Neighbourhood plans v housing – site selection issues in Theydon Bois
The Localism Act 2011 gave communities an unprecedented opportunity to have their say about future development in their local area, allowing them to play a part in selecting sites for housing development. These proposals are then incorporated into a local plan.
Much has changed since 2011; the UK housing shortage has become more acute, and the government has pledged itself to increase the housing stock by around 300,000 properties a year – roughly equal to building a city the size of Nottingham annually.
As a result of renewed pressure from central government to step up the supply of new homes, local planners have been required to accommodate an increased number of housing units in their submissions. This has inevitably led local people to feel they need to redouble their efforts to preserve the nature of their communities, and in Epping Forest in particular to seek to protect forest and Green Belt land.
Epping Forest District Council’s local plan decision
Land north of Abridge Road, Theydon Bois, known locally as the Old Foresters, had originally been put forward as a site allocated for new homes in the Council’s draft plan prepared in 2016. However, in a later version of the plan drafted last December, the site was dropped. In the 2017 plan, the overall amount of development had been reduced to address local concerns regarding the potential impact on Epping Forest arising from increased residential pressure.
Under the terms of the Localism Act, Councils are required to put their proposals out for public consultation. Feedback received by the Council to the 2016 plan showed that the site “was less preferred by the community as a result of the scale of growth proposed”. It also took account of the objections raised by the City of London’s Conservators of Epping Forest that the site was too close to a special conservation area.
High Court challenge
In May, CK Properties (Theydon Bois) who had hoped to build 133 properties on this site, took their case to the High Court. CK properties claimed that Council members had not been given sufficient time or information to reach an informed decision on whether or not this site should be included in the local plan.
They claimed that opinion had been prejudiced by the non-availability of Appendix B to the Site Selection Report. They also alleged that there were significant flaws in the Council’s consultation process. In the light of the judicial review claim, the Council was ordered to postpone the submission of their draft local plan for examination.
The judge rejected the claim made by CK Properties. In his opinion, it was clear that Council members had been provided with relevant information concerning site selection before and at the meeting on 14th December 2017, and sufficient time had been allowed for debate. He rejected the claim that there were flaws in the public consultation process.
He also added that, as in the case of all local plan drafts, the Theydon Bois plan will be subject to independent examination and review before it can be adopted, meaning that CK Properties would have another opportunity to put forward plans for this site and make a case for its development.
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