Residents and businesses react to council’s plans for 3,000 homes, reports James Cracknell
Crews Hill is known for its vast array of garden centres, nurseries, and a yearly Santa’s Grotto claimed to be one of Europe’s largest.
Just half-a-mile from the M25 and Hertfordshire, London’s northernmost settlement is currently home to only 500 residents but boasts a railway station with trains into the City taking 40 minutes.
When the capital’s Green Belt was drawn up in the 1940s, the area was a massive hub for horticulture, with numerous glasshouses supplying fresh-cut flowers to markets all over London. All of Crews Hill, save for a few residential streets, became part of the Green Belt which extended out from Enfield and into the countryside. It meant only previously developed sites could be built on in future.
As flower imports from the Netherlands became cheaper than those grown locally in the late 20th Century, the glasshouses of Crews Hill began to be replaced by the sorts of modern garden centres familiar today. But in an attempt to safeguard the area for horticulture, planning restrictions were placed on what types of businesses could trade there.
The rules now governing the ‘Crews Hill Defined Area’ can be found in a policy document adopted by Enfield Council in November 2014. As well as restricting businesses to those that provide “not less than 90% of the sales floorspace […] for the sale of products required for the purposes of gardening”, the document also states: “Proposals for residential development within the defined area, including the change of use of existing buildings, will be refused.”
Just four years later, the council began a first public consultation on its early Local Plan proposals. It was then that the possibility of building homes at Crews Hill – by “de-designating” the area from the Green Belt – was first mooted. The railway station was used as an example of somewhere that “has the greatest potential to act as a hub for sustainable growth”.
Residents’ groups were unsurprised to find Crews Hill designated for housing when the council’s 413-page draft Local Plan was published at the start of June. But the proposed scale did come as a shock to many. The council earmarked 3,000 homes over 20 years, while suggesting more could be built beyond this.
Included in the “place-making area” for Crews Hill is 82 hectares of land stretching from the edge of Strayfield Road Cemetery all the way to the M25. Sites earmarked for housing include numerous garden centres either side of Theobolds Park Road, an equestrian centre, scrap metal yard, as well farmland to the north of Cattlegate Road.
While the council’s other major Green Belt housing proposal, at Vicarage Farm, consists almost entirely of undeveloped green fields, the plans for Crews Hill are more complex. As well as contrasting land uses, there are dozens of land owners and, aside from the railway station, a lack of supporting infrastructure. This is acknowledged in the draft Local Plan’s section on Crews Hill (pages 78-83), which describes the area as having been developed in “piecemeal fashion” and states: “Delivery of supporting infrastructure will need to be carefully co-ordinated within early phases to ensure a successful new community.”
Rod Thompson is the owner of Thompsons of Crews Hill, a former glasshouse business that switched to selling soil in the 1980s. “I have had probably 30 developers trying to buy my site,” Rod told the Dispatch. “It started four or five years ago. There are some business owners here who would relish it but there are some who don’t want to sell.
“I would like to stay in Crews Hill but if it does happen I have got to look somewhere else. We have got a battle in front of us.”
Next door to Thompsons is Enfield Garden Centre. Land Registry documents show it was sold for £6million to a subsidiary of Berkeley Homes in December 2018.
Rod said: “I’ve had no communication from Enfield Council to ask me about it [the Local Plan]. It’s been planned for a long time – but they haven’t spoken to us.
“They say the Green Belt has been sabotaged here but that is because they have allowed it to be.”
Addressing the future of existing businesses in Crews Hill, the draft Local Plan states: “Residential-led redevelopment of brownfield sites will integrate with the area’s horticultural and food- producing industries, creating a unique identity and function.
“Retention of existing rural uses is considered important, including equestrian and horticulture uses, which should be re-provided in suitable alternative locations if existing sites prove unsuitable for retention.”
Burntfarm Ride, which heads north from Crews Hill through farmland and into Hertfordshire, is a private road for much of its length and in places only a single-lane track. A few cottages are scattered along it; among the residents are Lorna and Jean-Baptiste Jouassain, who have mixed feelings.
The couple say they will object to any attempt to build on the green fields surrounding their cottage, but Lorna added: “I think there’s potential on land that’s had something on it before. We’re not against any development but it needs to be the right type – family-size houses with gardens.”
Another resident is Rakia Kadiri, who would welcome new housing because she feels Crews Hill “is too quiet” and because her children have nowhere to play.
But Warren Mitchell, who lives in Golf Ride, warned: “At certain times of the year the roads are gridlocked because of people coming here for the Christmas emporium and stuff like that.”
Peter Jeffery, chair of Crews Hill Residents’ Association, confirmed the group would be objecting to the proposals. He said: “Building thousands of homes where there is no infrastructure, public transport is minimal, and roads too narrow, would mean residents using cars to get to work, shops, GPs, dentists, hospitals, schools.
“The council is looking for a quick fix after many years of not building enough houses. The council doesn’t care where it builds, just as long as long as it is seen to be doing something.
“Concreting over large parts of the Green Belt is not the answer.”
At the western end of the village is the council-owned Crews Hill Golf Course, designed by renowned architect Harry Colt, who also designed a course at Wentworth. It was here in 1964 that Tottenham Hotspur midfielder John White was fatally struck by lightning.
Earlier this year, another council-owned golf course, in nearby Whitewebbs Park, was closed down. As part of its justification for the closure the council cited the “six full-length golf courses” available elsewhere in the borough. One of those six, Crews Hill, is now earmarked for housing in the draft Local Plan.
The golf club did not respond to requests to comment.
Asked to respond to the issues raised in this article, a council spokesperson said: “The draft Local Plan is currently in consultation and we would encourage residents and businesses to read the proposals on how the borough will be developed and shaped to deliver much-needed, affordable, quality homes while ensuring the landscape and character of the borough are enhanced.
“By 2039 the population in Enfield is projected to grow by an additional 50,000, which is why the draft Local Plan proposes to deliver 25,000 new homes over 20 years, with 18,500 homes delivered in Enfield’s urban and brownfield locations and 6,500 in rural areas, such as near Crews Hill Station. Enfield has a statutory duty to provide an additional 1,246 new homes each year, although the government would rather 4,397 new homes per year.
“The draft Local Plan includes a chapter specifically on the Crews Hill area. It suggests Crews Hill should be regenerated and reinvigorated with re-wilded landscapes, support for sustainable eco-tourism, sport provision and recreation for the borough’s residents and visitors.
“In addition, redevelopment of brown field sites could be integrated with the area’s horticultural and food producing industries. There are also plans for improving existing east-west rail links and providing better walking and cycling infrastructure as well as upgrades to the current road network to support the growth in the residential and working population.
“It is not unusual for developers to make speculative approaches to purchase previously developed land near train stations serving central London. Enfield Council is clear that any development in the Crews Hill area must adhere to strict place-making principles which are outlined in the draft Local Plan.”
The public consultation on the draft Local Plan ends on Monday 13th September. To take part: