Planning Application by Next PLC and Trinity Hall
Land north of Dowding Way Waltham Abbey. Application number EPF/1413/18
Members of Waltham Abbey Community Campaigns wish to strongly object to the planning application above on the following grounds.
The land in question is currently Green Belt although earmarked for removal from this designation. As the Local Plan is awaiting independent examination and not yet adopted the default legal position is that the land can only be developed where there are very special circumstances.
We strongly argue that there are no special circumstances that would justify development on this land, that the application fails to demonstrate exceptional circumstances. The proposal would be inappropriate development on Green Belt land.
We would suggest that the National Planning Policy Framework should be relied upon as the local plan is as yet unadopted. Paras 79 and 80 state the importance and outlines the five purposes of Green Belt.
- To check unrestricted sprawl – Waltham Abbey is encircled by the M25 at this point. To develop a large industrial estate on the land would be to encroach upon land that provides a distinct boundary around Waltham Abbey.
- To prevent neighbouring towns merging – this proposal would see the beginning of building towards neighbouring areas.
- To assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment – building on this land would mean an environmentally damaging estate within very close proximity to Epping Forest (SAC) and the effects of this would certainly encroach upon the countryside both in a physical sense and by way of its polluting effects.
- To preserve the setting and special character of historic towns – as a historic town with its own character, visitors to the area would be greeted with a large industrial area which would detract from its character enormously.
- To assist in urban generation by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land – as Next PLC already have a distribution centre in South Ockenden and Hemel Hempsted if this were to be moved to Waltham Abbey this would mean the reverse of this purpose as in the absence of any meritorious reason other than financial, moving from one site to another would mean the giving up Green Belt land unnecessarily.
Paragraph 83 states that Green Belt boundaries should only be altered in exceptional circumstances.
These exceptional circumstances will not exist unless potential harm to the Green Belt due to inappropriateness and other harm is clearly outweighed by other considerations. We would argue that this planning application does not go anywhere near to meeting this requirement. Para 89 and 90 state that local planning authorities should consider the construction of new buildings inappropriate in Green Belt and list exceptions to this. It is clear that an industrial unit of this nature does not come under these exceptions.
Although there is no formalised definition of exceptional circumstances it is clear after Gallagher Homes Ltd v Solihull Metropolitan Borough Counicl  that:
- Drawing up a local plan in itself does not amount to exceptional circumstances.
- A local planning authority must find that exceptional circumstances exist before making alterations to the Green Belt boundary.
- Once green belt is established it requires more than general planning concepts to justify alterations.
- The starting point for alteration is that this decision should only arise after all reasonable and acceptable efforts have been taken to maximise the development within the urban area, including a review of employment land.
- General planning merits cannot be exceptional circumstances and something must have happened subsequent to the definition of the Green Belt boundary that justifies a change.
The Community Choices Consultation clearly showed that the public want to protect Green Belt and green spaces.
Wildlife and Ecology
We are aware that the site, in very close proximity to Epping Forest is rich in wildlife and flora as well as being the site of important hedgerows as well as protected species such as bats and badger. We believe the recent European Court of Justice ruling on Habitats Regulations Assessment is relevant to this application.
According to guidance from Natural England bat surveys should be carried out during the following periods:
- Hibernation roosts November–mid March
- Summer roosts May-mid September
- Foraging and commuting May-September
The report says the activity surveys were undertaken during one transect per season between August 2017 and May 2018. This shows that the summer roost surveys were not carried out during the whole of the recommended period and that at June and July were not surveyed, (however that does conflict with the summary at the end of the report which gave different times) if one is to accept the initial times given then this does not correspond the Bat Conservation Trust and Natural England guidelines. Therefore the surveys are not complete for roosts and should be repeated within the guidelines (below) to minimise possibility of the disruption of a bat roost and thereby the possibility of a bat crime. The Bat Conservation Trust guidance states that there should be three surveys during March-September the optimum period being June to August. Clearly this has not been followed and as the ecological report does allude to a high potential for roosts (3.18) failing to carry out a proper assessment in regards to the presence of bat roosts is a serious flaw in the survey, meaning that potential summer bats roosts may have been missed.
In regards to the species of bats seen during the surveys the report is inconsistent. There are three confirmed species using the site but it is unclear as to the total number as at 3.19 it states there are a possible five. On the other hand table 5 lists six species but at 4.15 it says there are three confirmed with a possibility for further species.
Far from Next’s assertion in its PR literature that the numbers of bats are low, we submit that in fact the area is well used by bats and not only the more common species such as pipistrelles but also notable species for rarity include Leisler’s Bat. These rarer bats are less likely to roost in alternative places such as houses which is of great concern in regards to the destruction of the roosting potential on this site.
As the trees and hedgerows are important to bats and, as stated within the report, some have a high potential to support roosts the proposed development could not go ahead without permanently damaging these.
It is also concerning that there is no mention of the need for sensitive lighting needing to be in place both during the building works and after the development has been built. We argue that it would be highly unlikely if not impossible that this could be achieved given the nature of the development.
Legislation dictates that habitats used by bats cannot be damaged or removed. In appendix 4 – there is no mention of the legislative protections relation specifically to bats, for example the Wildlife and Countryside Act 2000, the Natural Rights of Way Act 2000, the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act (NERC) 2006, the Conservation of Habitats Act and Species Regulations 2017.
The site is highly dense in these and they provide the basis of the food chain. Bats, for example can use around 3000 insects per night.
There were 3249 records of 141 species (2012-2016) however there is no data recorded for 2017 and no reason as to why this has not been provided.
At 2.17 it is very concerning that the survey and visits were completed by early May 2018 (the report was completed and published by 15th May and further visits were not considered significant without and rationale given. We would suggest that this indicates that the report has been rushed through to met deadlines and and a full and comprehensive assessment has not been carried out. Further surveys should have taken place in June and beyond to ascertain a full and accurate ecological picture.
The report says that there are 15 species of breeding birds and 28 species of non breeding birds. There are 13 notable species and eight birds on the BOCC red list and five on the amber list.
There is an attempt at 3.29 to disassociate the environmental damage that would be caused by the development by stating that declines are not thought to be driven by development impacts and it is difficult to comprehend how two years worth of habitat removal and disruption together with ongoing environmentally damaging emissions, noise pollution 24 hours a day seven days a week.
There is evidence that badgers are using the site. No sets were noticed, however, given that the report is severely lacking in its integrity and authority so many areas there is a high possibility that sets are present but not seen.
The reptile surveys were carried out on cloudy days only. There was no range of weather conditions. There are reptiles within 2km of the study area (zone of influence).
Important for wildlife, soil, pollutant controlling and water management.
According the assessment three are classified as important under the Hedgerow Regulations 1997 and the Wildlife and Landscape criteria. A number are important for a number of protected species e.g. birds, bats, hedgehogs is the hedgerow dividing phase 1 and 2. This particular hedgerow also had the rare Leisler’s bat noted during the bat survey. It is not clear from the plan whether this hedgerow would remain, however, it would seem unlikely given its prominence within the middle of the site. As it is important there is a strong presumption that it should be protected. If the hedgerow is to remain in its entirety it would be severely impacted by the resulting nitrogen deposition. Deposited nitrogen (as outlined in the Epping Forest District Local Plan) can cause growth stimulation, inhibition, and also biochemical and physiological impacts including changes to chlorophyll content.
The Essex Biodiversity Plan is to maintain the net extend of established hedgerows and in fact achieve a net increase in the number of young hedgerows of 1km per year.
EFDC’s own take on biodiversity lists and gives guidance on preserving and enhancing biodiversity and states “Human activities are influencing climate change, urban development, agricultural intensification and road building have and impact on wildlife” The Essex Biodiversity Action Plan targets are that there should be no net loss of arable field margins and to expand the area (of low input cultivated permanent grass, flower rich and wild bird seed ) arable field margins by 5% by 2020.
The ecological report itself shows that, far from being of little ecological value, the site is in fact and area that is rich is a wide variety of wildlife supported by important hedgerows and trees.
As well as more common species of wildlife there are bats (protected by legislation) evidence of badger and mammals in severe decline for example hedgehog and rare birds.
The planning documents reveal a large area of land where virtually the whole of the landscape would be built upon and all of the habitats and wildlife would be removed leaving just a very narrow margin of greenery at the very edge.
The undetailed and very brief mitigation summary consisting of three sentences is revealing in its brevity. We say that the damage to the habitat and wildlife cannot be mitigated and the effects of the losses will be devastating and permanent. We feel that if this development were to be allowed to proceed that the effects will be felt for ever.
In regards to the soundness of the ecological survey, this has clearly not been carried out adequately, there are several areas of concern, conflicting information and in relation to bats in particular, a properly conducted survey is required to show that there has been a full and adequate survey to determine the presence or absence of roosts.
The lack of clarity and conflicting information in the ecological report especially in regard to the bat surveys clearly demonstrate an urgent need for a full and proper bat survey to be undertaken before any planning decisions are made. The report fails to demonstrate any worthy mitigation and from that we can confidently state that is because mitigation is not possible with this type of development.
Proximity to Epping Forest SAC
The site lies at 0.75 km from Epping Forest. It is therefore going to have a severe negative impact upon the flora and fauna of the forest. The A121 adjacent to the site and which the vehicles from the site will use (it is submitted that it is likely that many will use the A121 to get to Epping and where there are problems on or near the j26 entrance) was identified for further investigation (Epping Forest Local Plan 2.4.7). The HRA Screening of the Local Plan 2017 at 3.14 alludes to the fact that Epping Forest is already adversely affected by poor air quality due to the adjacent roads and this has demonstrated a negative impact on the lichen community of the woodland. The same document also outlines the plans for mitigation and improvement of the local air quality, that the air quality was still forecast to be higher than the critical level and critical load even after allowing for (inter) national initiatives in regards to vehicle emissions and at 3.16 state that the authorities considered it was appropriate to take active steps to minimise the increase in traffic flows and improve air quality. This development would have an adverse effect on air quality thus adversely affecting the forest and its biodiversity. Planning approval would therefore not be in keeping with the recommendations of the HRA.
EFDC has recently faced a court challenge in the form of a judicial review by a developer refused planning permission in Theydon Bois, R CK Properties (Theydon Bois) v Epping Forest District Council (2018) EWHC 1649. One of the arguments against the development by the Conservators of Epping Forest and taken up by EFDC was the proximity of the development to the forest and the resulting recreational pressure and air quality. If EFDC were to agree this planning proposal it would be going against its own argument that it relied upon in the case, considering that the Dowding Way site is 0.75 km from Epping Forest.
The extra traffic would have an impact not only on local residents, businesses and organisations it would also impact upon horse riders, pedestrians and cyclists. It is recognised by many residents (judging by the ongoing concerns discussed on social media and members of this group) that the current situation around the M25 entrance/exit, Dowding Way, Woodridden Hill (A121) and Honey Lane in regards to traffic is already at crisis level. The traffic is also affecting the ability to get to and from Leverton School. To add to the volume of traffic from a quality of life perspective would be severely damaging to the area and surrounding areas of Loughton and Epping.
Waltham Abbey a Deprived Area and Jobs
Next sought to justify why Waltham Abbey would benefit from an industrial warehouse by stating in the pre consultation period that Waltham Abbey was deprived and in need of the jobs they could offer. In fact, although like in most towns there are poorer areas, the employment rate is lower than the national average. House and rental prices are high and many areas of Waltham Abbey enjoy a good standard of living.
The actual number of jobs what would be available is unclear according to Next’s proposal and can vary between 950 FTE to a few hundred.
We wholly refute the idea that Waltham Abbey does in fact need these jobs; the reality is that a simple jobs search on a popular job search site such as indeed.com shows there are multiple job vacancies in Waltham Abbey alone. Many of these are for warehouse positions in Sainsbury’s very near to the Dowding Way site. Many of these are for multiple vacancies and that is just one website not a comprehensive search. We are aware that many of jobs in Sainsbury’s for example are held by people who do not live in Waltham Abbey. Going forward in years to come jobs should be the right jobs in the right area.
We do acknowledge that that council, under the Local Plan when (and if) adopted (in its current form) have committed to create more jobs in the area for the future. Waltham Abbey, with its poor transport links and lack of train service could certainly do with a boost and such a beautiful historical town should have meaningful investment that will enhance the area. The Local Plan and the Community Choices Consultation mention the potential for tourism and in fact the Local Plan has a very positive outlook for the hotel industry.
The Marriot Hotel for example is likely to also be affected if the plan were to go ahead, in such close proximity to the site, guests will not be encouraged by the presence of a huge warehouse in what is, otherwise a beautiful area. Far from enhancing Waltham Abbey we would say that the warehouse would detract from the area, rob it of much of its character and even prevent other businesses from investing in the area.
Sun Street is seeing signs of local business investment and wine Bars such as Vintner and Mason, eateries such as the Gatehouse and a new Turkish restaurant are adding character and charm to the area. The is potential for jobs and healthy local businesses including hotels and tourism businesses if business such as this are invested in. The area could be much enhanced and grown not by a large ugly building that will ruin the area and stifle local business but by thoughtful and careful innovative planning which will create jobs and and bring people to the area for many years to come. Creating jobs within the town centre will mean people will spend money in the town centre. Workers in Dowding Way are not likely to wait for a bus to get to the town centre in their lunch hour or at the end of their shift. Their wages, we argue would not be spent in Waltham Abbey at all.
We say that to encourage real long term jobs and investment to the area, the town’s unique historical value and character should be exploited and investment in the hotel and tourism industries could be undertaken through imaginative and thoughtful planning that is in keeping with the town. A warehouse such as this at the approach in the town is likely to stifle Waltham Abbey and turn it into an industrial town with gridlocked traffic and loss of local business due to traffic and amenity issues.
If jobs were to be taken by residents of Waltham Abbey that would mean that, by definition, more housing is needed creating yet further pressure on our already inadequate infrastructure. Comments raised by the Infrastructure Planning Officer require a S106 agreement to mitigate the extra childcare places that would be needed.
Traffic and Transport
Waltham Abbey has poor transport links and Next say they will provide an on demand bus service and give around £65000 to facilitate this. This bus service will run as an on demand service and the poorly advertised exhibition that Next PR department held at the town hall stated that this service would serve around a 15 mile radius (contrary to Next’s claim that the jobs would be much needed for local people.) It also showed that the bus service would be running up and down Honey Lane from around 01.00 to 5.00. Honey Lane is congested with traffic gridlocks, fumes and pollution and noise. Residents could now face that added disruptions of an all night bus service. This is totally unacceptable for local people.
The money, Next say, will last for three years….what happens after three years?
The present situation is untenable. Residents who are members of this group and live on Honey Lane, High Beech and the Abbeyfields estate and Meridian Way are subject to virtually daily traffic congestion, affecting the commuting and getting children to school. Any slight issues with the M25 J26 immediately spill out onto the A121 and forest roads causing traffic congestion in the relatively narrow roads through the forest and High Beech. To add well over 700 large vehicles plus the staff traffic to the area could mean the strangulation of Waltham Abbey, with the long term effects being a once pretty historical town with some benefit of tourism, becoming an industrialised town, having its character removed and green space gone with a lack lustre town centre that has suffered because people cannot get to it due to an inadequate bus service and severe traffic congestion.
At present the air quality is poor. The traffic congestion issues will compound the air quality issues. The increase in nitrous oxide which contributes to ozone has long term health effects including cardiovascular and respiratory disease according to the World Health Organisation and many other recognised authorities.
Epping Forest already has areas of significant concern. Adding to this pressure would be adding to a long term public health issue including premature deaths.
There are already significant concerns from Natural England about the effects of poor air quality on the forest including the trees and their supporting network of fungi, vital to the long term survival of this protected woodland of international importance. The further encroachment of industrialisation of the area so close to the forest will impact on its future and we should all be protecting and enhancing the ecology of the area. This type of development is wholly at odds with preserving the delicate ecological balance of the area.
Road Quality – Dowding Way
The road was originally built over marsh land – it needs regular maintenance and repairs, there are smashed bollards and it is not adequate for such heavy traffic flow.
At the present time a short trip in distance along Honey Lane and up through Woodridden Hill will almost always bring the car driver in close proximity to a Sainsbury’s HGV as well as many others. To rest they often park up down Horseshoe Lane near the Marriott which is a pleasant residential area currently being overtaken by lorries using it as a pit stop, or even in lay byes near the roundabouts. They often drop litter and according to the local Litter Picking Group one of the worst areas for litter in Waltham Abbey is around the M25 roundabout. The area has relatively narrow roads and is simply not suited to such weights of traffic. There are frequent accidents on the roundabout and many deer fatalities due to a lack of understanding and sensitivity that needed when driving through what is effectively a wildlife habitat.
Lack of amenity
The ability to get around, to and from work with relative ease, the need to breath clean air, to enjoy the historical value of Waltham Abbey, to enjoy the green space and feel the local biodiversity and wildlife are protected, and to be secure in the fact that future planning decisions are made in sympathy with the area are all under threat and will be lost if this envelopment is allowed.
The future of any community should not be based on economic drivers alone. The whole picture, especially in regards to environmental impact, health and quality of life, should be considered in balance.
The development would give nothing of value to the area and would see the end of Waltham Abbey as a characterful town.
Carina Hill LLB LPC
Waltham Abbey Community Campaigns