‘Residents have a vital window to change the local plan for new homes’

Robert Gay from Waltham Forest Civic Society on the chance to fight for less development

The council currently plans to build 1,800 new homes a year
The council currently plans to build 1,800 new homes a year

Residents worried about the number of new homes planned for the borough now have a small but crucial window of opportunity to make a difference.

At the moment, Waltham Forest Council is attempting to have its draft Local Plan approved by the government’s Planning Inspectorate. This document, once set in stone, will fix the shape of future housing developments until 2035 and make it difficult for elected councillors to reject any planning applications that conform to its guidelines. 

The council’s current draft of this plan aims to build 27,000 new homes by 2035, which will require significantly exceeding the annual target for new homes set by Mayor of London Sadiq Khan.

While this will likely concern many residents, it has also worried the Planning Inspectorate, who recently told the council that it “is likely that [they] would conclude that the Plan is not legally compliant and unsound” without changes.

It is practically inevitable that the Local Plan will have to accept the target of extra homes set by the Mayor, which is 1,264 each year for the next decade. Though a strong-willed council which cared about the character of its area might shave this down to about 1,200 a year, the system would likely not allow any figure lower than that. 

The council’s current ambition, however, means building 1,800 new homes a year over 15 years. After a series of public hearings in March, of which I attended five and a half days, government inspectors decided this goal was “not justified” based on the evidence before them. 

As a resident and representative of the Waltham Forest Civic Society, I sincerely agree. The difference between 1,200 or 1,800 new dwellings a year will matter enormously for what our area will be like. The council’s over-ambitious goal will require huge tower blocks along the edges of Lea Valley and Epping Forest land, which is protected from being built directly on by national planning “rules” but only shielded from encroachment and over-shadowing by more nebulous planning “principles”. If the council stuck to Mayor Khan’s target, these new homes might be accommodated in mansion blocks of just six to eight storeys. 

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What a council is meant to do when creating its Local Plan is consider where in its area would best accommodate new developments, which in this borough might mean only building new tower blocks in the centre of Walthamstow. What our council instead appears to have done is consider which sites landowners put forward for development, before designating these the “strategic locations” where large developments can be encouraged. Inevitably, landowners are most keen to build on big sites, like the former Lea Bridge Gasworks or Whipps Cross Hospital, which tend to be on the edge of built-up areas. As a result, “strategic locations” tend to end up being right next to areas we should be protecting, like the Lea Valley or Epping Forest. 

The Inspectorate has given the council two options, which include lowering its ambitions to the target set by Mayor Khan or providing a better justification for its self-imposed goal. Unsurprisingly, it seems the council has decided to stick with its proposed target and spend more money on a different and better set of expensive reports to support their higher number of new dwellings. They intend to submit the draft plan again in September. 

What is needed now is a campaign to press elected councillors to think for themselves. We will need to detach them from the short-sighted thinking of the present administration of Waltham Forest, which is determined to bring in more residents who will pay more Council Tax and forgets that the extra residents will generate more of the issues that the council has to pay to deal with. We will need to persuade councillors to take on board the concerns of residents for the character of the places where we live. 

I urge you to join the Waltham Forest Civic Society and support the campaign which will have to be waged over the next few months.

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