A prosperous District with jobs and homes for local people. A place where our children can raise their own families and the Green Belt is protected.’ These are the aims as Epping Forest District Council prepares the next phase of consultation with residents on the new Local Plan.
The Local Plan is a framework for development, conservation and investment in the District by individuals, businesses and utilities. It also sets out the policies by which Epping Forest District Council decides planning applications. When the new Plan comes into force in 2014 it will shape the character and development of the District for the next 20 years. The consultation will run from 30 July to 21 September 2012.
Residents have already contributed extensively to the production of the Plan. Backed up with evidence from a wide range of previous research and consultation, the Council will ask fundamental questions. What level of population growth and housing should the District plan for? How should we decide where it should go? What are our employment needs and aspirations? Where should industrial development happen? How do we protect the Green Belt and still provide homes for our children ten or 20 years from now?
The Issues and Options stage of the Local Plan, ‘Community Choices’ will set out the facts as far as the Council can predict future trends. The document will be uploaded to the Council website with an invitation to local residents, business people and other stakeholders to say how the needs of our children should be met over the next 20 years.
“Nationally, the population is growing and Epping Forest District is no different,” says Councillor Richard Bassett, Planning Portfolio Holder. “However, in Epping Forest there are many challenges. Compared to many other places, the net effects of migration in this District are relatively minor. On average only a few hundred extra people move into the District every year. But, the population of Epping Forest is also getting older. We are living longer and in smaller family units. More people are living alone, driving up demand for more homes. As our generation gets older, who will care for us in our old age if lack of housing forces young people to move away?”
Councillor Bassett continued: “These are tough choices. There are around 6,200 households on our housing waiting list. If we want homes for our children, health and social care for our old age, or even the ability to park our cars outside our houses, we have to take a positive approach to the Local Plan.”
‘Community Choices’ draws on residents’ views from the Community Visioning exercise, technical research and information from the ‘Call For Sites’ which invited people to suggest where future growth might take place. It also takes into account data on transport, employment, social and welfare needs. It takes account of services such as water usage, energy supplies, health and leisure. It poses the question of how to accommodate all these needs, yet still protect the Green Belt.
Councillor Bassett said: “That means being realistic. We need to build new homes and everything associated with modern life. Homes need to be the right types in the right places. And we still need to protect the parts of the District we value most. There will have to be compromises. We must aim to protect the beautiful open rural character of the District, conserve our heritage and enhance our towns and villages. We need answers to the problems of traffic congestion, parking and the balance of public and private transport. Infrastructure from water supplies to schools and health services is an essential part of life now and will become even more important in the future. The Local Plan is about striking the right balance.”
Planning Officers are fine-tuning ‘Community Choices’ and the background information now. The consultation will run for eight weeks starting in July. There will be a number of ways to respond, including online where all documents and background documents will be made available. There will be public exhibitions with Planning Officers touring local communities to answer questions and receive feedback.
Councillor Bassett added: “This is a serious business but people should not be unduly alarmed as what we are doing is setting out possible options. Once we receive all of the feedback, we will review the options and consult on these updated options. Every council is going through this process. Looking at different options does not mean every piece of land will be developed or the Green Belt is going to be scrapped. But we cannot stand still. The world moves on and Epping Forest District must move with it. However, with the help of our residents, businesses and other partners, the new Local Plan will leave a legacy to our children and future generations we can be proud of.”