Statement on the Adoption of the Interim Air Pollution Mitigation Strategy
We are committed to making Epping Forest District a good place to live and increasing the opportunities to work and play in the neighbourhoods where people live.
To do this we need a Local Plan and to make sure ALL development, including housing and employment use is measured and is sustainable as well as providing for commensurate improvements in infrastructure such as schools, hospital, public transport, and the environment in general.
Because our District benefits from the proximity of Epping Forest we need to be protective of this heritage so that future generations take as much enjoyment from the Forest as we do. Unfortunately, the habitats in the Forest are already suffering from the emissions of the vehicles that pass through it and, even without any further development, we need to address this and make sure any development does not add to the concerns around the future of the Forest.
We have therefore worked with Natural England to come forward with a series of actions to address air quality issues within the Forest and one, and only one thing on this list is a clean air zone.
Whether such a zone continues to be needed and how this zone could work taking account of local issues and the flexibilities associated with establishing such a zone, is subject to continued environmental measurement and the detailed work-up of all schemes on the list including the options that surround a clean air zone.
We are all aware that generally we are at a point of change. Electric and Fuel Cell powered vehicles are becoming more freely available, companies are changing their vehicle fleets and of course Covid-19 has made us reconsider the value and the time that is lost in commuting from home to work.
To deliver the improvements we and our children want in both sustainable housing and local employment we need an Air Pollution Mitigation Strategy to allow measured development leading us to be able to determine planning applications and supports the emerging Local Plan.
In delivering development in the District and to ensure we keep the Forest for future generations we need an air quality mitigation strategy that contains a clean air zone as one of many measures to improve air quality.
We all know that electric vehicles as they become more available and changed patterns of work will improve air quality and therefore alongside other planned measures will have significant impacts on how and when a clean air zone is delivered and needed.
Your concerns are recognised and as we move forward the detailed observations and preferences will of course be taken into account.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is Epping Forest special?
Epping Forest stretches from North East London into rural Essex. It is one of the last remaining ancient woodlands in Europe. It is a mixed deciduous woodland including many important oak and beech trees as well as other rare flora and fungi. It is also home to a number of rare animal species including the stag beetle.
For this reason, the Forest is protected by Site of Special Scientific Interest status and is designated as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC). Together with Green Belt status, this tightly limits what can be done in the Forest and impacts upon all proposed development across the whole district.
Why does the Forest need more protection?
The Forest eco-system is known to be affected by relatively poor local air quality alongside the roads that run through it and this has been demonstrated to have negatively affected the woodland. The nature of the road network is such that there is a high volume of traffic that use the roads which bisect the Epping Forest SAC and queues are known to build up around the Wake Arms Roundabout which increases emissions compared to the same volume of free-flowing traffic.
General air pollution plays a part but there is particular concern about the damage caused by the emissions of Nitrogen oxides and ammonia from road traffic vehicles and their impact on the flora and fauna of the Forest. The evidence shows that measures will be required to mitigate the impact of additional traffic arising from new development in the District.
If more housing means more cars and pollution, why allow new homes to be built?
Even though the District is heavily constrained in terms of what development it can approve the Government still sets targets for new homes that must be developed in each council’s area. The Council must plan to accommodate these homes and the process for considering these is through the development and adoption of the Local Plan.
It is the Government’s priority to respond to the national housing crisis. New homes are required for future generations and all councils are required to sustainably meet some of this need in their local areas.
If the Council doesn’t properly plan to meet its housing requirement then the Government’s Planning Inspector can find the Local Plan unsound. The Government has imposed deadlines for the adoption the Local Plan and if the Council does not meet these the Government can remove the Council’s planning powers and decide itself where it wants development to take place.
This has happened in other council areas and where it has happened the council and the local people have lost control over future developments. This is something the council strongly wants to avoid and so must plan to meet its housing requirement.
The Government continually revises the numbers of houses each Council area has to plan for. The emerging Local Plan is planning for 11,400 homes. If the Council has to stop and start again, this target will increase to nearly 21,000.
To make sure the emerging Local Plan can be found sound the Council must have an Air Pollution Mitigation Strategy.
What would be the impact on the Forest?
The Forest is an important and fragile ecosystem that has come under pressure from increased traffic movements and development in recent years and therefore needs to be protected.
Natural England is a Government body and it is their job to make sure that important habitats, such as Epping Forest, are protected for future generations. To make sure sites like this are protected the Council must consult with Natural England and take onboard their comments to ensure that new developments don’t impacts on the Forest.
When the Council submitted its draft Local Plan, Natural England raised concerns about the cumulative air quality impact on the Forest of the current and new development proposed within it. The Planning Inspector listened to their views and concluded that more information was needed in order to understand the issues. This created a pause which meant the Council could not issue planning permission for new development that may adversely affect the Forest.
This will remain the position until the Council can agree a Strategy that limits the increase in Air Pollution from any new developments.
This delay is preventing many individuals from receiving planning decisions, not only for residential properties but also for small businesses, such as a children’s nursery and stables.
What is the solution to protecting the Forest from the impacts of Development?
The Council have worked closely with Natural England to develop an Air Pollution Mitigation Strategy that sets out how the Council would mitigate the impact of new developments on the air quality in the Forest in a way that didn’t make the current position worse.
The Interim Air Pollution Mitigation Strategy sets out the actions the Council will take to facilitate housing, employment and other development to meet the identified needs of the District without causing an adverse impact on the Forest. It should be recognised that most of the sites proposed for allocation in the Council’s emerging Local Plan are in other parts of the District and well away from the Forest.
After working with Natural England for some time, the Council has now agreed an Interim Air Pollution Strategy that Natural England and the Council believe will be acceptable to the Local Plan Inspector.
What actions does the Interim Air Pollution Mitigation Strategy propose?
The Interim Air Pollution Mitigation Strategy sets out the actions the Council and the Government will implement to reduce the emission of harmful gasses and particulates from vehicles, homes and businesses.
There are a number of local and national measures that will be taken to promote the increased use of low emission vehicles and improve the air quality in the Forest between now and 2025. The Interim Air Pollution Mitigation Strategy measures include:
- The requirement for electric vehicle charging points in all new developments which include the provision of new parking spaces
- Route Management Strategies for developments which generate Heavy Goods Vehicle movements
- People will be further encouraged to switch to low or zero emission vehicles by publicising government initiatives that support the government announcement that the sale of all new diesel and petrol engine vehicles will be phased out which is already increasing the purchase of electric cars
- Local planning application approvals to encourage less reliance on car usage
- Developments in home working supported by new broadband infrastructure to encourage people to drive less
- Greater focus on sustainable means of transport including walking and cycling
- And finally, the introduction of a Clean Air Zone to disincentivise only the drivers of the most polluting vehicles, if all of the other measures aren’t successful
Why the current focus on a Clean Air Zone?
In practice this has become the focus, when in reality the issue is much bigger than just this point. It is essential that pollution levels are reduced overtime to protect the Forest and the residents of the District from the harmful effects of poor air quality. There is an increasing body of scientific evidence that highlights just how damaging these emissions can be to the local environment, to its people and to the climate. This is a real issue and must be taken seriously.
Despite its inclusion in the Interim Air Pollution Mitigation Strategy, it doesn’t mean that a Clean Air Zone has to happen. A Clean Air Zone can be avoided if all proposed and new mitigation measures reduced air pollution sufficiently.
Will a Clean Air Zone happen if this Strategy is approved?
It is important to say that it cannot be ruled out absolutely, but there are a number of reasons for optimism that may mean it will not be necessary. Prior to any implementation there are many checks and balances which would need to be worked through before the details of how it would operate were worked out. This would include a full consultation exercise with everyone affected.
The reasons why it is felt that a Clean Air Zone may not be required include:
- The Government’s commitment to ban the sale of new diesel and petrol engine vehicles from 2030. Although this is a hard date, as it approaches it is expected that people will transition to electric or hydrogen alternatives in increasing numbers as the date approaches. This will be aided by better battery lives and a trend towards hybrid and lower emission vehicles in the transitioning period between now and then
- Many of the temporary alternative working patterns people have adopted during Covid-19 are likely to become permanent and this means a shift in how people work, a reduced reliance on travel to work and fewer journeys and emissions as a consequence
- The Government commitment to the Paris accord is likely to result in multiple new initiatives and tax incentives that could have significant impact on the rate of transition to cleaner alternatives in transport, home heating, energy efficiency and energy generation
What happens to Planning Applications until the Interim Air Pollution Mitigation Strategy is approved?
Until the adoption of an Air Pollution Mitigation Strategy the Council cannot issue planning permission for any new development that results in an increase in the amount of traffic using roads in EFSAC or in close proximity to the EFSAC. This is because a number of the important habitats and species are affected by air pollution and a key contributor to this pollution is vehicles.
With the adoption and delivery of the Interim Air-Pollution Strategy that has been agreed the Council will be able to determine planning applications currently on hold. The Strategy will also be one of the supporting documents in finalising the Local Plan and will form part of the forthcoming Main Modifications consultation.
Why doesn’t the Council wait for the Local Plan Inspector to consider the Strategy?
As soon as the Interim Air Pollution Mitigation Strategy is adopted it becomes an important consideration in the making planning decisions.
Legal advice provided to the Council is that there is no legal reason why adopting the Interim Air Pollution Mitigation Strategy has to wait for the Planning Inspector. The Council can legally make these decisions now.
The Council adopted the same approach for managing the impact of recreational pressure on the Forest. This was agreed back in October 2018 and has been used in the determination of planning applications since then. The legal principles are exactly the same for the Interim Air Pollution Mitigation Strategy.
If the Council can legally issues planning decisions and decides not to, then the Council puts itself at risk of legal challenge.