Former council leader: 'Uttlesford open to plunder and pillage'

A house-building project

Former Uttlesford District Council leader Howard Rolfe has said that the district is open to "plunder and pillage" (File photo) - Credit: PA/Andrew Milligan

Cross-party politicians fear that developers will seek to build town-sized developments in Uttlesford after the district council was stripped of major planning powers this week.

They are concerned that the government could hand over swathes of countryside to developers where housing has previously been rejected, such as in Chesterford, Dunmow and Stebbing.

Readers have also shared their outrage at a "loss of local democracy" online.

The government served Uttlesford District Council with a "Designation Notice" on Tuesday (February 8) due to "inadequate" performance as a planning authority.

Developers with major plans - of more than 0.5 hectares of housing, or one hectare of commercial floorspace - can now bypass UDC and apply for planning permission directly from the Planning Inspectorate.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities found that 13 of the 79 'major' decisions made by UDC (16.5%) in the two years to March 31, 2020 were overturned by inspectors before December 31, 2020.

The threshold for government action is 10%.

Howard Rolfe, Conservative, was UDC's leader until May 2019.

He said: "I acknowledge that my administration lost some planning appeals.

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"But this decision is based on the proportion of lost appeals.

"By disrespecting the rules frequently, R4U has left Uttlesford open to plunder and pillage.

"We need a fair planning system - particularly to make housing affordable for young people."

Councillor Petrina Lees, R4U politician and UDC's current leader, claimed the Conservative government is playing party-politics.

She said: "Residents have repeatedly said 'no' to unsustainable development and locally voted the Conservatives out.

"So they've decided instead they want to approve 1,000s of homes via the back door."

Cllr Melvin Caton, Liberal Democrat group leader, said that residents do not want developers to exploit the 'Designated' status for their own gain.

He said: "I fear for the countryside and environment throughout Uttlesford.

"It's sad. People voted for control over development, and that has been taken away."

A government spokesperson said: "UDC will now need to improve its performance.

"We will work with them so the designation can be lifted as soon as possible."

The Uttlesford Independents, Cllrs Richard Pavitt and Neil Gregory, have released a statement online.

They wrote: "A new local plan is just a few months away from public consultation.

"This move by government undermines that plan and potentially opens the door for approval of the new towns which were rejected in 2020 when the Planning Inspector dismissed the Conservative-proposed local plan.

"One thing we will be monitoring very closely is donations from developers and landowners to the Conservative Party to ensure there is no conflict of interest."