WARA sent details of our Knollys Nursey site objections to the National Planning Caswork Unit after the proposals were accepted by the full council meeting in December. However, the Council do not have authority to override the Goverments NPPF so this proposal has now been submitted to the Unit to consider the Councils wishes to overide policy.
I have been asked by members to put on the website our submission letter to the Unit in order to demonstrate what we at WARA as representatives of our residents have tried to accomplish on your behalf. We still await the Units decision.
National Planning Casework Unit
5 St Phillips Place
Re: Application EPF/1162/15 – Knollys Nursery, Pick Hill, Waltham Abbey, Essex EN9 3LF
As Chair of the Waltham Abbey Residents Association (WARA), I am acting on behalf of the residents of Pick Hill and the surrounding areas, who wish to strongly object to the proposed development mentioned above, that has been referred to you following three separate council meetings were the scheme was approved by the council members but referred to you as it goes against both Epping Forest District Council’s (EFDC) local plan and also the NPPF guidelines on Green Belt policy..
In the first meeting (EFDC area west planning sub-committee) made up almost exclusively of Waltham Abbey Town Councillors the “very special circumstance” required to remove this site from the Green Belt was the inclusion of the children’s nursery to the scheme. The children’s nursery has been asked to relocate because its current location at King Harold Academy, Waltham Abbey is required to build a 6th Form and needs the space occupied by the nursery for this purpose and the children’s nursery is struggling to find a new home. For some unaccountable reason councillors who rejected a similar application at the site the previous year and several times in the recent past were fully in favour of the latest proposals, they appear to have been convinced on this occasion that the nursery was a much needed facility and that should not be lost. They even stated that they them selves had tried to find alternative locations but were unable to find a single opportunity.
The council voted against the advice of the EFDC Director of Governance who recommended refusal on the grounds that it is inappropriate development within the Green Belt. Nevertheless the application was approved as the members were concerned about the loss of the “much valued” children’s nursery. This decision was contrary to the local plan and it was referred to the District Development Control Committee for further consideration (DDCC)
(Please see attachments relating to our original objection letter)
At the second meeting, (DDCC.) WARA produced evidence that the children’s nursery had not searched the district for alternative accommodation and found several opportunities that were not consulted and were available. Council members then persuaded themselves to concentrate on the 80% affordable element to remove the site from Green Belt, disregarding the NPPF guidelines with regard to the Green Belt.
At this meeting the Waltham Abbey Town councillors who had approved the application at the sub-committee but were not sitting on this committee, were allowed to speak at great length in favour or the proposals, much to the surprise of some of the sitting council members voting on the matter.
Because the Waltham Abbey Town councillors were in full support of the scheme the sitting members were persuaded by their arguments and voted again in favour. The committee were then advised yet again that it was against EFDC policy and it would need to be submitted to the full council. (See attachments ref the children’s nursery on second hearing)
At the third full council meeting, before being referred to the National Planning Casework Unit, WARA consulted with the London Green Belt Council (LGBC) of which WARA is an affiliated member. I as chair presented the case to the full council and the council agreed with our viewpoint and an objection letter was sent from the LGBC supporting our objection on the NPPF guidance on Green Belt.
The chair of the LGBC also recommended that their letter be accompanied by a letter received from Brandon Lewis, the Minister Dept for Communities and Local Government, showing support of the guidelines and reiterating that unmet housing need does not justify inappropriate development within the Green Belt.
The EFDC committee ignored this advice and again voted in favour of the proposals. The LGBC documents were not referred to at the meeting despite being sent to all council members and the presenting officer (please see attached copies of LGBC letter and Brandon Lewis letter to the LGBC.
We at WARA, mandated by our residents to speak on their behalf, are very concerned that the Lea Valley as the largest fresh food producer in the country and 80% of these nurseries fall within EFDC region, should not approve this development. If the green light is shown to Knollys Nursery, it will set a precedent for other nurseries sited within the Green Belt to abandon horticultural activities and seek consent for housing. This is only human nature, as building land has 20-30 times the value of green belt horticultural land and owners will not be able to resist the temptation of a financial windfall.
Approval could have a devastating effect on the local economy, the Nursery trade is the largest employers in the whole district. Waltham Abbey in particular already has acute job shortages with the closure of Pan Britannica Industries making way for a Tesco Store, the closure of the Catalin Factory for a housing development a short time ago, these two sites represented 70% of the employment to the town. This Followed the closure of the Royal Gunpowder Mills in the 1990’s and now we no longer have any industry left employing more that 15 people, other than the nursery trade. This lack of job opportunities causes traffic chaos at peak times with breadwinners forced to seek work in the Greater London Area for employment.
WARA consulted with the Lea Valley Growers Ass to determine whether Knollys could be brought back to commercial viability with a cash investment. They confirmed that all the necessary strategic criteria such as (access to mains gas; commercial vehicle access; room for future expansion;) was in place for the nursery to be productive and cost effective.
But the big question is why should they if they think they can receive a windfall by obtaining planning consent to develop homes on the land. WARA want to send out a strong message to owners, to reinvest in the Nursery Trade. If the predicted population explosion continues and the need to reduce air-miles for our food to reach us, we are going to need local fresh food producers. EFDC’s E13 policy is to increase by 200hectares Glasshouse production in the Lea Valley. This nursery site and all those in the Lea Valley are very important to our food production chain being so close to the massive London market. This area was identified in the 1930’s when the industry moved out of East London to settle in the Lea Valley and its even more vital today.
This decision is not just about forfeiting a slice of Green Belt to meet the unmet housing needs of the district. This is about protecting the Horticultural Industry in the Lea Valley. Lost horticultural land is unlikely to be replaced by neighbouring districts, as they too have the same demands placed upon them to facilitate housing shortages. The massive demand for the increase in housebuilding will consequently increase the demand for fresh food production, so where can this
demand be met if current production land is sold off for housing needs. It will simply be imported thereby increasing our food air-miles. EFDC must be treated as a special circumstances in this instance, no other district has the same environment with the density of Glasshouses situated within its district.
Small plots of Greenhouse land that fail to meet the essential criteria set out by the Lea Valley Growers Association should be permitted to be developed for housing.
But those sites that meet LVGA criteria must be protected from development so that they can meet the needs of the growing population. If the message is spelt out loud and clear owners will reinvest in their land. If not they will allow them to deteriorate in the hope of a financial windfall, and be lost to the fresh food production industry.
WARA can name thee similar nursery sites within 800mtrs of the Knollys nursery site that we know of who are just awaiting the outcome of this decision and are ready to apply for planning permission to develop their Nursery land given the slightest encouragement.
Knollys nursery site is set on the other side of a hill on the edge of an urban developed area.
NPPF guideline states that the Green Belt is designed to stop urban sprawl, that is exactly what this development would constitute. Pick Hill is the boundary between a housing estate and the Metropolitan Green Belt. Over the hill are green fields and nurseries and where do we stop developing when we have moved the natural boundary.
I hope WARA have convinced you that you should heed the advice of the LGBC and reject this proposal and by doing so send a clear message to those awaiting the outcome, that unmet housing need, does not justify inappropriate development within the Green Belt.
We are very disappointed in our local councillors who have not listened to our arguments on Fresh Food Production, refused to apply the Government guidelines to this situation and have totally lost the confidence of our residents in this matter.
Waltham Abbey Residents Association
Copy of Wara first objection letter with
appendix 1 showing flooding in Jan 2103
Appendix 2 Flooding outside 24 Pick Hill Jan -Feb 2013
Appendix 3 Copy of Gov uk doc Councils must protect our Green Belt.
Copy of supplementary letter to planning officer.
Copy of supplementary WARA letter detailing alternative Children’d Nursery locations with photos
Copy of the London Green Belt Council’s letter to EFDC
Copy of the Brandon Lewis document sent to London Green Belt Council.
Copy of Lea Valley Growers Planing threatens the future if the Lea Valley Fresh Produce.
“Members of the National Organisation of Residents Associations (NORA)”
“Members of the London Green Belt Council (LGBC)”