Concerns over Waltham Forest housing plan

Planning inspectors have “significant concerns” about how many thousands of homes Waltham Forest Council wants to build.

According to the current draft of the borough’s local plan, which will shape development until 2035, the council plans to build 1,800 new homes each year.

However, this is a third higher than the target set for Waltham Forest by Mayor of London Sadiq Khan of 1,264 new homes a year for the next decade.

Planning inspectors Catherine Jack and Sarah Housden have raised concerns there is “insufficient evidence” to show the council’s higher target is “justified and deliverable”.

They added: “No other reasonable alternative levels or distribution of growth that might have fulfilled the plan’s strategic objectives, including the objectives of increasing housing and employment provision, have been appraised.

“For example, the London Plan ten-year housing target for Waltham Forest to 2029 could be the basis of a reasonable alternative level of housing growth, but it has not been appraised, and there is no explanation of why it was not considered to be a reasonable alternative.”

The inspectors also raised concerns about tall buildings, flood risk, air quality, the impact of more visitors to Epping Forest and shrinking industrial capacity at Blackhorse Lane.

On the tall buildings, they pointed out a failure to define what a “tall or taller” building is, where they could be built, or how tall they should be.

A lack of air quality modelling to protect Epping Forest was described as “a significant shortcoming at this stage of the examination”.

The inspectors concluded: “Overall, priority appears to have been given to the housing and employment objectives, leaving the other sustainability objectives attracting significantly lesser weight without clear explanation.

“We are therefore unable to conclude that the proposed level of housing growth is justified.”

In a response sent on May 11, the council asked to pause the examination of its draft plan while it gathers more evidence to “address swiftly” the concerns.

When contacted for comment on why its housing target is so high, Councillor Ahsan Khan, deputy leader and cabinet member for housing and regeneration, said the only way to house the 11,000 people on the waiting list is to “build more homes”.

He added: “The inspectors agree that Waltham Forest needs the level of new housing set out in the local plan and we are working to demonstrate how we will achieve our goal in more detail.

“We have already started work to fully address the inspectors’ clarification points so that we can build the houses that residents need and help them access the decent, sustainable jobs and training opportunities the construction industry provides.”

A council spokesperson also confirmed the Waltham Forest’s strategy is “growing our tax base”, by attracting new residents and businesses, to raise money that will manage “demographic pressures and further planned reductions in government funding”.

The council’s goal of building 27,000 homes by 2035 was first introduced by former leader Clare Coghill in 2019, who described her strategy as “ambitious” in grappling with the challenge of predicted population growth.

Conservative group leader Emma Best said: “The planning inspectorate has confirmed what we have been telling the Labour group and talking with residents about for the past two years.

“The housing targets in the local plan are unjustified and undeliverable, rely on inappropriate tall buildings and do not safeguard Epping Forest and its surrounding suburbs.

“Waltham Forest Labour are risking our borough’s future by irresponsibly pushing back on the inspectorate’s and the community’s legitimate concerns.

“They must now concede their plan must change and bring forward an appropriate, affordable and deliverable plan for new homes in our borough.”

Waltham Forest Civic Society have now vowed to campaign against the 27,000 home target, which it fears will “force high-rise developments” and “destroy the character” of Epping Forest and Lea Valley.

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Josh Mellor

Local Democracy Reporter