(Epping Forest District Council) To receive a verbal report on the current position of the new Local Plan for the Epping Forest District.
The Service Director (Planning Services), N Richardson, said that the Planning Services Portfolio Holder report to Council on 19 September 2019 that had already been published, provided the most recent update to the Local Plan. The public hearings had finally closed on 11 June 2019. There had been much discussion and high turnouts at some of the hearing sessions. M Beard, the District Council’s Counsel, had thought that the public examination had gone well.
The Inspector had issued advice on 2 August 2019, which was published on the Council’s website, on the changes that would be required to the Local Plan. There were no major problems on the soundness of the Local Plan. The District Council was required to undertake some additional work to agree with the Inspector a final suite of main modifications, which would be subject to a public consultation. The timeline for this work was still being worked out. Further actions to finalise the main modifications included a sustainability appraisal and an updated Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA). The Inspector could not prove beyond all reasonable ‘scientific’ doubt, the robustness of the HRA and that the SAC would not be compromised. The Inspector had asked the Council to update the HRA modelling, which would involve undertaking additional transport modelling and air quality modelling. It would also require careful scoping with relevant consultants and agreement with Natural England on the methodology to be used. This would then feed into a final mitigation strategy addressing both the recreational impact on the Forest and the air quality impact across the whole of the District. A consequence of this was that the District Council was unable to issue planning decisions for additional houses or additional commercial floorspace until an agreement had been reached with Natural England, unless the developer was able to demonstrate that there would be no harm to the Forest in terms of air quality, and for the Council to assess it.
A neighbourhood plan referendum was being held by Moreton, Bobbingworth and the Lavers Parish Council on 26 September 2019. If the referendum result was a yes vote, then a report would be going to Council on 5 November 2019 to be ‘made’. It would then form part of the statutory development plan for the District.
The District Council had been looking at the infrastructure to support growth across the District and was developing a contributions strategy and that had been agreed by Cabinet on 11 July 2019.
The Government had offered Green Belt authorities planning enforcement support. The District Council had made a bid for budget and would hopefully be successful.
The District Council had taken part in the Quality Review Panels, both for the Epping Forest District and Harlow and Gilston Garden Town. The Panel of eighteen experts was chaired by P Maxwell and would help improve the quality of developments. None of the planning applications or pre-planning applications had come before the planning committees yet but the Panel’s recommendations would form part of the planning officers’ reports. Achieving this, would help make improvements in decision making.
Councillor R Bassett asked further about the Epping Forest Special Area of Conservation (SAC). The Service Director (Planning Services) replied that this affected the majority of Epping Forest and was to do with the recreational impact from development, and was set at three kilometres from the SAC boundary for dog walkers. Air quality across the whole of the area of the Epping Forest District was to do with increased traffic movements as a result of planning application permissions.
Councillor R Bassett asked about the current status of the Harlow and Gilston Garden Town. The Service Director (Planning Services) replied that there was a lot going on. A liaison officer, S Williams, had joined the planning team in early August 2019 and would be supporting the work on strategic sites around Harlow.
Councillor G Mohindra was concerned that given the delay with the SAC, as an interim measure, could the District Council charge applicants a fee to cover the cost of mitigations? N Richardson replied that legal advice was being sought to identify what extra air quality work was required but until the HRA was agreed, the District Council could not move forward. There was no interim position at the moment.
Stapleford Abbotts Parish Councillor, J Jackson, remarked that although only 47 houses were identified in the Local Plan for the parish, 134 new houses were being built/planned and other plans were still going through. Many gardens had been sold for cash gain for more housing. The Service Director (Planning Services) replied that the Inspector had not commented that sites in the parish needed to be removed or altered. Planning permission had been granted for the site at the rear of the public house before the SAC restriction. A second residential development near Tysea Hill had been to the Quality Review Panel twice to help move it forward. Windfall sites beyond what the Local Plan was proposing could be looked at within the Local Plan. He acknowledged that even though some sites were in the Green Belt a lot of infilling had been granted over the last two years.
Stanford Rivers Parish Clerk, A Jones, asked about the implementation of the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL). The Service Director (Planning Services) replied that adoption of the Local Plan was required but the Government had removed the S106 pooling restriction. Work on the main modifications of the Local Plan would be undertaken as a matter of priority.
Councillor C C Pond advised that Waltham Forest Borough Council was in the process of adopting a new Local Plan, which had a number of cross-border implications, especially development around north Chingford and its impact on air quality on Epping Forest. The District Council should comment on this consultation, but the deadline was by the end of September 2019. He also commented on the appeal decision for 113 Church Hill in Loughton, which Area Plans South had refused, where the Inspector had upheld a refusal of permission solely because of the SAC, and not on what the planning committee had refused it on, which reinforced N Richardson’s concerns. The Service Director (Planning Services) would check with the Interim Assistant Director (Planning Policy and Implementation) as he was unsure whether the District Council had been consulted.
Councillor C C Pond asked for the Service Director (Planning Services) prognosis as the Inspector had deleted Jessel Green (Loughton) and Limes Farm (Chigwell), which were on public urban open space land. The Service Director (Planning Services) replied that the Inspector had deleted these two sites from the Local Plan and had taken the Inspector’s comments seriously. The Local Plan had provision for 11,400 homes over the course of the Local Plan and had more sites, so Planning Policy needed to look and assess their suitability.
Theydon Bois Parish Councillor, E Burn, asked if Waltham Forest had submitted a HRA and if not, should the Borough Council have done so? The Service Director (Planning Services) confirmed he would check with the Interim Assistant Director (Planning Policy) and would look at including this observation.
Nazeing Parish Councillor, S Clarke, added that the National Planning Policy Framework defined an infill on Green Belt land, but was there a planning definition for windfall sites? The Service Director (Planning Services) replied that windfall sites were for small scale developments within the Local Plan. Infill in the Green Belt was for limited development in villages that did not affect the character of the Green Belt so would have to be on a more built up Green Belt site. Councillor S Clarke asked if there was a threshold for windfall sites was? The Service Director (Planning Services) was not sure, but the only sites assessed in the Local Plan were for sites of six or more units or 0.2 of a hectare or more.
Councillor S Billingham said that in Nazeing the parish had 122 houses allocated in the Local Plan but 270 houses had been granted permission in the last four years. Plus there were 220 homes planned for the Nazeing Glassworks site, and would this be classed as a windfall site? The Service Director (Planning Services) said he would not have thought so. Pre-planning application meetings had taken place, which he had not been involved with, but there was contamination on the site that would be costly to rectify, so the developer had to decide if it was financially viable.
Councillor C C Pond asked about the Transport for London (TfL) car park sites at Debden and Loughton underground stations, as the Inspector had said that the degree and density proposed for the developments by TfL for buildings of 12 to 15 storeys in height were out of character, and unless the developments were scaled down then they would be removed from the Local Plan. Both he and District Councillor M Owen would be interested in these discussions with TfL, but what was the timeframe for this to happen? The Service Director (Planning Services) replied that he was not aware the meetings would involve members, but he was not in contact with TfL but knew this needed to be done and would be.