The feasibility of providing a new community leisure centre and swimming pool to be built in Epping is being actively explored. Proposals are being discussed with Places Leisure (the leisure arm of Places for People), the District Council’s current leisure provider and Epping Town Council.
The new centre could form part of the larger St Johns development to potentially include the first cinema in the town for decades, new shops, public open space and housing. The councils have withdrawn from previous plans to sell the area to a private developer, Frontier Estates. Frontier had intended to build a mixed use scheme to include a supermarket, but changes to the retail environment have made the approach less favourable and the Councils are now actively pursuing the new leisure option with Places Leisure.
The proposals include the transfer of the District Council depot to its new headquarters at Oakwood Hill in Loughton, and freeing up the site of the current Epping Sports Centre for housing as set out in the draft Local Plan. New Town Council offices would also be built into the new plans.
Epping Forest District Council remains one of the few councils able to invest in new leisure services. Its property portfolio includes the new shopping park in Loughton, now adding to the Council’s income from other shops, industrial units and commercial properties across the district. Income from these properties allows Epping Forest District Council to set one of the lowest Council Tax rates in Essex while continuing to invest in major new schemes.
In partnership with Places Leisure, it has just completed improvements at Ongar and the current Epping centre, built a major extension to Loughton Leisure Centre opened last week, and is due to complete the brand new Waltham Abbey Leisure Centre in November.
Councillor Chris Whitbread, Leader of Epping Forest District Council was delighted to make the latest Epping announcement with the Epping Town Mayor, Councillor Nigel Avey.
Councillor Whitbread said: “Today marks a milestone in the history of Epping. These plans can transform the heart of Epping, building on the current success story with an even better town centre. We are creating a wonderful new space to draw in visitors, providing jobs, leisure and housing. It would be a major boost to the local economy and a fantastic enhancement to our town.
Councillor Nigel Avey added: “Our two councils have a joint vision for Epping, our town and our community. It has been a long road, with setbacks, but both the Town and District have stuck to our guns in putting Epping first. With Places for People, we think we could find a private partner that has already demonstrated its local commitment through the provision of fantastic new community facilities across the district. St Johns would be on a larger scale with benefits to match.”
Public consultation on the new plans will take place in the New Year with outline planning permission being sought thereafter.
Epping Forest District Council and Epping Town Council originally went into partnership with Essex County Council and a private developer, Frontier Estates, to redevelop the St Johns area of Epping.
The site comprises the former primary school, town council offices, and district council depot. From the outset the advantages of redeveloping the separate sites as a single holistic project made more sense than piecemeal redevelopment. The District Council took a major step forward when it bought the freehold of St Johns Primary School from Essex County Council as a means of ensuring that vision was followed.
Consultation with residents had previously altered the original design brief. Residents welcomed additional housing, shops and public open space but there was also a strong call for Epping to have its own cinema again, particularly for the benefit of the town’s young people.
Separately, an ongoing debate has been conducted over the future of Epping Sports Centre. Although the District Council has continued to invest in the Centre, its long term future has always been in doubt due to its location and construction. The site was identified for housing in the draft Local Plan, although the Council promised no plans would be made to close it until new facilities had been provided.
The new relationship forged between Places Leisure and Epping Forest District Council at its other leisure facilities around the district, combined with the opportunities at St Johns Road are crystalising into the new plans in partnership with Epping Town Council.
Other potential sites were also considered to replace Epping Sports Centre. Among other sites, a group of sports centre users had suggested an area currently owned by St Margaret’s Hospital and the District Council had also looked at reprovision at North Weald Airfield. Early investigations into the possibility of a joint-use centre with St Johns Secondary School had not passed feasibility discussions.
Apart from concerns over access and location, the cost of the St Margaret’s proposal involving the purchase of the land would have been prohibitive. North Weald Airfield and the largest part of St Johns are already owned by Epping Forest District Council, making each of these options much more affordable.
The previous aspiration to build an additional supermarket in Epping has been dropped.
With public calls for the new centre to be located as close as possible to the heart of Epping and customers not wishing to see a new North Weald facility lead to the closure of Ongar, the proposal to build at St Johns will come as welcome news.
- The St John’s Road redevelopment scheme is an important strategic project for the District, because of its ability to deliver both significant community and economic benefits.
- The site totals 3.68 acres and is in a prime town centre location. The original land ownership comprises of Essex County Council (former junior school) 2.59 Acres, Epping Forest District Council (Housing Repairs Depot) 0.59 Acres and Epping Town Council (Epping Hall) 0.54 Acres.
- The three public bodies have been working in partnership since the Junior School relocated to bring forward an appropriate redevelopment scheme.
- In recognition of the profile of the site and the high level of public interest a consultative approach with the local community has always been adopted, including a range of interested parties and stakeholders.
- As a result of public consultation the Council adopted a design and development planning brief for the site.
- The planning brief was for a mixed use scheme to include a food store (12,000sq ft) cinema, restaurants, ancillary retail use, car parking and up to 34 units of housing.
- In order to deliver the redevelopment the three Councils sought a specialist development company with the required expertise. After expressions of interest were received, Frontier Estates were appointed.
- After an extensive period of negotiation, which in order to ensure that the desired outcomes of the design and development brief were achieved, involved the purchase of the County Council’s land by Epping Forest District Council, it was anticipated that the final contracts could be entered into in the summer.
- However, it has not been possible to reach a final mutually agreeable position between the District Council, Town Council and Frontier Estates. The time taken to conclude negotiations has seen change in the retail market and Frontier Estates development risk increase.
- Therefore both the Town Council and District Council are now actively exploring an alternative which still delivers the community and economic briefs they both are keen to achieve for local residents.
- It is still the intention to pursue a mixed use scheme in accordance with the sites allocation in the submission version at the District Council’s Local Plan.
- However, the District Council is currently accessing the most suitable location for the reprovision at Epping Sports Centre which is ageing and constrained in terms of access. The St John’s site can now form part of this option appraisal.
- In the intervening period the District Council will continue to ensure the security of the site and keep residents updated.