Essex County councillors have approved a proposal to demolish the existing Loughton Library building in order to construct a multi-use facility which will include a space for the National Jazz Archive and 38 new flats.
At a meeting of the Development and Regulations Committee on Friday October 27, councillors heard representations from locals objecting to the plans on the grounds that, as well as lacking any number of the affordable homes identified as necessary within the adopted local plan, the stepped five-storey building will be “ugly” and “wholly out of character with its surroundings”.
Epping Forest District Council has objected to the plans on the basis of them being “unduly harmful” to the character of Traps Hill, where the library is situated. However, planning officer Tom McCarthy said that there was no “fundamental reason” to suggest that the development was not sustainable or well-designed.
Speaking as members of the public representing what they claimed is residents’ dissatisfaction with the proposal, Councillor Chris Pond (Loughton Residents Association, Loughton Broadway) and his predecessor David Linnell said they were “very disappointed” with the council’s report.
Mr Linnell said that “the public benefit of a new library does not principally stem from this development”, and that construction work would “detrimentally impact and adversely affect the area”.
Cllr Pond said that the demolition of the existing library building in the absence of a temporary provision for the community being finalised has led to the plans “seeking to remove from Loughton a much-appreciated facility”,
“I have never known a more contentious application.”
Both have contacted Secretary of State for levelling up, housing and communities Michael Gove asking that he recovers the application for his own determination.
This is largely due to questions raised of whether it has rejected certain conditions within the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), as well as concerns over whether chairman of the Development and Regulation Committee Councillor Carl Gugliemi (Con, Lawford, Mannigtree and Mistley) had accepted a motion to approve plans based on the officer’s recommendations before other members had been given a chance to discuss them fully.
Emma Walker of Phase 2 Planning & Development, representing Essex County Council as the applicant, said: “This scheme aims to make the best use of the site,” with the existing library being “in need of substantial maintenance” and repairs which justify the need for a brand new facility.
She explained that the plans had been independently appraised, and it was ruled that providing an affordable housing percentage alongside the new library space would not be viable.
Although a number of councillors were broadly supportive of approving the scheme, others were conscious that the extensive construction work involved in the demolition of the existing library and erection of the new space could be considered as ‘over-development’.
Councillor Aidan McGurran (Essex County Council) said that he was “a little uncomfortable” with there being no mention in the officer’s report of how much prospective refurbishments would cost to extend the life of the existing library building. He said: “We have to have the full financial picture.”
Councillor Mike Garnett (Con, Old Harlow) said that although plans for the new building showed that it would be “quite ugly-looking” and “monolithic”, he believes it could become “a landmark building”.
Councillor Lynette Bowers-Flint (Con, Coggeshall) said: “It concerns me that members are getting far too involved in (objecting to plans on a financial basis).
“It’s not within our remit.”
Ultimately, the proposal was approved, with the construction time for the new library building estimated to be between 18 and 20 months.