imposed retrospectively even though the Blunts Farm permission had been issued
after the regulations had been introduced.

RESOLVED:

(1) That the background to and construction methods for the Ongar Park Golf
Course, including the importation of material to create levels be noted;

(2) That the increased likelihood of using imported material in the
construction of any future golf courses and other developments as a result of
the Landfill Tax regime be noted;

(3) That, as part of, or in addition to, the requirements of the Environmental
Impact Regulations 1999 to 2000, the officers be asked to produce for the next
meeting of the Committee, a draft of a questionnaire to be completed and
submitted in future by applicants seeking planning permission for golf courses,
including questions regarding the construction methods, amounts and types of
imported materials, existing and future levels, lorry routes and timing and
hours of construction work;

(4) That other Essex authorities be advised of the experience of this case
with a view to an update of, or additions being made to the Essex Golf Report;

(5) That the officers discuss with County Council officers the need to review
procedures for applications which, from an initial processing, it may be
unclear as to which authority will ultimately determine the application, e.g.,
the creation of a fishing lake including the extraction of sand and gravel, to
ensure that the problems experienced with the construction of golf courses are
assessed in these cases;

(6) That representatives of the Environment Agency be invited to attend the
next meeting of the Committee to explain their role in this matter and to answer
questions about the steps they have taken to monitor the development;

(7) That the Head of Planning Services liaise with the Head of Environmental
Services regarding the possible effects on local water courses of the
development and report thereon to the next meeting of the Committee; and

(8) That the Head of Environmental Services report to the next meeting of the
Committee regarding restrictions imposed by the Highway Authority on the
creation of new accesses to and egresses from land immediately adjoining the
A414.

4. GOLF COURSE - BLUNTS FARM, THEYDON BOIS

The Head of Planning Services reported on the background to the granting of
planning permission for an eighteen hole golf course, practice ground, academy
and associated landscaping/contouring including water features and creation of
planted buffer zone to the eastern boundaries, and access to Abridge Road from
the site of Blunts Farm, Coopersale Lane, Theydon Bois. Members noted that on
5 April 2000, Area Plans Sub- Committee 'B' had granted planning permission
subject to completion of an agreement under Section 106 of the Town and
Country Planning Act 1990. However, the agreement had not been signed until
April 2002, at which time the planning permission decision notice had been
issued.

One of the conditions of planning permission required that no development
could take place until details of earthworks had been submitted to and
approved, in writing, by the Local Planning Authority. Those details had to
include the proposed grading and mounding of land areas including the levels
and contours to be formed, showing the relationship of the proposed mounding
to existing vegetation, proposed vegetation and surrounding landform.

The Head of Planning Services advised that following the grant of planning
permission there had been a number of meetings and discussions with agents
representing the developer which had included revisions to the layout of the
course in order to ensure that recently preserved trees and the public
footpath through the site were protected.

The applicants had been informed that a cut-and-fill process would be
acceptable but that the large-scale importation of material onto the site
would be unacceptable. They had responded stating that the approved plan
showed level changes which were to be achieved by the deposit of imported soil
and that whilst the layout might differ, there was a valid permission which
implied agreement to the limited importation of material.

Members noted that it seemed unlikely that the development would take place
without there being some material brought onto the site. As the Council had
not yet approved the final levels, the Environment Agency had not yet taken a
decision on whether a licence would be required for the importation of any
materials.

Members questioned the officers regarding the proposed development including
the access arrangements to the site. Members also questioned whether a means
of liaison had been agreed with the Environment Agency which would secure
thorough monitoring of the development of the site.

RESOLVED:

(1) That the background to and likely construction methods for the Blunts
Farm Golf Course, including the importation of material to create levels be
noted; and

(2) That further consideration be given to this development at the next
meeting including the means of access to the site.

5. DATE OF NEXT MEETING

RESOLVED:

That the officers make arrangements for another meeting of the Committee
following consultation with the Chairman.

CHAIRMAN
Audit and Business Rate Consultative Panel 1 November 1999



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Ongar Park and Blunts Farm Golf Courses - 20 November 2002
Ad Hoc Special