To receive a presentation from J Nolan, Service Director (Commercial and Regulatory).
J Nolan, Service Director (Commercial and Regulatory), was in attendance.
When Epping Primary School had opened in 2008, the junior school had become surplus to requirements. The site included the school owned by Essex County Council (ECC), Epping Town Council offices in Epping Hall and the Council’s repair depot. The three authorities had contracted town planning consultants to develop a brief for the site. Following a public consultation, over 400 responses were received that supported an improved community and leisure centre, a cinema, the retention of historic building features, a public realm and the protection of existing trees. In early 2017 a Tripartite Agreement with Epping Town Council and a developer, Frontier Estates, was in place to move this project forward. However, with still no conclusion between the parties, the agreement ended in October 2018 and ECC’s land interest was purchased by the Council.
The Cabinet had agreed that the St John’s Road development should proceed using the previously agreed development brief, and was also to include a new leisure centre (Sports England’s preferred choice as Epping Sports Centre was to close), retail space and 32 housing units. There was also the proposal to relocate Epping Town Council to 323 High Street, and monthly meetings were being held to progress this. The provision of a cinema was welcomed by young people and discussions with cinema operators were ongoing. The buildings earmarked for this would be suitable for conversion, thus historic features could be retained.
White, Young and Green had been appointed to provide project management support and tasked to present three development options to Cabinet on 5 December 2019. The consultants had been briefed on the Submission Version of the Local Plan and site surveys had been undertaken. The project had been included in the capital programme and indicative costs should be known by November 2019. A pre-application advice request was expected in October 2019 with the preparation of a pre-application advice outcome in mid-November 2019. A short video of the proposed site development was screened to members.
Members and Portfolio Holders were very supportive of this project, which would have a positive impact on Epping and be beneficial for the District’s residents. It would also be a great opportunity for young people for both employment and leisure opportunities. However, the following points were also raised:
Councillors J H Whitehouse and H Whitbread, Portfolio Holder (Housing and Property Services), shared concerns about parking for the planned leisure centre, cinema, retail outlets and homes that were being planned in this development. J Nolan replied that parking on site would be limited as under the Local Plan Submission Version there would be parking constraints as it was within three kilometres of Epping Forest and owing to the Habitats Regulations. There were two car parks nearby where parking spaces would be freed up by late afternoon and at the weekend. Councillor J H Whitehouse continued that it was unrealistic not to provide adequate parking and would be storing up future problems.
Councillor N Bedford, Portfolio Holder (Community and Partnership Services) asked about access points for the site. He also remarked that with the loss of parking in Epping over the last few years, could consideration be given for the leisure centre to have a flat roof, which might accommodate 30 to 40 parking spaces. J Nolan fully understood members’ parking concerns, that a balance was needed and that the consultants would come back to the Council on this issue. There would be four access points, which would include a service access at the north end and a new access at the southern end from the High Street.
Governance and project management
Councillor A Lion, Portfolio Holder (Strategic Projects), asked about the governance structure and how the project would be managed, as the project needed to be tracked and delivered on time and within budget. J Nolan replied that officers and consultants would be holding regular meetings to December 2019. Officers would keep members informed through reports to the Asset Management and Economic Development Cabinet Committee, with decisions going to Cabinet for ratification. The Pentana project management software would track progress, which would be monitored by Internal Audit.
Councillor R Brookes asked if Places Leisure would be managing the leisure contract, to which J Nolan replied, yes, under exactly the same arrangement as for Waltham Abbey Leisure Centre.
Councillor A Patel, Portfolio Holder (Commercial and Regulatory Services), supported efficiencies and maximising initiatives around the green agenda and that policies should be aligned to the Local Plan.
Councillor N Bedford wanted to ensure that the project would be digitally enabled and that the site would have free Wi-Fi and use of 5G network.
Essex County Council Registrar and Epping Town Council
Councillor G Mohindra (District Councillor and ECC Cabinet member (Finance, Property and Housing) asked if the library and County Registrar of Births, Ceremonies and Deaths that was located opposite the site in St John’s Road would be part of phase 2. J Nolan replied that ECC did want to vacate this site, so the library and Registrar might be incorporated in the future.
Councillor L Burrows asked how important was Epping Town Council’s involvement. J Nolan replied that it was vital, as the Town Council fulfilled a community leadership role with the Council. It occupied a portion of the site and the Council needed its agreement that it would be happy to move to a new site.