Decision to replace Chingford house with block of flats prompts fury from residents

A decision to tear down a house and replace it with a block of flats was met with fury and disappointment from Chingford residents.

Plans to replace a three-storey house and garage in Mount Echo Avenue with two buildings comprising nine flats were approved by Waltham Forest councillors on Tuesday (April 2).

During a heated hour-long debate at the planning committee meeting, residents argued it would severely undermine their quality of life: stripping them of their privacy, worsening traffic, and adversely impacting the price of their homes.

Richard Woodburn, a resident living next-door to the planned flats, said it would “devastate” their daily lives if it were to go ahead.

He said the block would be “three floors of noise” and expressed serious concerns that the building would be connected to his detached home.

Emma Best, the Conservative councillor for the Endlebury ward, joined the meeting via video link and said the disruption to Richard’s life was “unconscionable”.

The father-of-two had also argued that residents in the new flats – housed in a two-storey building and a part-three, part-four-storey building – would be able to see directly into his bathroom, living and bedrooms.

But the residents of Mount Echo Avenue were ultimately unsuccessful in their plea.

George Ruffy, the managing director of landowner Mount Echo Homes Ltd, successfully argued to the committee it would increase housing provision in the borough, which is severely lacking, and give first-time buyers a place to live.

He said the new block would replace one home with nine, more energy-efficient units, while increasing biodiversity in the area – a requirement set out by the council.

The applicant added that the proposals had been developed over four planning meetings, and had been supported by the council’s internal planning team.

He said the company had invested “time and energy” responding to residents’ concerns, and a report before the committee indicated residents living in Mount Echo Avenue, Seymour Road, Echo Height and Sunset Avenue had been consulted.

However, those present said no such dialogue had taken place.

Alongside privacy issues, much of the debate focused on the affordability of the flats.

Resident Leigh Heale, with ten fellow residents standing alongside and behind her, said they would not be attainable for the “vast majority” of people living in or moving to the borough.

During her three-minute address, she stressed that the group was not opposed to proposals in the area, just to this specific instance of “overdevelopment”.

However, affordability is not a concern of the planning department, Cllr Gray said.

Affordable housing, as designated by central government, only needs to be considered in developments of ten or more units.

In this sense, ‘affordable housing’ refers to homes sold or leased at 80% of the market rate, in a bid to help people earning less than £80,000 onto the property ladder.

While Cllr Gray said she would “love to see” it in every development, it was not a planning ground on which they could refuse the application.

Following on from the planning officers’ recommendation to approve the plan, three of the four members present voted in favour. Conservative councillor John Moss voted against.

Cllr Gray said: “I know people will not be very happy that there’ll be a change and they’ll lose a loved building, but there’s nothing in this application that contravenes any planning legislation or policy.”

Any legal issues, she added, could be pursued civilly and if they were valid, the development would not go ahead.

But as the result was read out by committee chair Jenny Gray, attendees in the packed public gallery yelled the process had been a “joke” and a “farce”.

Throughout the meeting, planning officers had been heckled and interrupted by residents, despite reprimands from Cllr Gray.

It reached boiling point after the vote was cast: furious objectors called the committee “despicable” and said the views of those already living there had been disregarded.

One resident, speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service after the meeting, said he felt “disappointed” – but ultimately not surprised.

He added he had always wanted to live in the area, and highlighted the look and feel of the Tudor-style houses that line Mount Echo Avenue. The decision last night meant he was now considering selling up.

Others said they did not feel as though the issues had been addressed and they would continue to fight the plan.

According to RightMove, a four-bedroom semi-detached home in Mount Echo Avenue sells for £950,000.

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Sebastian Mann

Local democracy reporter