Essex County Council plans to knock down Loughton’s celebrated library and replace it with housing will harm the ecologically important Epping Forest, it has been claimed.

The council is nonetheless set to use almost £800,000 to knock down Loughton Library and rebuild in its place 27 new apartments for either sale or rent, along with a new library.

Cllr Chris Pond, who called in the plan, said that the development, just a short walk from the Epping Forest Special Area of Conservation (SAC), will add extra pressure on the wildlife that exists there.

He added a European Court of Justice judgement protecting special areas of conservation against development needed to be taken into account.

Following the decision for the council to press ahead with the plan, he said: “It’s a Tory council, I don’t expect Tory councillors to be persuaded by reason, even though it is an arguable case to be fair, even though I think it is premature to do this drawdown while there are so many matters uncertain.”

In addition he said it was still uncertain whether the library site will be included in the Epping Forest local plan once a government planning inspector examines it.

An application to redesignate the library an asset of community value is also still to be heard.

Cllr Pond said: “Epping Forest District Council (EFDC) has chosen to have disperse development through the district, whereas the imposition of the three European Court of Justice judgements during last year should have made them think again, because one of the legal requirements on them was to avoid damage to the designated special area of conversation and that comes from large numbers of extra people.

“You might say that 27 people, 60 people, are not going to do a great deal of damage, but when you think that there are 1,000 dwellings planned for Loughton all within a mile of the SAC then you are into a different kettle of fish.”

A visitor survey, undertaken in October and November 2017 by the district council, identified a ‘zone of influence’ of approximately 6.2km from the boundary of the SAC, together with an ‘inner’ area of 3km from within which the median number of visits arose.

The survey was considered by Natural England and partners to have been undertaken using a robust methodology consistent with surveys undertaken elsewhere seeking to identify a ‘zone of influence’.

Cllr Pond added: “This site is within four minutes of a special area of conservation and within five minutes’ walk (there are) trees of perhaps a thousand years of age which have been part of the wood pasture of Epping Forest for centuries.

“The extra footfall from residential development near the area of the ancient area of woodland would be highly undesirable because of compaction of the soil.

“Whether or not this site is excluded from the local plan by the inspector as I hope it will be, we as Essex County Council should realise that development here is most unwelcome and therefore it should be withdrawn from Essex’s consideration.”

He added: “The way forward out of this is for this decision to be stayed until the end of the year when we know how things are going to pan out with the examination in public of the local plan and the designation of the library as an asset of community value.”

The council has said that maintenance costs are large and if no decision on this was forthcoming then the maintenance bill will soon rise.

The county council's cabinet member for finance, Gagan Mohindra, said that the library needed large sums of money spent on maintenance.