“It is critical to understand the impact to our communities if this plan was withdrawn or rejected”: UDC leader defends choice not to scrap local plan

UDC lead Councillor John Lodge. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

UDC lead Councillor John Lodge. Picture: CONTRIBUTED - Credit: Archant

Scrapping Uttlesford’s local plan would be “disastrous” for all residents, the leader of Uttlesford District Council has claimed.

This comes after it was confirmed yesterday that UDC would not withdraw the plan, following a letter from planning insectors which advised the council to effectively reaffirm their support for the plan, or withdraw it.

Planning inspectors wrote to the council seeking clarity on controlling party Resident's for Uttlesford's (R4U) stance, after R4U, which has raised several significant concerns about the plan, seized control of the council from the Conservatives in May.

Public hearings, in which the inspectors are due to examine and assess the soundness of the local plan, will start next week.

Explaining their decision, R4U councillor and leader at UDC, John Lodge, said: "The inspectors have asked a reasonable question. They want to know whether the new council want to withdraw the local plan and start again, or let it continue to inspection. The decision is a difficult one because R4U has had a number of concerns. However 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% 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."

Cllr Lodge added: "It is critical to understand the impact to our communities if this plan was withdrawn or rejected. Previous UDC 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 It has been withdrawn, delayed or rejected multiple times.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. Every time there is a delay the number of new houses the government requires Uttlesford to provide goes up. Since 2011 the government's requirement has doubled to more than 700 new homes a year, every year. As a result our district already has one of the fastest housebuilding rates in the country."

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"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 - that is a similar size to Bishop's Stortford. The government is also penalising councils without a plan by increasing their housing numbers further. Equally as concerning is that the government has said they may step in to dictate where houses go where plans fail. Local communities will lose all control. We are already suffering a developer-free-for-all and we cannot let that happen. We are committed to always picking the most sustainable option that protects as much of our district as possible and working to minimise the impacts. This plan must go to inspection - it is the best option to protect Uttlesford communities in the long term."

The plan, which identifies sites that can be developed for housing and will shape future development up until 2033, was submitted for examination in January, as part of a process which could see its adoption.

Last week, R4U came under pressure by action group Stop Easton Park, who are opposed to plans for thousands of homes to be built next to Dunmow, included in the local plan.

Uttlesford District Council boss, Dawn French, confirmed that the plan will not scrapped in a letter to planning inspectors Louise Crosby and Elaine Worthington.

Miss French said: "The answer to your questions is that the council has made the decision to submit a local plan which it considers to be ready for examination, as set out in its decision of 9 October 2018, any change in that decision could only be a matter for full council, there are no plans to revisit that decision, and therefore there is no change to the council's decision in that regard."

Yesterday was the deadline set by the inspectors for the council to confirm their stance.