Councillor Mrs Diana Collins, Leader of Epping Forest District Council issued the following statement in response to the publication of the Government East of England Plan recommendations.
Rt Hon Ruth Kelly MP published recommendations with far reaching implications for the people of Epping Forest District earlier today. If finally adopted by the Government after a period of consultation concluding on 9 March, the recommendations will direct the shape of development in Epping Forest for decades to come.
Since the first draft of the East of England Plan was produced by the East of England Regional Assembly, we have been fighting to protect our district. We are not against development in principle and have argued in favour of more house building. There is a serious shortage not only of general housing in our district but also a particular shortage of affordable housing. However, the proposals as first put forward in the East of England plan and even as subsequently amended would have meant the destruction of some of our most valuable green belt areas. The impact on our rural communities around Harlow might still be a possibility.
We have fought our corner and worked with other councils. Local Parishes such as North Weald who felt the threat of over-development in particular made impassioned pleas to protect our district. The process has taken years but we have gradually chipped away at the original plan through a process of argument and persuasion.
The process reached a critical stage with the publication of the Examination in Public inquiry findings. The most significant achievement to come out of the EiP was an acceptance of our argument that North Weald was the wrong place for large scale development and I am delighted to say that the Secretary of State has today agreed with that view.
Ruth Kelly says: Compared to Harlow North, North Weald would be more distant, less easily integrated with the existing town, likely to be dependent on disproportionately high cost public transport links to Harlow and would encourage more traffic on the M25.
While Epping Forest District Council whole-heartedly endorsed the EiP recommendations not to develop North Weald, we strongly disagreed with another major recommendation “ not to develop Harlow North and to extend Harlow boundaries considerably into the south, east and western green belt boundaries of Epping Forest.
Ruth Kelly appears to have totally rejected the opposition to Harlow North, arguing that it is by far the most appropriate site for large scale expansion of Harlow. She seems to agree with Epping Forest District Council`s argument that development in the North of Harlow offers better prospects for new jobs, housing and a general regeneration of the fortunes of Harlow, making best use of the existing infrastructure with significant improvements to access arrangements.
The overall housing allocation proposal for Harlow is 16,000. Ruth Kelly suggests that Harlow North should take at least 10,000 new homes.
However, the announcement today is not entirely good news. Epping Forest District Council`s strongest objection to the EiP recommendations was the proposed developments to the south, east and west of Harlow as part of Harlow itself and as part of our housing allocation. While some of that housing may now be more likely to appear at Harlow North, the Government keeps references to developments within the green belt areas of Epping Forest. She has also increased our housing allocation from 2,300 to 3,500.
Whilst this news is disappointing, it is tempered by further indications from Ruth Kelly that within the general allocation, she intends to give Epping Forest District and our neighbouring councils more control over the precise location of these new houses. We are encouraged to work with Harlow, East Herts, Essex and Hertfordshire County Councils to develop proposals most sympathetic to us all rather than imposing an unelected Development Corporation over us.
The suggestion seems to be a jointly controlled Local Development Company under the control of the various councils working in partnership with the Government Office. If this is confirmed it will allow us to make the important decisions protecting the interests of our district and is a major victory for local democracy.
The devil is always in the detail and the recommendations published by the Government today run to several hundred pages. Our planning officers will be studying the full text over the next few weeks and we will take this one last opportunity to argue our case before the consultation closes on 9 March.
I would also recommend that councillors and residents study the detail of these recommendations which are available from the Go East Website. It is vital that having achieved so much we keep up the pressure until the final consultation deadline by showing Government the strength of our convictions to the very end.
The focus on today`s announcements is rightly on the number and location of new housing but there are other important elements too. The recommendations include reference to end the landfill disposal of untreated refuse completely by 2021. The importance of reducing and recycling our waste will only grow as the number of new households increases across the area.
The Government also gives commitments to matching any developments with water efficiencies. In it`s first response to the Government, the East of England Regional Assembly calls for Government guarantees on infrastructure and investment to support new and enlarged communities. We live in the driest region of the country. The Government is making great demands of local people and in return we should expect a reciprocal commitment to providing the investment in water, sewage, energy, transport and all the other essential infrastructure requirements.
Planning Officers will be bringing much more detailed reports to councillors in due course. However, on balance I think today we can be proud of the work we have achieved in shaping the East of England Plan and the future of our district.