3,000 new houses could be built in Epping Forest District as part of the proposed expansion of Harlow. Epping Forest District Council would also need to accommodate an extra 3,500 dwellings not directly linked to Harlow if the Government accepts the recommendations of a panel set up to scrutinise the East of England Plan. The Panel rejects proposals for around 6,000 new dwellings at North Weald.
The recommendations are included in the report of the Panel set up to hold the Examination in Public (EiP) of the East of England Plan. The Panel has further reduced the total number of homes allocated to Epping Forest District from 11,000 to 6,500 by removing the allocation specifically identified for North Weald in the East of England Plan.
The Panel`s recommendations for the construction of 6,500 houses would mean significant development within the Green Belt.
The Panel has also recommended that proposals for the expansion of Harlow to the North in East Hertfordshire be dropped despite increasing the overall number of new dwellings designated for Harlow from 8,000 to 13,500 (including the 3,000 to be built in Epping Forest District).
The news has created a mixture of conflicting emotions within Epping Forest District Council. The Council has achieved major successes in its ongoing battles to protect the District. From an original allocation of 18,600 new houses, the Council argued for major reductions. By the time the East of England Plan was published that figure had been reduced to 11,000. The EiP Panel recommendations have now brought the figure down to 6,500.
The new allocation of 6,500 is much closer to the level of development the Council believes the District needs to address a shortage of affordable housing as well as new homes for sale.
However, the Council is deeply concerned. Anger and consternation has been expressed at the proposed location of the new homes and the push to extend Harlow into the Epping Forest Green Belt in what looks like a redrawing of the Council boundaries. If the EiP proposals get the Government go-ahead, an arch of land to the South and West of Harlow including communities in Nazeing, Roydon, Broadley Common, Jacks Hatch and Epping Green could be affected. Expansion East of Harlow could also feature.
There is no question that the proposals represent a massive urban expansion into the Green Belt. Expansion to the South of Harlow also raises the possibility of a southern link road between the A414 and M11.
Epping Forest District Council is being told to work with Harlow District Council to make an early start. The EiP Panel says: The strategy for Harlow should be delivered through a partnership approach based on the Area Regeneration Partnership. Harlow District Council and Epping Forest District Council should prepare a joint LDD (Local Development Document) to establish the planning framework for new urban extensions and Green Belt reviews. The aim will be to bring forward development simultaneously at various locations so as to facilitate a significant increase in housing delivery at an early stage.
While the Council gets down to examining the EiP report in fine detail, Councillors believe now more than ever that it is vital that final decisions on the location of new housing are made by local people through the Planning Authority and not imposed by outsiders or a Government-appointed Development Corporation.
Councillors also want `cast-iron` guarantees that infrastructure will be provided. The East of England Regional Assembly withdrew the endorsement of its own plan last year after doubts emerged over Government promises to fund infrastructure. As the current water shortage and drought restrictions continue, those doubts remain. From the current concerns about water supply, through to the provision for schools, health centres and hospitals, public transport, leisure and work opportunities, the Council wants those cast-iron guarantees of infrastructure in place before a single new house is built.
The EiP Panel itself also identifies infrastructure as a major issue and says that if water supply problems can`t be solved then development should be delayed or altered.
The EiP Panel recommendations have now been submitted to the Rt Hon Ruth Kelly MP, Secretary of State at the Department for Communities and Local Government where the final decisions will be taken. The Government is expected to publish its decisions in November after a further twelve-week consultation period during which Epping Forest District Council will continue to campaign on behalf of our residents and our District.