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As two big projects are refused Inspector overrules on Woodberrie: what does this mean?

by admin on April 6th, 2016

In recent weeks planning applications have cast their shadow over the green green Loughton Hills with a score of two refusals – and one landmark appeal which gave the go-ahead for development after some 46 years.

The first refusal at appeal was for the development of a 10 home housing estate on the site of Trevelyan House, Arewater Green, abutting the Loughton Potato Fields with access off the A121 opposite Englands Lane.

The second refusal, this time by the local authority, was for a new house on land to the rear of 25 Staples Road, rejected “by reason of the location, design, height and bulk of the proposed new house, the proposed dwelling would fail to complement or enhance the Staples Road Conservation Area or respect the street scene which consequently would be harmful to the character and appearance of the locality. The proposal is therefore contrary to Policy CP2, DBE1, HC6 and HC7 of the Adopted Local Plan and Alterations (which are consistent with policies contained within the National Planning Policy Framework).”  This application may yet go to appeal.

The shock was the overturning of 46 years of opposition by the local authority to the development of land adjoining Woodberrie, a landmark house on Woodbury Hill.  Hills Amenity Society was formed in 1972 following the development of five chalet-type houses on the corner site of Woodbury Hill and York Hill followed by an application for four properties on the site of Woodberrie, which occupies the next corner of Woodbury Hill and Kings Hill. A number of applications over the ensuing 40 years were successfully opposed by Hills Amenity Society, local residents, town and district councils.  A recent application was taken to appeal for a new house to the east of Woodberrie and this has been upheld by the Inspector giving the go-ahead for a new property.  Is this the end of the story – or just the start of a new chapter?  And what does it mean for the future of the Hills.

County Councillor Chris and Councillor Mrs. Caroline Pond assess where we are:

The Government is very pro-housing-growth, and successive ministers have tweaked the planning laws to favour development rather than the prevention of development. Conservation areas are still protected, but the likelihood still is that, whatever local councillors decide, a challenge may be mounted with the Planning Inspectorate, and that is ever more likely to be successful. Local planning officers may also be more inclined to recommend an application (say, for an additional house on a large plot or a massive extension) for approval, which means the job of those resisting it, whether resident/amenity groups or cllrs, is made more difficult.

Needless to say, if an application is approved, those who were against it have no right of appeal. This is an inherent unfairness in the system.

As far as the Hills’ three conservation areas are concerned, there are two main dangers. These are infilling of spare and side plots, and the development of the Green Belt parcels to the west of Woodbury Hill, those large gardens abutting the Forest. A third might be added, which is the planting of buildings of design unsympathetic to the genius loci (sense of place) of the area.


The 2016 inspector’s decision to allow a new house approximately on the site of Woodberrie’s garage was an example of this. With Loughton land values established at £4 million an acre (by the sale of the RVHS tennis courts elsewhere in the town), the value of a side or corner plot is now immense. New houses tend to have pocket-handkerchief sized gardens because of this high land value, so that means the sense of spaciousness established by what 100 years ago were ordinary gardens of a sixth of an acre or more is compromised. The new house to be built next to Woodberrie was not of an offensive design, but it would arguably still detract both from the amenity of neighbours, by its relative proximity, and from the general pleasantness of the area. There is a current proposal to build in the CA in what was the rear garden of 25 Staples Rd. That was refused by an inspector once before; we shall have to see what happens to this application, which is without vehicular access, given the recent changes in planning law.

Land to the west of Woodbury Hill

The Government seem to be keen at present on additions to built up areas. The very large plots of houses on the west side of Woodbury Hill, from Woodbury Hollow to Dryads Hall inclusive, are in green belt. They were lands enclosed from the Forest in the early 19c, possibly illegally, and some are still heavily wooded. The reasons for maintaining land in Green Belt are established in planning law, and include “protecting the setting of historic towns” – but unfortunately not the setting of a conservation area. These lands are therefore vulnerable, and their loss would greatly affect the setting of the York Hill CA.

Buildings of unsympathetic design

Architects at present seem to be following a fashion for bizarre buildings. You can of course get more for your money by building a concrete and glass construction than by traditional methods, especially as bricklayers are a shortage trade. Because the Hills areas, with the exception of Staples Rd, are a real mixture of styles, it is difficult to resist a building on the grounds of incongruent style. Whilst one can accept that in every generation there may be a building of real merit and real novelty erected, the run of the mill modern building is likely to be an intrusion in the design of the Hills CAs, but it can be very difficult to convince the Conservation Officer and planning inspectors of that.

With the two new buildings added to Staples Rd school, the firms of architects concerned did try to adapt and reflect the styles of the CAs, with (eg) pitched roofs, polychrome brickwork, and diapered tile hanging. The 2015 building won the Loughton Design Award on the basis of being a modern variant on the traditional idiom. The fallback position is that conservation area status does not preclude new development, but it should always “conserve and enhance” the area.

The Hills have always been active on planning matters, and have a good reputation with EFDC. The price of conservation is eternal vigilance!







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