Epping Forest Green Party comment on the proposed Next.plc distribution centre on Dowding Way

Planning Application: EPF/1413/18 – Dowding Way Waltham Abbey

Description of proposed development

Hybrid: Full planning application for erection of 1 no. warehouse with ancillary accommodation (Class B8), including access and servicing arrangements, car parking and landscaping, roof-mounted photovoltaic array and associated works including new vehicular access to A121 (phase 1), gatehouse and sprinkler tanks; outline planning application for up to 22,733 square metres (GIA) of employment floorspace (Classes B1(c), B2 and B8) with all matters reserved (phase 2)

Epping Forest Green Party strongly objects to this planning application.

Please note – this objection is submitted on behalf of Epping Forest Green Party’s members and does not necessarily reflect the views of our elected councillors, who will consider the application on its own merits based on all of the available information.

Location and alternatives

Our primary objection is that the developers have not adequately demonstrated that no alternative locations are available. Indeed, they are already using alternative locations for their distribution centres in South Ockenden and Hemel Hempstead. To the best of our knowledge the Waltham Abbey development is intended to replace at least one of these sites.

Other alternative sites are available in the Thames Gateway, a regeneration project with excellent transport links which specifically supports developments of this nature.
Green Belt

Per the current (2012) National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) the Green Belt has five purposes:

  • to check the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas
  • to prevent neighbouring towns merging into one another
  • to assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment
  • to preserve the setting and special character of historic towns
  • to assist in urban regeneration, by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land

A development of this size and nature so close to the existing Sainsbury’s depot, on and adjacent to arable land, on the approach to Waltham Abbey’s historic town centre and in preference to brownfield sites would undermine all but the second of those objectives.

Even if the land were taken out of the Green Belt, as proposed in the emerging Local Plan, those concerns would still remain relevant on their own merits.

Habitat and environment

The site currently provides habitat to numerous species including bats, several endangered birds, small mammals and numerous invertebrates. Some of these, such as bats, are protected species.

As arable land it also acts to collect particulates, absorb rain water and sustain pollinating insects.

The developer’s supporting documents make reference to mitigating against the loss of this valuable resource. However, from what we’ve seen the proposed mitigation will do little to compensate for it and certainly doesn’t go anywhere near adequately replacing it.

That’s part of what we’d stand to lose but what we’d stand to gain is of equal concern:

  • Additional traffic, including an estimated 720 HGV journeys a day, directly and indirectly contributing to pollution through their own emissions and increasing the emissions from other vehicles through increased congestion and, by extension, journey and idling times.
  • Increased noise and light pollution affecting local quality of life and our wildlife.
  • Increased litter. The Waltham Abbey Litter Picking Posse has identified Junction 26 as being a particular problem area, with much of the litter coming from HGVs. Unfortunately more vehicles and more time spent in congested traffic will inevitably lead to more litter, which is both unsightly and damaging to our local and global environment and wildlife.

Employment and the local economy

The developer’s stated employment figures are vague and, we believe, overstated. Additionally, Waltham Abbey has consistent unfilled vacancies in similar workplaces and many positions will be filled by people relocating from the South Ockenden facility. Waltham Abbey already has a below-average unemployment rate.

Next’s suggestion that they’ll contribute £1.2m to our local economy through business rates is exceptionally misleading.

Under current legislation Business Rates are allocated as follows:

  • 50% to central Government
  • 40% to Epping Forest District Council
  • 10% to Essex County Council

Although we are confident that a substantial percentage of the revenue allocated to Epping Forest District Council would be earmarked for Waltham Abbey it’s clear that the majority of the business rates collected will not.

It should also be noted that Next.plc already contribute to the national Government and Essex County Council through their site at South Ockenden, so there’d be minimal net gain to those allocations, and a loss of allocation to Thurrock Unitary Authority.

Next also say that employees will spend between £1 – £2m in Waltham Abbey’s local economy. However, they have provided no evidence to substantiate this claim. Indeed, we believe that the development would engender a loss to Waltham Abbey’s local economy through its effect on tourism and access to our Town Centre, exacerbated by increased traffic problems.

A development of this size will have its own on-site facilities. If the application were to be approved we would expect to see a commitment to using one or more of Waltham Abbey’s existing small businesses to provide catering and other on-site facilities for staff.

Infrastructure

Waltham Abbey already has problems with availability of health care provision, genuinely affordable and social housing, a recently downgraded fire station and lamentable public transport.

The developer’s Section 106 proposal goes nowhere near addressing any additional strain the development would place on these services.

Although the on-demand bus service would be welcome – and recent developments regarding EOS London have removed one of our major concerns around this – we believe that any additional public transport should be integrated into our existing services, improving access for all.

Cycle and pedestrian route improvements would also be welcome but the proposals are vague and would need to be integrated with our existing networks.

We’re not aware of any discussions with local authorities and user groups around either public transport or cycling and pedestrian provision and integration.

Summary

We ask Epping Forest’s Directorate of Planning and Economic Development to recommend refusal of this planning application as it would have negative impacts on the environment, habitat, road traffic, the amenity of Waltham Abbey and would have negligible benefit to the community and local economy.

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