This email was sent to our members on 4 May at 10pm
The Buckhurst Hill Residents' Society
We return once more to the issue of the lift shaft towers at Forest Place on Roebuck Lane,
as the owners continue with construction despite the dismissal of their appeal against planning refusal by a Planning Inspector.
There are two issues: - the towers are an eyesore and dominate the skyline, camouflaged or not. - the towers as constructed do not have planning permission, and unless their height is reduced, they give the green light to any other developer that planning permissions can be ignored without fear of consequence. Let us go through the evidence, all of which is publicly available. The redevelopment of the Forest Place Care Home was first approved in application EPF/1957/15, with plans being later modified in EPF/1610/18. The plans in 2018 do show the two towers, but they are shown to hardly protrude above the roof line. In 2020, Forest Place submitted a further Planning Application EPF/1041/20 requesting permission for a roof garden on top of the small tower adjacent to the rear lift shaft. The text says 'minor amendment to the lift shaft to allow adequate lift provision to provide a roof garden to provide better quality amenity space for residents of the care home'. The plans however depict a massive increase in the height and bulk of the lift shaft, not a minor amendment. The text importantly is an admission by Forest Place that the tower depicted on the original plans, and therefore granted planning permission, did NOT include lift access to the roof. This link shows Forest Place's depiction of the rear tower as granted permission (2015 top, 2018 bottom) This link shows Forest Place's depiction in 2020 of what they actually built, and do not have permission for. (The second tower is still not depicted at its real height) The height of the rear tower as constructed is claimed by Forest Place to be only 1.88 metres above the approved height. As can be seen from the 2020 plans, and by comparing the constructed tower with the constructed height of other parts of the building against what is shown on the 2018 plans, the increase appears to be around three metres. This 2020 application was withdrawn in the face of opposition, both to the roof garden, and the height of the tower. Since then they have made no further application and decided to appeal against the Enforcement Notice instead. In their Appeal statement to the Planning Inspector (here), Forest Place argued that the increased height of the tower was necessary for the operation of the Care Home, to provide access to solar panels on the roof. They also argued that part of the increase in height is due to a different type of lift being installed from that originally planned. That may be the case, but the main reason is the first; the tower is significantly higher because an extra storey was added so that the lift could additionally open onto the roof level, giving access to solar panels but potentially also to a roof garden. We argue that the towers as depicted on the approved plans are only of a height to house a lift mechanism above the roof level, and this was admitted by Forest Place in their withdrawn 2020 application. In the Appeal statement, they further argued 'The proposed structure has very limited visibility from the public realm and when completed would appear as a seamless addition to the extant approval', which we strenuously dispute, and again, the plans on EPF/1041/20 confirm this, as does the public view of the Care Home from surrounding roads. In his verdict in January 2023 dismissing Forest Place's appeal against the Enforcement Notice on the first tower at the rear (ref APP/J1535/C/21/3269762), the Planning Inspector gave Forest Place 12 months to either reduce the height of the tower or submit a further planning application, which they have not yet done. The full verdict can be read here but includes “I have concluded that the development’s height and bulk is harmful to the character and appearance of the area”. At the time of writing, Forest Place appear to be attempting to camouflage the first tower in the same manner as the later second one on Roebuck Lane by painting it white. The Planning Inspector was quite clear that any mitigation without reducing the height of the tower would not give legality without a further Planning Application. Furthermore he says that “any consideration of mitigation by himself would run contrary to the recognised principles in that those local persons, in total, who would normally be afforded the opportunity of commenting on the development would be denied such consultation”, i.e Residents must be given an opportunity to submit comments. The arguments of the Planning Inspector, although referring to the first tower, apply even more to the second tower in phase 2 on Roebuck Lane, so there is no doubt the height of this tower significantly exceeds the height agreed in the planning permission. Even in 2020, they failed to depict the eventual height of this second tower. Forest Place have known since December 2019 when the original breach was reported, and the Enforcement Notice issued, that the second tower would also breach the planning approval, yet they continued to build without submitting a further application to request approval for it. In conclusion, - Forest Place submitted incomplete and misleading plans in 2015, 2018 and 2020. - They admitted in 2020 that they do not have permission for the height of the towers. - They have had over three years since 2019 to submit further applications on both towers, and have not done so. - They continued constructing the second tower, knowing it didn't have planning permission to build to its current height. - They avoided giving neighbouring residents an opportunity to make comments. - A Planning Inspector has given them until January 2024 to reduce the height of the rear tower. But enforcement requires resolute action from EFDC, and we expect District Councillors to respect the views of their residents, uphold the integrity of the planning system, and ensure that the illegally-built parts of these towers are demolished, by pressing Planning Officers to take whatever action is necessary.