Action group hits out at decision to back Uttlesford local plan

The B184 adjacent to Great Chesterford and approaching Stumps Cross. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

The B184 adjacent to Great Chesterford and approaching Stumps Cross. Picture: CONTRIBUTED - Credit: Archant

Uttlesford District Council (UDC) has been accused of squandering the opportunity to withdraw its “deeply flawed” local plan by an action group.

It was confirmed last Thursday (June 27) that ruling group Residents for Uttlesford (R4U) would not withdraw the plan, following a letter from planning inspectors which advised the group to effectively reaffirm its support for the plan, or withdraw it.

Ahead of public examination hearings which began this week, planning inspectors wrote to the council seeking clarity on R4U's stance, after the group, which had previously raised significant concerns about the plan, seized control of the council from the Conservatives in May.

District council leader, Councillor John Lodge said scrapping the plan, which identifies sites that can be developed for housing and will shape future development up until 2033, and was submitted for examination in January, would be "disastrous" for all residents.

However, action group StopNUtown, which opposes proposals for thousands of homes in north Uttlesford, included in the local plan, has accused the council of taking the "easy route".

A spokesman for the group said: "While it is no surprise that UDC has responded to the planning inspectorate as it has, it is ironic that unlike South Oxfordshire District Council, UDC has squandered the opportunity to withdraw it, as R4U requested when considered by UDC's cabinet last year.

"As the majority representation at UDC, R4U has the power and authority to remove North Uttlesford Garden Community (NUGC) from the plan, but instead has taken the easy route in trusting the future of our village to the Planning Inspectorate. New broom same dust under the carpet.

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"However, our view hasn't changed. We consider the plan to be deeply flawed, in particular the shambolic analysis and convenient conclusions of the sustainability appraisal which included NUGC without any rigorous due diligence to prove that it is a viable, sustainable and deliverable proposition.

"Whether withdrawn, heavily amended or found unsound by the inspector, the result is the same - additional work and expenditure to remedy the manifest defects of the plan."

Explaining the council's decision, Cllr Lodge said: "On balance, to withdraw would be disastrous for all Uttlesford residents. It is not possible for the new council to review 10 years' worth of local plan documentation and evidence in only 10 weeks. "We have to accept the assurances made by council officers and the previous administration that this plan has now been fixed and is 100 per cent ready for inspection. If that is found not to be the case, then we are committed to work with the inspector to resolve any issues to create the best outcome for Uttlesford residents.

"It is critical to understand the impact to our communities if this plan was withdrawn or rejected. Previous administrations have been working on it for more than a decade. It has been withdrawn, delayed or rejected multiple times. The delays have costs council taxpayers millions.

"This current plan requires us to take 7,000 additional houses because 7,000 have already been approved since the plan started. If the plan is withdrawn we are back to zero and our district will need to find room for more than 14,000 in our towns, villages and countryside. The Government is also penalising councils without a plan by increasing their housing numbers further. Equally as concerning is that the Government has said it may step in to dictate where houses go where plans fail. Local communities will lose all control. This plan must go to inspection - it is the best option to protect Uttlesford communities in the long term."

Meanwhile, a spokesman for action group Stop Easton Park (SEP), which opposes proposals for thousands of homes near Dunmow, said: "SEP is disappointed that UDC has decided not to accept the inspectors' suggestion that they might withdraw the local plan prior to the public hearings because we believe the plan is inherently flawed.

"However, SEP in conjunction with Great Dunmow Town Council and Little Easton Parish Council is well prepared for the public hearings and welcomes the opportunity to make its case for the protection of Easton Park direct to the independent inspectors."