Uttlesford cabinet fears half-a-million drop in income after council stripped of planning powers

Uttlesford District Council members at the Council Offices, London Road. Picture: Will Durrant

Cross-party Uttlesford District Council members will debate and vote on the budget on Tuesday, February 22 (File photo) - Credit: Will Durrant

Uttlesford District Council is facing a £214,000 hole in this year's budget.

Finance chiefs at UDC fear that a government decision to strip the council of major planning powers could lead to lost planning application fees worth more than £500,000.

This income drop is likely to put this year's budget 'in the red', so the council's cabinet on Monday, February 14 agreed to budget for a £214,162 deficit in 2022/23.

Council officers have also warned that a Residents for Uttlesford plan to invest in property – which has cost £275.6 million so far – will need a “rethink”.

Councillor Neil Hargreaves, the council’s portfolio holder for finance, said: “We have taken the view that about half of the revenue that we would have got from major planning applications will be lost.

“This has taken our budget from a surplus to a deficit.”

The government identified UDC as the fourth-worst planning authority in the country, in front of Dartmoor National Park, Eastbourne – which shares planning with Lewes, and Bournemouth – which no longer exists.

The government found that 16.5% of the major applications which UDC received between March 31, 2018 and March 31, 2020 were overturned before December 2020.

The council was handed a Designation Notice which means that developers with "major" plans can bypass UDC and submit their proposals directly to the Planning Inspectorate.

Most Read

Cllr Hargreaves forecasts a revenue drop of £560,000.

He will use cash from council reserves to offset a deficit caused by this.

But the amount in reserves is projected to grow by 12.4% by 2027.

A medium-term financial strategy report also notes that UDC’s flagship plan to buy property with loans, rent for a return, sell, and repeat will be “revised”.

A property may need to be sold at the end of 2022/23 to "enable future balanced budgets to be set".

A Waitrose distribution centre in Chorley, Lancashire, owned by Uttlesford District Council

Uttlesford District Council spent £55m building a Waitrose distribution centre in Chorley, Lancashire - Credit: Google Earth

UDC has already committed £275.6m to its portfolio, which in includes a £43m Amazon warehouse in Gloucester and a £55m Waitrose warehouse in Lancashire.

The council also said it wants to grow Chesterford Research Park to provide sustainable employment in Uttlesford.

A sign for Chesterford Research Park, which is part-owned by Uttlesford District Council

Uttlesford District Council's cabinet agreed to continue its investment into Chesterford Research Park - Credit: Will Durrant

Cross-party councillors will debate the budget on Tuesday, February 22.