Next loses Epping green belt planning appeal

Next has lost an appeal against Epping Forest District Council to build a regional distribution centre in the green belt.

Government inspectors have now dismissed fashion giant’s legal challenge, which was launched in February.

The planning inspectorate said the development, planned near the M25 in Dowding Way, Waltham Abbey, would have caused “significant harm” to the green belt.

But according to the inspector’s report published on June 23 it would still have been dismissed even if it was not in the green belt, due to the potential harm to the area’s character and appearance.

Next PLC argued the scheme would have provided economic benefits, according to an earlier statement of case for the appeal.

A section read: “Underpinning the appeal case is a range of significant social, environmental, and economic benefits that are both tangible and deliverable given the Appellant is the intended end occupier.”

According to the inspector’s report, the scheme would have generated an estimated £19million in economic activity, £9.8m in wages and 26 apprenticeships across technical, management and creative roles.

Next was also proposing to operate a demand responsive transport bus service, to reduce visitors’ reliance on cars.

But the inspector considered the harm to the green belt and the area’s character and appearance, particularly from the 23 metre height and sitting of the main building, outweighed the potential benefits.

Additionally, the report said it was “far from clear” from the appellant’s written and oral evidence whether it had an operational capacity for the full 52,621 square metres.

A section read: “Based on the evidence before me, I consider there would be potential for a building to be constructed of a size capable of accommodating a significant amount of mezzanine space that would not necessarily be utilised.”

A later section read: “the main building has been designed with the capability to accommodate three mezzanine floors with a gross internal floor area of 22,868 sq.m which might not be fully utilised.”

The City of London Corporation, which manages Epping Forest, has welcomed the dismissal.

Chairman of the City Corporation’s Epping Forest and Commons Committee, Ben Murphy, said in a statement: “We are delighted with this decision, which further strengthens the planning protection of the local landscape character and preservation of the green belt.

“Our team work tirelessly to defend Epping Forest against inappropriate development and air pollution, but we do recognise the demand for reasonable development to support local housing need and jobs. We work closely with local authorities to create robust local plans which set out the planning framework and mitigation to damage it may cause to the forest. The need for conservators to object to planning applications is actually rare.

“It is encouraging that both Epping Forest District Council and the government’s Planning Inspectorate continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with us in recognising the importance of protecting Epping Forest.”

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Charlie Ridler

Local Democracy Reporter