Housing U-Turn on East of England Plan

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A mixture of shock, surprise and delight greeted the recommendations of the Examination in Public (EiP) Panel report on the East of England Plan as the proposal for new housing in Epping Forest District was slashed from 11,000 to 6,500. In most Districts in the region the total either went up or stayed the same.

There was good news for North Weald as the Panel Inspectors recommended dropping references to the development of 6,000 homes in an area on and around the airfield. However, many residents living along the southern, eastern and western boundaries of Harlow will have deep concerns about the potential expansion of Harlow into Green Belt areas of Epping Forest District, by up to 3,000 homes. The Panel Inspectors did not recommend that this development be deleted, although they did say that land North of Harlow should not be built upon.

While Councillors feel major victories have been won, further battles still lie ahead.

The original proposal in the first draft Regional Planning Guidance (RPG14) suggested as many as 18,600 new dwellings should be built in Epping Forest District, before organisations including the District and local Town and Parish Councils persuaded the East of England Assembly to reduce the number to 11,000. While the recommended further reductions to 6,500 by the EiP are welcome, there was shock when it emerged that rather than removing the 2,700 that had been suggested for the fringes of Harlow in Epping Forest District, the Panel had increased the figure to 3,000 new homes. Major concerns have been raised about the potential impact on rural communities such as Roydon, Nazeing, Epping Green and Jacks Hatch. The EiP Report of the Panel Inspectors also holds out the possibility of Harlow expansion east into the District near Sheering.

From the outset, we argued that it was vital for Epping Forest District Council to have planning control over the location of new homes in our District, regardless of the numbers finally allocated to us, said Councillor Mrs Anne Grigg, Planning and Economic Development Portfolio Holder. We believe we are best placed to know where they should go. I have great concerns that a solution will be imposed on us by unelected and remote civil servants that fail to appreciate and understand the needs of people living here now.

By not approving of expansion of Harlow to the North, but still recommending expansion into Epping Forest, the EiP Panel is effectively saying that we would have no choice but to develop significant areas of Green Belt land in our District.

The Report from the Panel of Inspectors who conducted the EiP makes recommendations but it will be for the Secretary of State for the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Rt Hon Ruth Kelly MP to make the final decisions. These will be published in the Government`s Proposed Changes, due out in October. Ruth Kelly will hold a further period of public consultation for about 12 weeks before making her final decision on the East of England Plan. She is expected to approve the final version of the Regional Plan in Spring 2007. Councillor Mrs Grigg said: Nothing has been decided yet. We must remain cautious about the apparent good news for North Weald and continue to campaign against inappropriate developments elsewhere in the District.

The East of England Plan proposes that almost half a million new homes be built in the region. Large numbers have been recommended for Essex and Hertfordshire. Epping Forest District Council has voiced concerns not only about the District`s capacity to accommodate large new developments but also Government promises to provide the infrastructure to cope with so many extra people.

Councillor Mrs Grigg said: Wherever these new homes go, it is vital that the Government meets its promises on basic infrastructure. I don`t only mean obvious things like health, education, leisure, public transport and work opportunities. I am talking about basic essentials like water, sewage, gas and electricity. It is vital that we get the fundamental infrastructure in place before any new homes are built.

For more information log on to the East of England website www.eera.gov.uk The Report of the Panel is on the website. It can also be inspected at Planning Reception in the Civic Offices at Epping, or in Public Libraries.

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