Councillor ‘gobsmacked’ by defence of Nazeing green belt proposal

An Essex councillor described himself as “gobsmacked” after the leader of the district’s Green Party advocated for an application for a 52-apartment care home on green belt land.

At a meeting on March 7, members of Epping Forest District Council (EFDC) were presented with the outline application for the care home which, along with a café and convenience store, 13 retirement cottages and 14 other homes, was intended for redeveloping the site of the former Chimes Garden Centre in Nazeing, Waltham Abbey.

Despite the first phase of the site redevelopment being approved in 2019, and implemented with 33 new houses built in 2022, the latest proposal was recommended for refusal by planning officers due to its location on land within the metropolitan green belt. In addition, the area was formerly used as landfill, requiring it to be de-contaminated prior to any further development commencing.

However, Councillor Simon Heap (Green, Buckhurst Hill East) said: “I’m not really sure why (the council) is objecting to this.

“(This development) seems to have appeal; it’s bounded, and I think it should be approved.”

Cllr Heap added that the proposed 18 per cent affordable housing provision (well below the authority’s general requirement of 40 per cent) was not an area of concern, and that his colleagues only needed to look to the council’s wholly-owned development company Qualis to see that the 40 per cent quota is “not necessarily something we need to aim for”.

In a similar vein, EFDC leader Councillor Chris Whitbread (Con. Roydon) said: “The developer of this site has gone a long way to meet the aspirations of the local authority,” referring to the applicant’s pledge of over £3.3 million in section 106 contributions to various schemes including £158,000 to a local bus service, £165,000 to Nazeing Community Centre and £1.7 million for affordable housing provision elsewhere in the district.

In response, EFDC’s portfolio holder for finance and economic development Councillor John Philip (Con. Theydon Bois) said he was “gobsmacked to hear the local Green councillor go against green belt policy”. He added: “We put in place (EFDC’s) local plan in part to protect the green belt.

“There is plenty of other land allocated for development in Epping Forest… green belt land is not named so only if it’s pretty or un-contaminated. This proposal would go against council policy… and I cannot see any good reason to approve it.”

Councillor Heather Brady (Con. Passingford) echoed Cllr Philip’s sentiment and said: “It seems (EFDC) is being asked to consider that the promise of lots of money outweighs green belt policy.”

Planning permission for the proposal was refused by 11 votes to two in favour of protecting the green belt, not accepting the need for care accommodation as ‘very special circumstances’ for overruling this.

Emma Doyle

Local Democracy Reporter