This is the home page of the temporary website for the Epsom Civic Society.
Our previous website platform was recently rendered obsolete by the march of IT “progress” but we are working hard to repair the damage and reinstate our website – normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, this Home Page will be used as a temporary “News” page to keep our members up to date with events, while the flow of posts regarding individual planning applications can be accessed either by the “recent Posts” item to the right of this paragraph, or via the link to the menu system (three short horizontal lines in a box) in the top right hand corner of this page.
Autumn 2020 – MHCLG Planning Consultations
In the summer of 2020, the Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government launched two new consultations affecting the Planning system in England. The first was entitled Changes to the current Planning System – Consultation on changes to planning policy and regulations; the second was a consultation on the White Paper entitled “Planning for the Future”.
Both represent changes which could have a major impact on the nature and quantity of housing in Epsom, a reduction of green features and open space in our street scene, and probably a significant loss of Green Belt land to housing.
Both the Society and Epsom & Ewell Borough Council responded to each consultation, often with similar opinions but prepared independently.
The first Consultation included yet another change to the compulsory way of calculating housing targets for the coming Local Plan period. This further increases the annual number of houses to be built in Epsom to satisfy the Government, an increase on a previous number already more than twice as many houses per annum as was built in any year in the last decade. This will serve to create further delays for our revised Local Plan (already 5 years in preparation but still far from complete), and make it impossible for any deliverable Local Plan to be approved by the Ministry. In any rational world this is not the way to plan!
Other changes included further Permitted Development Rights, creating even more circumstances where possibly inappropriate changes to existing properties can be made without requiring planning permission.
See the ECS response to this consultation here
The second Consultation proposes wholesale replacement of the existing Local Plan system, based on zoning available land in three categories, those available for growth or renewal having a presumption of approval of development once the zones are set and the Plan approved. This would restrict the Council’s subsequent right to refuse or make conditional subsequent planning applications – effectively removing any semblance of local democracy and accountability over the development of our Borough
See the ECS response to this consultation here.
June 2020 – AGM cancelled due to Covid-19
The national lockdown called by the Government as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020 caused the Society’s Committee to postpone the Annual General Meeting provisionally scheduled to be held in April. Since the national lockdown, the Society’s committee has continued to hold monthly meetings online and after considerable discussion at the May meeting, has decided exceptionally to cancel the AGM for this year in consequence of the continuing uncertainty about fixing a safe and suitable future date.
However, the documents which would have been circulated in advance of the meeting and presented at the AGM are now available on this website and can be viewed by clicking these links: Annual Review for 2019 and 2019 Income and Expenditure.
Open Meeting on 28th January 2020
The Society held an Open Meeting on 28th January 2020 at which the review of the Epsom & Ewell Local Plan was discussed. The slides used at the meeting can be downloaded here. Open Meeting Slides.
You can also visit our Local Plan Links page (pull down the Planning Menu above) to find links to other relevant documents from the Ministry of Housing, Local Government and Communities, EEBC and the Society’s own letter to Councillors and Alternative Proposals for Epsom.
September 2019 – Epsom under major Planning Threat
The Society has discovered that the Borough Planning department is now actively encouraging developers to increase significantly the height and density for new residential development sites coming forward, and have reduced the weight given to the existing Local Plan Core Strategies and Development Management policies, effectively to zero.
A spate of recent large and highly contentious applications, including The Wells, Stoneleigh Station Approach, 24-28 West Street Epsom, and Woodcote Grove (Atkins HQ) have included increases demanded of developers by the Borough to both height and density of proposed development. And a development of South Hatch Stables, including enabling development of a block of flats for resale to be built on Green Belt land, was approved on 17th September by the EEBC Planning Committee but will be referred to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, who may elect to make a decision on the matter at central government level.
If you think massively increased height and density in our urban space leading to 10- or 12- storey tower blocks is unacceptable, please read on!
This change of approach has arisen from the Borough officers’ interpretation of the Government’s revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and the associated standard methodology for assessing housing need. This “one size fits all” approach by central government has changed the required number of new dwellings each year in the Borough from 418 (Epsom’s own assessment in 2016, itself more than double the 181 set out in 2007 in the Local Plan) to 579. The average delivery rate since 2006 has been 255, so Epsom is being asked to raise its delivery rate to 225% of our sustainable level.
This situation is made worse, however by the Borough’s housing delivery rate over the past three years, a rate of 57% (ie homes delivered as against homes required), significantly below the 85% benchmark. The consequence of under-delivery is that the current requirement to deliver 579 new homes p.a. is subject to bringing forward an additional 20% land buffer.
The Council has prepared a Housing Delivery Action Plan (HDAP) dated September 2019 to assess the cause(s) of under-delivery and identify actions to increase delivery in future years. Failure to meet benchmarks and targets may result in central government intervention.
Despite this massive increase in density, this will not even produce half the target number of dwellings, so the Borough is likely to require significant development (albeit not at the same density) in what is currently open space or Green Belt. Furthermore, the lack of available development land and the significant lead time between sites becoming available and completion of development means that EEBC is likely to fail the Housing Delivery Test in each of at least the next 5 years, so the HDAP will require annual review and updating.
Our Borough’s existing urban area is already more than 95% built on, and nearly half the total land area is Green Belt. Our revised Draft Local Plan (on which the next public consultation is expected this autumn) is unlikely to be considered acceptable unless it shows a route to long-term achievement of the required delivery rate, which the Society believes to be impossible without irrevocably changing the look and feel of the existing urban area to an unacceptable level and/or building on a significant amount of the Green Belt.
As part of the preparations for the new Local Plan, EEBC published at the end of September a “Master Plan” for the transformation of our urban area, with new development being targeted at 60 homes per hectare (the Borough’s current average is around 20-30) and involving doubling the height of new developments around the railway stations, with tower blocks including minimal or no residents’ parking or amenity space.
Worryingly, the principles outlined in the masterplan do not include any suggestion of maintaining or strengthening policies to ensure continuation of the 21 designated Conservation Areas in our Borough, so it seems that conservation and heritage protection is no longer desirable or worthwhile in the eyes of our town planners.
The evidence trail leading to both the “masterplan” and the changes in planning policy and practice can be found on the EEBC’s own websites (epsom-ewell.gov.uk and Planning Applications), but both are difficult to navigate and the former is not quick to take you to the right link to download the relevant documents.
So if you wish to learn more about the history and read the documents for yourself, visit the special Local Plan links page in our website. This includes direct links to all the historic documents still made available for public viewing by the Council, as well as to some other relevant sources (such as to the National Planning Policy Framework itself).
Future steps in the evolution of the Plan can be seen by following the EEBC website Page for the Licensing and Planning Policy Committee. Each month the Agenda pack is posted on the website around a week before the meeting, including the Agenda, minutes of the previous meeting and most relevant papers to be considered and/or voted on by the Committee at this meeting. The meetings, like those of the Planning Committee, are usually open to members of the public as observers.
The Society is considering what action it can take, while the Borough Officers and Councillors appear to feel that they have no choice but to take every opportunity to meet what is by any rational and objective measure a totally unrealistic and unachievable objective.
If you share our view of the magnitude of the threat to the Borough’s townscape, green spaces, heritage and well-being, and feel you have something to contribute towards our strategy and activity, please consider joining the Society and even its Committee.
If we are unable to mount an effective political campaign in the near future, then we will all have to watch and wait with horror as Epsom is transformed to look and feel like an outer London Borough such as Croydon. Step one could well be for all members to write to our MP, Chris Grayling, and ask him to object on our behalf to the Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government about the effect that the NPPF is threatening to have on our town.
A brief history of the Epsom Civic Society follows. The Society was founded in 1959 as the Epsom Protection Society, at a time when many historic and architecturally valuable buildings and houses in Epsom and Ewell were being threatened by developers. Then, our primary role was to halt the destruction of Epsom’s heritage and to ensure that new development was compatible with the traditional character of the town. In 2011, our name was changed to Epsom Civic Society. Our purpose continues to be to protect the heritage of Epsom and to encourage high standards of new planning and building; but the change of name reflects the wider concerns of the Society to promote civic pride and to inspire progressive improvement in the quality of urban life for everyone. The Society is a founder member of Civic Voice, the national charity for the civic movement in England, and shares common aims with other civic societies. We:-
- care about the surroundings – the places where people live and work and enjoy leisure
- want to find solutions to environmental problems
- wish to improve the fabric of the town for present and future generations
- help to safeguard the heritage and character of Epsom
- listen to the local community and campaign for their interests
- encourage high standards of planning, design and architecture in the built environment and the retention of open spaces
- aim to promote a sense of civic pride